Berkeley Dance Project Strives To Convey Abstract Concepts

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Correction Appended

Berkeley Dance Project's "Fresh Take-Moving Now-Looking Back" presented four unrelated choreographed works in an attempt to "reimagine, restage, or refigure the past." The production invoked many issues in an attempt to reexamine history, contemporary life and dance as an art form. Unfortunately, the array of concepts distracted the audience from the student performers' enthusiasm, energy and execution of the choreography.

The first act, "Pretty Things," displayed a fictionally reinterpreted 1950s suburbia. When the lights first illuminated the stage, four pairs of couples stood silhouetted against a garage door and bay window in the background. The quaint pastel palette of the costumes and perky polka-dotted patterns were impeccable, enhancing the aura of contrived yet enticing cheer. A projected video behind the dancers was perfectly executed, but it detracted from the choreography itself by pulling the audience's attention away from the performers. Videographer Ben Estabrook beautifully captured humorous backyard scenes of ironic card-playing couples, suddenly interrupted by a female seductress, wreaking havoc with a leaf-blower unleashed upon the players. "Pretty Things" unfolded against a diverse musical compilation that included Piero Piccioni, Serge Gainsbourg, David Bowie, Vincenzo Bellini (performed by Maria Callas) and Philip Glass.

The performance could have been enhanced by delving deeper into the "points to ponder" listed in the program for each segment. While these issues might have been interestingly complicated or exemplified by the production, it was difficult to decipher where one's attention belonged.

"The Shakers"-a restaged segment from early modern dance choreographer Doris Humphrey, was undoubtedly the most interesting and cohesive piece in the evening. The wonderfully interpreted choreography-based on the steps and patterns of the Shaker faith's religious rituals-was complemented by the simplicity of the traditional, gray-and-white Quaker-esque costumes. The live musical accompaniment of a hybrid accordion-organ and female vocalist carried the spirit of the revivalist movement. Yet when the music ceased, the rhythmic thump and stomp of bare feet, increasing momentum and involvement of the large ensemble eerily transmitted the energy of rapture through movement-an element vital to both the Shakers and to the spirit of dance itself.

The final piece, "REGGAETON era," redeemed both the production and the evening at a crucial moment. Set to the musical amalgam of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Columbian and New York hip-hop with an inherited African influence, "REGGAETON era" attempted to examine border-crossing through music and movement. The energetic performers were engaging and enthusiastic throughout the entire segment, yet it was in the very last moments that five female dancers closed the evening with a beautiful and authentic display. To the accompaniment of a man playing a single drum, each dancer conducted an emotionally evocative and impressive solo.

Clearly the choreographers and student performers poured a tremendous amount of effort and thought into these four pieces that addressed disparate aspects of the medium's past.

However, as often happens when too many conceptual and abstract elements are laid as the foundation, the cohesiveness of the whole was lost.

Correction: Thursday, April 22, 2010
An earlier version of this article claimed that the fourth piece performed was titled "Reggaeton." In fact, it was titled "REGGAETON era."

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Get down to a reggaeton beat with Jennafer at jmccabe

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