Ethington Ensemble’s Winter Dance Concert Follows Introspective Path
Review by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
“The Road Less Traveled,” Ethington Dance Ensemble’s winter concert, maps an inner journey full of twists and turns for all of us.
Stops along the way at joy, love, forgiveness and acceptance often yield to sadness, fear, fatigue and rejection, and sometimes the best we can do in life is to keep forging ahead. Through nine original pieces in nearly 90 minutes Wednesday night, the ensemble kept a large Ethington Theatre audience thinking about which way the road signs were pointing.
This much was clear: The student troupe’s technique has blossomed under the tutelage of GCU’s director of dance, Susannah Keita, and her impressive stable of instructors, including Zari Le’on, Sonja Mitrovic and Leanne Schmidt. All four contributed strong original pieces to the show, as did student choreographers Bethany Baumer, Christopher Biles and Samantha Newhall.
With a sparse set consisting only of an oversize picture frame suspended from above — symbolizing a window into ourselves? — the focus was squarely on the performers, who demonstrated a level of agility and athleticism in their movements that we hadn’t seen previously.
“The Free Beat,” choreographed by Le’on and set to gospel/house music, opened the concert in the high-energy style we have come to expect from her. Her pieces are as physically demanding as they are spiritually uplifting. They’re meant to be celebratory, and they certainly are.
Mitrovic’s “Fabulous Destiny,” about courageously embracing change and adventure, summoned the ballet skills of its eight dancers, and Baumer’s untitled piece put its creator and Alyssa Fresh through a remarkable series of moves set to New Age music.
Fresh stole the show in Schmidt’s clever “I Can See You’re Trying to Hear Me,” in which she performed improvised dialogue in a forlorn effort to find acceptance among the other 10 dancers onstage. The Beatles song “Help!” provided a lighthearted initial clue to her desperation.
Fresh yammered nonstop about the likes of fish and miniature golf before finally resorting to gibberish, all while Herschel Jackson humorously turned a deaf ear. Eventually, everyone onstage joined in her misery, literally feeling her pain, but only one extended the hand of friendship. The piece was alternately hilarious and heartbreaking — and very effective.
Keita’s piece, “Particulate Matters,” examined the perils of romantic relationships gone awry, and the dance director also showed amazingly precise moves in her solo performance of Schmidt’s “One.” It’s always a joy to watch years of study and training come together onstage, and Keita was recognized by Dean Claude Pensis before the show for her recent certification as a teacher of the Katherine Dunham technique (there are only 20 such instructors in the world).
Biles’ “Waiting,” a solo that employed the sound effects of a ticking clock along with various beeps and thumps, ended with the sound of his own labored breathing, making the point that the frantic pace of life can be hazardous to health. Biles, only a sophomore, clearly is one to watch in the dance program.
Newhall’s “Sunflowers for Diana,” about the quest for inner peace and the need for forgiveness, and “Bingo,” a work by GCU staffer Rebecca Blair Hillerby that also made creative use of sound effects, rounded out the show nicely.
Although much in “The Road Less Traveled” was left to audience interpretation, as is always the case with modern dance, the concert had important things to say about the deeper emotions in our lives.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].