For the second year in a row, the UB Theatre and Dance Department presented two versions of their annual dance show, Choreolab: one formal and produced, the other relaxed and stripped.
During the packed (and sometimes sold-out) formal performances the rest of the weekend, the show’s diverse numbers saw dancers explore spoken word and loon sounds as a backing track, embrace hip hop with swagger and puffer jackets, and present authentic Bollywood-style choreography.
The informal showing opened with senior dance major Kiara Cieslinski’s “Infinity or Oblivion,” a poignant commentary on being present in a social media-driven world that pulls our attention every which way. With sharp movements, running and partner work the dancers conveyed Cieslinski’s message to audiences.
“If you’re not presenting yourself on social media, people often are like, ‘You’re a ghost. You’re nothing,’” Cieslinski said. “If you’re not seen, do you exist?”
Later, the theater descended into madness with first-year MFA student Dani Schofer’s collaborative piece, “Playscapes of Rebellion.” This number, described by Schofer as “a study of comedy,” saw dancers move wildly to audio samples from “Veggie Tales,” “iCarly,” “I Love Lucy,” and countless other sitcoms in bright T-shirts with mascara tears painted under their eyes. Dancers moon-walked, played charades with the audience and shimmied back and forth across the stage.
“I wanted to try something that was outside of my comfort zone,” sophomore dancer Bella Guerrucci said. “Normally when I’m on stage, I’m doing lyrical or contemporary, and I have to be depressed, [but] for this piece I just wanted to make people laugh.”
Junior dance major Katy Maddalina wowed audiences with a solo that reveled in its goofiness. Maddalina’s character began on a phone call with her mom, nervously anticipating her upcoming date. She practiced pickup lines on the audience, literally falling to the ground to announce that she had fallen for an audience member, then asking another, “Were you talking to me?” followed by, “Would you like to?”
At various points, Maddalina emerged from behind the curtain playing a kazoo, suddenly dropped to the ground flipping her hair to Britney Spears’ “Work B—h,” duck walked, and even ballroom danced with a headless dummy. Eventually, her date (a real human dancer, not a headless dummy) arrived and found her awkward silliness endearing.
“When the whole process isn’t structured for you, it can really push dancers to kind of find their own space,” Schofer said. “[The informal showing] also just provides more opportunities for dancers and choreographers to make work, which is always important.”
Out of the box comedy and theatrics weren’t limited to the informal performances. As audiences entered the Black Box for Choreolab’s formal viewings, upright paper bags of all sizes littered the stage. Director of Undergraduate Dance Melanie Aceto’s “Lunch” opened the show.
Dancers jumped into paper bags, whimsically slid around with them on both feet like ice skates, placed them on their heads, and broke out of them as if bursting out of eggs. At one point, the paper bags were crumpled and the dance devolved into a snowball fight where audience members joined in, throwing paper at the dancers (some of which attempted to catch them in the bags like baskets).
At its outset, senior dance major Brennah Woollis’ “The Epilogue” depicted her final college bow. From there, time moved backward to highlight key moments and figures in her dance career. One duet represented her close-knit relationship with her older sister, also a dancer.
“It helps me connect with my peers and other artists,” Woollis said. “I know there’s multiple other artists that play their last concert and have to put down their instrument for the last time. It gives you the sense of like, ‘It’s over, finally.’ But also, ‘I’m so sad that I have to give this away.’”
In senior dance major Sidney Bowers’ “Residence,” the color red — whether in the form of a rose, plate, purse, notebook or backpack — represented a moment that had passed. The dance slowly distorted into a nightmare as it repeated, with dancers moving rapidly and becoming dislodged from one another’s scenes. But by the number’s conclusion, the dancers came together and rebuilt. Regular furniture entered, with the red objects falling into place. They were healed, but the memories — painful, joyful or otherwise — remained.
Bowers dedicated “Residence” to her father, who has undergone health issues. She says the piece was inspired by recurring nightmares where she, one of his caretakers, would be unable to help, despite calls for help.
Even as the lights dimmed and “Residence” ended, the dancers continued to move in the darkness — much like Bowers herself.
“It’s showing that it’s not really over when the lights go down because they’re still moving,” Bowers added. “Because it’s still going on for me.”
Alex Novak is an arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Novak is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.