Danceworks illustrates contemporary issues through movement and visuals


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Weinberg sophomore Michelle Skiba dances in “De Cara a la Pared (With My Face to the Wall),” one of four pieces in “Danceworks 2017: Current Rhythms.” Choreographed by guest choreographer Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director of New York City’s acclaimed Ballet Hispanico, the piece explores fierceness in femininity.

Jennifer Hepp, Reporter

This year’s Danceworks concert, “Current Rhythms,” is designed to highlight the current political climate through music and dance, artistic director Joel Valentín-Martínez said.

The annual production features dancers from the Dance department in collaboration with the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts. This year it features four original modern and contemporary pieces, two by guest choreographers and two by faculty choreographers.

Valentín-Martínez, the director of Northwestern’s dance program, chose with the political theme.

“I wanted to see what choreographers could come up with that involve current events, current state of mind, current thoughts about themselves both as humans and as artists,” Valentín-Martinez said. “I wanted to reflect on the mood that I have about our state of being as a society.”

Jeff Hancock, a faculty choreographer and costume designer, said he responded to the theme in his piece “smear” by taking an abstract look at the aggressive ways people interact online and drawing design inspiration from science fiction. To incorporate rhythm in the dancing, Hancock employs human rhythms such as a heartbeat, breath and pre-recorded rhythms such as drums.

“The title is a little reference to what I feel like is happening between people, politicians and reality,” Hancock said. “(They’re) all becoming very smeared.”

Guest choreographer Eduardo Vilaro is the artistic director of New York City’s acclaimed Ballet Hispanico. His piece, “With My Face to the Wall,” features six female dancers and is centered around fierceness in femininity. Costume designer Amanda Gladu created costumes resembling military uniforms.

The third piece in the program, “Her Words Masquerades as Me” is by guest choreographer Onye Ozuzu, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at Columbia College Chicago. The original jazz work is a tribute to Afro-futurist writer Octavia Butler, known for her near-future alternative perspectives that leverage the everyday experiences of black people. Ozuzu has put together a physical interpretation of one of Butler’s works.

The final piece in the program, Valentín-Martínez’s “Distracted by Distraction from Distraction,” is a commentary about people’s reliance on technology and the isolation it creates. Gladu said all dancers have phones and earbuds as part of their costumes and that the dance has an abstract, urban feel.

In the past, Danceworks has typically featured six or more pieces, but having four has increased the time each piece has for both performance and polishing.

“To see four separate voices and to have time to absorb each of those worlds that people fill is unusual,” Hancock said. “This year is an opportunity for people to absolutely dive into each one of these worlds and really be able to let it wash over them in the process of observation and really be left with time to absorb what that person is saying.”

Gladu said though all four pieces fit the same theme, each choreographer finds a way to make it their own.

“Each choreographer has a different perspective on what the current rhythm is of the time, and it’s really interesting to see the variety of pieces in the show,” Gladu said. “They’re responding to the current political climate in regards to race and gender, but it takes a totally different tone in each piece.”

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