This past weekend, the Emerging Choreographers Showcase lit up the Katharine Cornell Theater (KCT) with dances that were beautiful, technical and, best of all, not afraid to be unserious.
The pieces — all choreographed by UB students — culminated in a triumphant two acts where audiences marveled at the dancers’ abilities, but also were taken by surprise with opportunities to let out a laugh… or two, or three.
Katy Maddalina, who is no stranger to unconventional or comedic dance given her performance in Choreolab’s informal showing last semester, brought her gift for goofiness to the KCT stage by choreographing “Sparks Fly,” a cute and quirky dance infused with the energy of a million painfully awkward first dates.
“I think there’s a lot of comedy in the awkwardness of beginnings of relationships,” Maddalina, a senior dance major, said. “I feel like everyone can relate to that to some extent. And it’s so special in a way because when you find your person, you can reflect back on, ‘Wow, that was really weird at first until everything clicked.’”
There’s a clear narrative, one that felt all too familiar at times: the story of a will-they-won’t-they, all-consuming and childlike crush. Maddalina’s dancers began at three separate white standing tables, anxiously fidgeting or chattering at a school dance. Throughout the number, they coupled off. A girl in a red dress pursues another dancer in a glittery red tuxedo vest, who initially paired off with a different girl. The girl in red fretted over this, preened herself by repeatedly adjusting her hair and at one point lunged at her crush, only to be held back by the other dancers.
“I think for both dancers and non-dance viewers, it’s important to have an emotional arc,” Maddalina said. “I really connect to a piece with a narrative or strong emotion, so I think it’s really important to pair that with movement.”
Maddalina’s wasn’t the only piece that brought emotions out into the open. In “Ensemble,” senior dance major Tari Civerolo used choreography to explore her own complicated relationship with ballet.
“I grew up doing a lot of ballet, and the environment that I did it in was really competitive and really stressful and intense,” Civerolo said. “You have to put a different hat on when you’re in there. You kind of forget about who you are as a person. You’re like, ‘I’m just dancing, and it has to be perfect.’”
The dance began with the sound of audience chatter. The dancers stretched backstage before breaking out into movement, finding their way into piles on the ground or group bows that devolved into all the dancers bumping into one another, clamoring for the limelight. Eventually, the dancers synced up, dancing in unison rather than as separate individuals scrambling for success. They split once again to the sound of backstage chatter. Then, the piece ended with the individual: one dancer, bowing alone.
Civerolo says the number was inspired by one question: “What if a ballet class became a community and a loving place where people were supporting each other?”
In the second act, senior dance major Rebecca Leonard’s “A Dream We Lived” — in a world of conventional, abstract, “artsy” dance — was as refreshing as an ice cold piña colada on the beach. The piece, brilliantly, did not take itself too seriously. Leonard’s dancers embraced the fun of performance while still flaunting their training and technique — and the audience had a blast.
It started with a sleeping girl, awakened by her sunshiny friend. They’re late for vacation! The dancers booked it to the airport with their suitcases and duffle bags, demanded “five more minutes” when the iPhone alarm sound woke them up, and caught an alarmingly turbulent plane that jolted and shook the dancers in their chairs.
The movement guided them through typical tourist activities: taking a selfie, pointing out something in the distance and tentatively taking just one more shot until a dancer passes out. Leonard even included a dance circle and introduced towels and a massive beach ball into her choreography.
Leonard, inspired by her own trips to Nashville and the beach, described the process of creating the number.
“It was just an in-the-moment kind of process. I came in with ideas,” Leonard said. “And then my dancers really helped me out a lot through the process. I gave them a certain step to do and then we could see how to pull comedy from that.”
When the show wrapped, it was clear that the dancers had jumped at this serious opportunity to choreograph, but approached it with playful unseriousness and genuine creativity.
“This was my first time choreographing for a fully produced show,” Civerolo said. “Before I came to UB, I didn’t really know anything about choreography. It’s like an accumulation of everything that I’ve learned here, so it feels good to put that on stage. It’s like I just opened my art gallery or something.”
Alex Novak is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Novak is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.