After a year away from the fully-equipped Redfield Proscenium Theatre, the University of Nevada, Reno’s ever-talented dance program made a sparkling return to its regular space at the annual Fall Dance Festival.
With lighting, full sound and an expansive stage to call their own, nine choreographers — all current students or alumni — brought an original work of dance to the production, which ran Nov. 2 to Nov. 4.
As all dance events at the University promise, the lineup was full of surprises, and brimming with under-recognized talent.
Kiera Middlebrook’s opener, “DY SPANCE 3000,” combined a short, sleek riff on spy thrillers with perfectly-executed touches of slapstick comedy. The soundtrack included John Barry’s iconic “James Bond” theme and hysterical bespoke sound effects by Devin Middlebrook.
The dancers, an unbeatable ensemble of four, made the difficult work of moving in sync with lighting cues look effortless. This prowess in technique is especially impressive when considering the jump the dance program had to make: from last year’s productions in the Lombardi Recreation Center to their much larger current stage.
Lighting cues were also missing last year given the previous venue’s restricted capacities for tech. In the Fall Dance Festival, however, the lighting work from new theater professor Don Eller and operation from crew member Ashely Marchesini made the Redfield feel like a well-oiled machine.
In Anthony McMenamy’s piece, “Humanism,” the addition of theater tech made already propulsive choreography hypnotizing to watch. An expansive sense of movement combined with the venue’s big sound made for an enticing glimpse of the art form at full scope.
A searing pivot to the surreal followed in Maddy Regrut’s haunting “Pressurized.” The piece’s soundtrack paired melancholy piano from Maurice Ravel with a disturbed soundscape of glitch and static. Regrut’s choreography, in similar form, paired lacy nightgowns with an abrupt, almost alien lexicon in the five dancers. In style, “Pressurized” seemed to take from and reject ballet in equal measure.
“Pressurized” wasn’t alone that night in peering deep into the horror of femininity, though its angle — a juxtaposition straight out of “The Yellow Wallpaper” — was unique.
Afterwards, “PARTY!” took a very different tone; a sprightly ode to silent discos, “PARTY!” was likely the lineup’s most infectious. Its charming, zany ensemble made an ample use of pop music’s compulsive dance-ability. Jenna Fortino, the only choreographer in the group who shares official credit with the dancers, brought the spontaneous party to “PARTY!”, completing the vision with neon headphones and ample glitter.
“PARTY!” gave way to an outrageous piece by alumni Andrew Paiz, sure to be the night’s most divisive. Paiz took notes from vintage makeup commercials in creating “A Clean Look Makeup Experience,” which landed somewhere between sketch comedy, musical theater and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Paiz’s choreography was refreshingly unafraid of its own silliness, and often arranged itself into tableaus with the drama of a renaissance painting. The rumors were true: lipstick was indeed a prop and it definitely got eaten.
Alyssa Von Eberstein’s cheeky “Wrap it up!” made similarly funny inroads, starting with competitive tap — and getting even better. Eberstein put the ensemble of eight in tennis-ball-green jumpers and set them to work parodying too many cultural touchstones to list in the program. Bubble wrap made almost every kind of appearance imaginable: it’s probably a miracle that a troupe of stressed college students can put on something so earnestly playful.
For the program’s final third, a set of scarier, more tender emotions took hold. In a moving finish, all three of the final choreographers brought solemn, contemplative pieces to the stage — ending the program with a grounding deep breath.
Emily Leech’s “(un)ATTACHED” was the first of two to tug at the nature of human connection. The ensemble of five included the multi-talented Demiah Hunt, whose range stretched impressively into other genres, from the spy thriller in “DY SPANCE 3000” to touches of horror in “Pressurized.”
Leech’s strong visual sensibilities rendered a stunning, layered configuration on stage. Pairs and trios shifted into new combinations under subtly dusk-like light, with transitions as seamless as the ones woven into the music.
“Finding Balance,” from choreographer Mariana Delgado Ceniceros, also made a powerful use of formations. Color-blocking through the dancers’ bright yet understated costumes produced one striking visual after another. A recorded poem read at its opening — twice — by other dancers slowed time in the auditorium, imploring its viewers to lose themselves in detail.
To close, Petra Warburton’s “Please Hold Me” brought the program back into the question of how we relate to one another, this time with a special emphasis on touch. Warburton’s intensely cathartic choreography was rich with intimacy, showing the dancers supporting increasingly large amounts of one another’s weight.
Miela Offerle, who also appeared in “Pressurized,” offered a stirring portrayal of how hard it is to break out of isolation — and how good it feels once you’re out.
The Department of Theatre and Dance will perform “Assassins” in the Redfield Proscenium Theatre from Feb. 9 to 18 next year. Tickets are available now.
Peregrine Hart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @pintofperegrine.