By L. N. Harrison // Contributing Writer
It’s a rare feat to get an entire room of people, let alone an almost full auditorium, to be silent, yet Compositions, the MTSU Faculty Dance Concert, did exactly that.
There’s no doubt something inherently beautiful and fascinating about dance, especially when the choreography flows and the execution seems effortless. It’s a pleasant and often wondrous experience to watch the ways the human body can move with such grace and poise in an age when most of us are fortunate to not trip over uneven flooring or to avoid running into something (or someone) because we have all of our attention on our smartphones and iPods and whatever other electronic device demands our attention.
The faculty and students who participated in this concert, however, tore themselves away from such distractions at least in order practice and then to put on this spectacular show, and for that alone they should be commended.
What is just as impressive if not more is that they were able to draw the majority of their audience’s attention away from their devices as well.
At almost the exact moment that the filler music stopped, the audience silenced itself as though a choreographed moment of its own. By the time the lights dimmed, it was probably the closest to silence I’ve ever heard at the university – aside from when a professor asks ‘can someone explain … ?’ and looks around the classroom for whichever brave soul will speak up to answer.
In this case, the answer came in the form of the first performance “Transit: Transfers and Connections” which was, in contrast to the audience, loud. As in trainwhistles and full string orchestra as well as snippets of soundbites from interviews that were recorded in the U.S. before the beginning of WWII.
The music accelerated and slowed in turn, and the lighting as well as the video playing at the back of the stage flashing train footage, newspapers, and dates furthered the feeling of trains and of life and time barreling onward. The dancing, as choreographed by faculty member Meg Brooker, perfectly mirrored this, the dancers almost constantly in motion, even if not all at once as at various points there were the equivalent of ‘freeze frames.’ Through the choreography, music, lighting, and graphics there was a sense of urgency and frantic chaos that was punctuated by these abrupt moments with little to no movement, that continued throughout the performance, creating the also very modern notion of ‘hurry up and wait.’ The dancers remained in sync with one another – where applicable – and even in their jarring and frenzied movements during the accelerated sections of the music, there was no loss of cohesion or control.
The next performance of note was “Plexus,” choreographed by Marsha Barsky. The choreography was stunning and the dancers executed it with a precision, smoothness, and effortlessness that made the performance a delightful and intriguing spectacle. What was fascinating and what makes it stand out is that it was so different from the others.
There was a simplicity to the costuming that made the dancing so much more important and, despite any opening night jitters that may have existed, this artistic choice was not detrimental as the performers certainly didn’t need anything to distract the audience from their dancing. The simplicity of the costumes made it that much easier to appreciate the way that the dancers movements seemed to personify a brain teaser, several sections of the choreography so synchronized and so intricate that it was almost difficult for the brain to grasp how people could be moving so fluidly, so aware and in harmony with one another. Though the performance was in two sections – the latter seeming more a study of beauty and togetherness through dissonance – repeated and echoed themes and elements kept the piece from feeling disjointed.
Where “Plexus” stimulated the brain and bedazzled the eyes, “Ashes” – choreographed by Jennifer McNamara – was artistically beautiful, from the dancing to the simple but elegant costuming as well as to the imagery and to the overall concept that utilized the personification of The Wind, Longing, blindfolded Doubt and Faith, Wisdom, and Joy.
The ‘exchanges’ between The Wind and each of the other elements told a story, each seeming to leave something with The Wind before exiting the stage that the next could enter and in this way the performance progressed. There were instances of mirroring between The Wind and the other characters, but also of divergence that, rather than draw your attention to either one performer or the other, only amplified the connection between the two and furthered the narrative.
By the end, though perhaps not the intent, the nature of the performance in concept and execution was so exquisite and so ethereal that it seemed not unlike a Greek tragedy, as though each personified being were some Greek goddess bestowing gifts to the heroine of the tale, then each accepting her offerings in return and departing, leaving the heroine alone with nothing more to give.
Out of the seven performances total during the concert – and all of them very well done – these three were the standouts, even garnering conversations and praise from several audience members afterwards as they were exiting the auditorium.
Overall, Compositions is a fascinating production created with artistic vision and creativity and performed with a grace and skill that was captivating (and particularly impressive on opening night).