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Step Away From Your Athena Clusters, Please

Dance Theater Ensemble Provides Much-Needed Study Break

By Jennifer DeBoer

MIT Dance Theater Ensemble

Killian Hall

May 3, 6 p.m.; May 4, 1 p.m.

Often we students of this fine institution allow ourselves to be caught in the habitual rut of complaining, a product of this place’s single-mindedness. We fail to realize, however, that there is a world of untapped artistic resources at our fingertips.

This weekend’s Dance Theater Ensemble performances were a welcome reminder that some amongst us are not one-dimensional study-bots. The group performed an entirely improvised show that could be more appropriately termed interpretive dance. The small contingent of friends that watched the show were treated to an intellectually stimulating and provocative performance.

The show, free-flowing as it seemed, was not without some structure. What kept me interested and made the show more than a static series of feeling-portraits was trying to figure out what exactly governed the movement of the performers. Once I did this, I tried to see whether I agreed with their interpretation or not. (I think I would have done “girl in the front row, cheek, like you’re on fire” a little different myself.)

The first number, “Object Lessons,” saw the group interpreting various objects with different parts of their bodies and with different emotions. By performing both as a group and as soloists, they allowed a necessary variety to interrupt the similar movements of each object’s interpretation. Humor played the same role. Bits like Sarah Funderburk’s ’04 frog stuffed-animal analysis alleviated the eerie and serious mood set by Lecturer Jean Rife’s French horn. The horn was the only accompaniment, and I was impressed by the sounds elicited from the instrument, sounds I never knew an object, living or dead, could make. It appeared to entrance the dancers and, like marionettes, to move them into scenic positions.

Modern dance, and modern art as a whole, has been given a painful stigma that conjures up Rothko color blocks and weird German plays. Sunday’s performance wasn’t very far away from this skeptical view. DTE added a dimension, though, by challenging the audience to see into their minds and interpretations. They presented the dances as symphonic works which, though lacking in a specific plot, are valuable for their interesting harmonies and picturesque portrayals.

As a break between the two large group numbers, Associate Professor Thomas DeFrantz, DTE’s Artistic Director, put on a solo tap-dancing number, “Just a Gigolo.” It was an amazing feat of fancy footwork; he appeared to be clicking constantly until he would suddenly stop. Though the endless tapping needed more variety, it was still an impressive piece and a welcome interlude.

The final number, “Bathroom Suite,” was a humorous tribute to getting ready in the morning. The individual characters of the performers combined into a fresh orchestra of colorful movements. It was on the long side, and many of the movements were repeated. The result was amusing, though, and the audience nodded knowingly at the banal routines elevated to performance art. Altogether the show was pleasing and light-hearted, it was a very appropriate study break.

Each and every living group has a member who is an “arts rep.” They’re the ones who constantly send out those slightly longer-than-necessary e-mails or put up posters about art events. So, next time you find yourself grumbling about the lack of art-minded dealings on this campus, try actually reading those notices.