‘NextDANCE’ at The NextNOW Fest at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

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The NextNOW Festival at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has a wonderful line-up of performances running through this Sunday, September 14th at the gorgeous arts space on the University of Maryland campus. I was lucky to catch the NextDANCE performance, free to the public, at 9 pm and witness a show of choreography and performances by current students, alumni, and faculty in a celebratory setting.

Stephanie Miracle photo by Jonathan Hsu
Stephanie Miracle photo by Jonathan Hsu

Rachel Murcha’s Self-Portrait opened the show, with Murcha sitting in the audience performing rather gestural movements to the sound of a voice talking about perception of one’s self when you’re alone as well as to the greater public. Murcha’s movement escalates into a controlled and driven run onto and around the stage space, and more athletic and larger movements set to an intricate instrumental score. As Murcha glided and sliced through the space, into and out of shadows, you could tell she was moving through moments of clarity versus moments of uncertainty in “finding herself,” that great quest we are all one at one point, or many points, throughout our lives.

You (excerpt) by UMD MFA alum Graham Brown was a dance theatre offering, during which Brown discussed being a man with a baby strapped to his chest, and the different exchanges he has had as a result. The act of dealing with diapers as he tells the story, filling the diaper with liquid, wrapping said diaper up, and tossing it into the trash can, while sometime missing said trash can but not skipping a beat, was beautifully juxtaposed by his detailed and deliberate retelling of the story. Brown says that his dislike of other people and their feeling that he is wholly approachable due to the tiny human strapped to his chest is an example of “suburban American suffering,” but he assures the audience that “it gets better.” The beauty of it all is that in forging ahead with the tasks at hand, both telling his story and getting rid of the diapers, he is showing a keen innate talent for parenting. As a parent your eyes have to be on the prize, whatever that task at hand happens to be in the moment, and not getting thrown by the little things makes that task at hand that much more attainable in the long run.

Chelsea Brown’s quintet iContact deals with our obsession with technology, and this idea that we are inhibiting ourselves from experiencing genuine contact with one another by being so plugged into our various devices. This idea floats around in think pieces on the internet and on talk shows every so often, but Brown taps into something so authentic with her juxtaposition of solo movement happening multiple places on a stage, with duets of dancers with little to no true connection between them, to duets with the utmost in synchronicity and attention to one another. The supple quality of the movement is explored by all of the dancers, but Brown is clearly the most adept at her own style of movement.

Apple Falling (excerpt) by Graham Brown is a stunningly intricate solo piece danced by Brown, in which he travels throughout the space sequencing through his body the whole time. The use of pauses in interesting times in the work allows the audience to truly digest all of the movement Brown performed prior to said pause. His pedestrian clothing lends itself to the almost casual nature of this intricate choreography. The dynamic range and musicality displayed in this work, as well as the facility for language and task-based movement displayed in his earlier work, make him a true tour-de-force on this program.

If Only I Knew, by Chelsea Brown and Bethany Disque, focuses on the relationship of light and dark in a partnership, and when one helps and one hurts the partnership. Brown and Disque also explore the various uses of light in a partnership and what that light represents at various stages in the game. These two dancers exemplify subtlety and exude control in this riveting work, with supreme synchronicity between the two of them and their musical score. The certainty with which they operate their light sources and perform the tasks related to them is a great strength to the piece.

'Groove.' Photo by ZZ Handler.
‘Groove.’ Photo by ZZ Handler.

The piece de resistance of the evening is Groove, a world premiere work commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and choreographed by the inimitable Stephanie Miracle, a recent UMD MFA alumni and Fulbright Scholar. Miracle’s premiere is nothing short of a revelation, set on a group of truly present and positively delightful dancers in muted pedestrian clothing. The sound score embodies pop and rock elements found in dance clubs and discotheques, as well as ambient noise, which is ever so popular in the worlds of modern and contemporary dance. With the use of a disco ball and some spectacularly club-like lighting, Miracle explores kitsch but in her usual fashion transcends it all together.

The work, for me, chronicles the peak of the dancing at a club, when everyone is in their own rhythm and dancing like the world is ending tonight. Dancers performing their own movements in distinct pools of light and themes arising organically between the dancers, who seem rather unconscious of the other bodies, represent that peak in the excitement. As the piece continues, dancers begin to notice each other and heighten their awareness of the others. What began as subconscious duets between various permutations of dancers become calculated moves on one another. Spotting someone across a crowded public space and making a concerted effort to engage with that one person is the name of the game all of a sudden, and the audience is right there with the dancers. As the piece comes to a close, the dancers take the space in a more aggressive way than previously seen in the work, and consciously play off of one another’s movement themes. The piece resembles the iconic and nuanced dancing of a Charlie Brown film at moments, with an irreverence that makes you smile unconsciously, but the difference between Miracle and Charlie Brown is that while both are irreverent, nothing is superfluous about Miracle’s choreography and everything looks effortlessly meticulous.

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You have one more chance to catch Groove, and an evening of other works, tonight, Friday, September 12, 2014 from 7 pm-8 pm. This event is free to the public and seating is general admission, so make sure you get there early to secure your seat.

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Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s ‘NextNOW Fest’ is Tomorrow Through Sunday by Emily Schweich.