Making choices in art and in life

By From page A1 | February 21, 2012

Kevin O'Connor and Jorge Rodolfo de Hoyos Jr. perform on ropes in O'Connor's "dis/connect" (a working title). The piece fuses live vocal, music, dance and aerial rope circus arts in an examination of what community means in contemporary society. Brian Nguyen/Courtesy photo

Kevin O'Connor and Jorge Rodolfo de Hoyos Jr. perform on ropes in O'Connor's "dis/connect" (a working title). The piece fuses live vocal, music, dance and aerial rope circus arts in an examination of what community means in contemporary society. Brian Nguyen/Courtesy photo

Check it out

What: MFA Dance Thesis Choreographies

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theatre

Be advised: “dis/connect” contains partial nudity

Tickets: $17/19 general admission, $12/$14 students, children and seniors, http://tickets.mondaviarts.org/single/psDetail.aspx?psn=743

Info: http://theatredance.ucdavis.edu

Albert Camus wrote “Life is a sum of all your choices.” After seeing the opening night of “dis/connect” and “Light Phases,” the two MFA dance thesis choreographies, I have to agree.

Every choice we make affects our experience of life — from the obvious, such as choosing whether or not to interact with others, down to the more subtle choices of what attracts our attention at any given moment. That, of course, is what makes each of us unique, whether we’re an artist or audience member, allowing each a singular perspective on life, and certainly, on our opinions of art.

Of the two works, “dis/connect” was my favorite, although, truthfully, I consider this more performance art/theater than dance. Created/choreographed by Kevin O’Connor, this work combined circus technique, improvisational dance, spoken text, live music by four very talented singers (Shay Nichols, Sam Rogers, Trelawny Rose and Virginia Schenck) and audience participation. (If you’re an audience member who prefers that the “fourth wall” stay unbroken, no worries. I personally hate participating, but it worked out fine, and I even found myself singing with strangers and laughing.)

“Dis/connect” is very neatly conceived and executed. According to program notes, it is all about the idea of place as a process, an idea that is clearly and articulately explored by the work. I don’t want to give too much away, as part of the beauty of the piece lies not only in its message, but in the non-linear delivery of that message. The wide range of movements performed by O’Connor, Cohdi Harell, Emily Leap, Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos and Laura Stokes, were well done; athletic, powerful, honest.

Where did choice enter in? From the beginning, we were free to participate or not, an obvious example. Throughout the piece, however, multiple layers of activities occurred; trapeze acrobatics up high, dancers on the ground floor, movement through the hanging holes of human silhouettes. Singers traveled the perimeter, responded vocally to movement, stories were told. Our minds make choices, and perhaps our hearts do, as well. “Dis/connect” became a satisfying experience, primarily due to an underlying logic that allowed the brain to sort, arrange and arrive at “aha!” moments, based on the sights and sounds to which each individual chose to respond. Orchestrating layers of activity, without letting the work descend into chaos, requires significant artistic vision and the ability to make good choices.

“Light Phases” suffered by comparison. Directed/choreographed by Folawole, this work left me in the dark. The four different sections felt tacked together, as if he was unable to either sustain a longer work in one technical vocabulary or create a logic for transitions.

“The Light Installation,” by Chris Fraser, consisted of a very large box that emitted light through cutout holes and created an interesting effect on one side of the room. Other lighting also was used, giving different looks for each section. Primarily a dance piece, each section also was marked by a different technical style. Guest dancer Jillian Davis appeared in the final section last Friday, and was beautiful; graceful and strong. Folawole performed his solos equally well, demonstrating versatility. But, ultimately, this piece lacked coherence.

Additional problems lay in other artistic choices: his speaking, while dancing, without using a microphone, made it difficult to understand him over the recorded music. One section was so dimly lit that it was hard to see him. His sudden interactions with audience members had no organic logic, but rather felt like he was breaking character, worsened again by the difficulty of understanding him over the music.

Also, cause for confusion: only two out of the 10 dancers listed in the program for “Light Phases” performed last Friday. But perhaps this is also cause for hope. The piece may improve with additional dancers. Your experience may be different from mine, or the friend I came with, who said that “Light Phases” left her wanting, but not wanting more.

Kofi Annan said, “To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”

I think O’Connor knows his who, what, where and why … Folawole, not so much.

As for seeing these performances … You choose.

Pamela Trokanski

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