If the college dance world was as mainstream as the college basketball world, we would all be going through March Madness again as the best dance works from across the country are being performed this weekend at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. This year 29 selections from 10 regional competitions were chosen for the national showcase and excitement on the opening night of the festival was high. Since the audience was made up exclusively of college dancers, faculty members, or dance professionals, the crowd was loud and supportive, collectively giving a sudden intake of breath and cheering for their favorites. College dancers dressed to impress each other and instead of resting after performing, those on stage would slip into the audience as soon as they were done in order to check out the other schools’ offerings.
Texas was well represented at the festival this year, with Texas Woman’s University, Texas Christian University, and Sam Houston State University all advancing to the national level. A good part of the fun is seeing the staggering amount of variety presented. Institutions ranging from tiny to huge, well-known to more obscure, and with varying degrees of emphasis on dance are all eligible and compete on the same playing field. Likewise, and even more interesting as an audience member, is that guest artists, faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students all have entries in the competition and the adjudicators are supposedly unaware of the status of the choreographer of any given work.
The result is a glorious grab-bag. I was only able to attend the opening night of the festival, (TWU performed Thursday night and TCU on Friday) but the first night featured everything from two undergraduates from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor performing an unusual composition of their own creation discussing a self-hating duck, among other lines of inquiry, and a stunner from LINES/Dominican University done by a faculty member and set on students who looked as if they had been dancing as pros for years, as you would expect from a conservatory attached to a world-class professional company.
José Zamora, a freshly-minted MFA graduate from TWU, was chosen to close the opening night with his work Curios y Serpentinas. The dance featured several hallmarks of Zamora’s style: brightly colored costumes with wild accessories, whistles and calls from the cast in both English and Spanish, and highly energetic movement, weaving in elements of drill teams, hip hop, modern dance, and jazz. The 14 dancers involved, including Zamora, delivered a committed performance, with their energy so high you could almost see tiny sparks coming off of them, with their faces in heavy clown make-up and hair teased out big and bright. The performers squared off in a dance-off between two teams, each one upping the attitude and bringing it. The atmosphere felt like a contemporary dance rodeo, the air filled with the norteño electronica music of the Nortec Collective.
Zamora has been developing his choreography by creating a world called Cholorock and Curios y Serpentinas stood alone in this context but is part of the larger work of Cholorock. To see more of Cholorock, check out this segment:
Cholorock on YouTube
Guest blogger Ellen Chenoweth is an arts writer and administrator based in Washington, DC. She maintains a blog at Widening the I and received her M.A. in Dance from Texas Woman’s University in 2009.