Unexpected movement: Wake Forest fall dance concert a choreographed revelation

by Keith Barber

At several unexpected moments during Wake Forest University’s Fall Dance Concert, the audience held its collective breath — in reverie and anticipation — while awaiting a dancer’s next move. The innovative choreography of director Nina Maria Lucas kept the audience entranced as the artistry of the dancers fully engaged the eyes and heart of all in attendance at the Scales Fine Arts Center on Nov. 20.

After the opening of the heart-pounding “Transform U,” performed with great verve and enthusiasm by dancers Ae’ Jay Mitchell, Ian Sherman and Christopher Gonzalez La Corte, Wake Forest drama majors Dean Guerra and Cam Roberts acted as stagehands and tried to earn their 15 minutes of fame. Then, ballerinas posing as real-life Barbie dolls rose up from a hydraulically controlled stage. The male dancers carried the 10 Barbies onto the stage where a dance performance broke out.

Sarah Brown, Ryann DuRant, Elizabeth Guerrierie, Lindsay Hurley, Emily James, Rebecca Koza, Elise Pacicco, Bridget Riley, Grace Rovner and Laura Underwood played the Barbies and undoubtedly made Lucas proud as the troupe rocked to the beat of hip-hop artists Timbaland, Chris Brown and Makell Bird. After a brief pause, the Wake Forest students performed “Hunting & Nightbird” to the music of Japanese new-age artists Deep Forest. Dancers Rovner, Sydney Diana, Lauren Hiznay, Cynthia Huang, Tara Seymour and Madeleine Welsh impressed with their synchronized, graceful moves. The amazing precision and passion displayed by Huang helped her emerge as a leader among the student dancers. Huang approached her performances in “Hunting & Nightbird, Adhere, Activate, Roll and Tether and Celui Qui Regarde” with a fierce intensity that elevated the entire concert to unexpected heights.

“The dancers at Wake are amazing,” Lucas said. “[They] are happy and proud of what they are doing and that radiates to the audience.”

A feast for the eyes, each of the pieces exposed the audience to the art of dance in all its wondrous forms — everything from the modern pieces inspired by hip-hop culture to a ballet performance choreographed by the legendary Rudolf Nureyev. “La Bayadere,” based on the Paris Opera production choreographed by Nureyev, featured an opening number performed beautifully by Underwood in a fantastic costume designed by Lisa Weller. Dancers Seymour, Hiznay, Abigail Bagilione, Meredith Brown, Molly Dunn, Emily Flowers, Alissa Guarnaccia, Megan Harrelson, Lauren Lukacsko, Anito Ostrovsky and Bridgitt Staudt performed the “Temple Dance” sequence. Brown led the way in the four of the following six ballet pieces, which culminated in the “Coda” where 21 dancers inhabited the stage in their brightly colored costumes. A few missteps aside, the staging of Brantly Bright Shapiro and Christopher Martin created the feel of the Paris Opera on the stage.

“Adhere, Activate, Roll and Tether” offered the audience a modern dance piece with the choreography of Amy Love Beasley executed to near perfection by Huang, Hiznay, Diana, Briana Butler, Briana DeVincenzo, Conley Henderson, Anne Nichols and Kristy Tayapongsak. “Adhere” flowed effortlessly into Helen Simmons’ piece, “Celui Qui Regarde,” which opened with amazing flair. The dancers, led by Huang’s brilliance, moved in synchronicity until they unzipped their red skirts and used them as creative props; Hiznay, Pacicco, Tayapongsak and Desaly Gonzalez brought forth a generous outpouring of applause from the hundreds in attendance.

The final act of the concert mirrored the opening act featuring the driving rhythms of the Black Eyed Peas and the hip-hop choreography of Tina Yarborough Liggins. Dancers Butler, DeVincenzo, Gonzalez, Gonzalez La Corte, Guerrieri, Mitchell, Pacicco, Koza and Sherman meshed perfectly with Gina Antoniello, Fann’zha Ford, Bridget Riley and Karli Thode in a piece that included white masks like those worn by the Jabbawockeez Dance Crew of Gatorade commercial fame. The energy rose to a fever pitch and brought the appreciative audience to its feet.

Lucas’ impressive r’sum’ includes studying at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center and the Martha Graham Studio and teaching at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Clearly, she has mastered the art of collaboration and creating something unifying and inspiring from the work of many talented artists.

“I am very pleased with the outcome of the concert,” Lucas said. “It was successful because of all the support from the dancers, choreographers, designers and crew. I sometimes sit backstage during a performance and just watch, I get a little choked up because I am so proud of my dancers and the program here at Wake.”