“Fresh Tracks” leaves an unforgettable impression.
Valdosta State University Repertory Dancers creates a vibrant, fast-paced show, premiering new works, reprising popular past productions, and debuting a new VSU Theatre & Dance instructor/choreographer.
The show opens with the pulsating, rhythmic, pounding spectacle of “Call of the Beat.” Long-time VSU dance professor Eric Brandt Nielsen and his music analysis for dancers students choreographed this percussive piece that includes various instruments juxtaposed with the beating of stomping feet. Dancers move through complex, mesmerizing steps that always adhere to the simplicity of the beat. This is an explosive performance that immediately draws the audience into “Fresh Tracks.”
Nielsen also uses “Call of the Beat” as a vehicle to personally introduce new dance faculty member Sarah Wildes Arnett to the audiences. She is the featured dancer in the latter portion of this work. She proves that she has the moves before segueing into one of her choreographed pieces.
With “Fluttering Awake/Wash Over Me,” Arnett immediately proves herself a dynamic addition to the VSU Theatre & Dance choreography team. Featuring five dancers, Arnett envisions the dance’s title. Through choreography, Melanie Harkness’ lighting, and the dancers’ abilities, limbs move in a series of dream-like blurs. A beautiful introduction from a talented choreographer.
Choreographer Catherine Schaeffer ends the first act and opens the second act respectively with her works “Axis” and “Intimate Echoes.”
Using benches and a large cast of male and female dancers, “Axis” creates constant motion. A dancer will be sitting on a bench, another dancer will join the first, the first dancer will exit, leaving the second dancer alone on the bench. This happens several times while many dancers move across the stage; your eye moves for a few seconds to other action and it appears that the first dancer has vanished to be replaced by another dancer. Schaeffer creates strings of illusions and insights with “Axis.”
In “Intimate Echoes,” Schaeffer builds upon her 2011 work “Long Before Us.” Here, she presents three couples dancing, creating patterns and rhythms, interpersonal exchanges, tender gatherings and abrupt breaks. As she has for more than a decade, Schaeffer not only evokes memory and emotion with her works, she challenges VSU dance audiences to think.
With “Time Out,” Nielsen resurrects a crowd-pleaser that has appeared in past VSU dance shows, but its timeless energy and humor never grow old. Imagine two gremlins interrupting the pattern of music-box characters following the circular path of a Swiss clock, and you will find the expected becoming the unexpected, all hilarious while displaying a wide variety of dance styles.
With both “Time Out” and the opening “Call of the Beat,” Nielsen demonstrates not only that he knows how to arrange steps and prepare dancers to beautifully hit their marks. He knows how to create diverse works that have the ability to capture an audience’s imagination and please a crowd.
Arnett closes the show with “Habit of Change,” which strips portions of Sawyer Theatre’s stage bare. Again matched with Harkness’ lighting — this time exposed, red and almost spider-eyed training on the dancers, Arnett choreographs a dance that draws viewers into its web.
VSU Repertory Dancers feature a larger group of male dancers this year. This increase in the Y chromosome makes for a far more interesting evening of dances, because the clash of genders creates more tension, and a broader range of appeal and emotions.
The student dancers are talented and intuitive. Several stand-out throughout the program, but the sheer number of dancers involved in this work makes it difficult to name them all. The ensemble nature of the cast listings makes it difficult to match the person in the performance with the name in the program.
“Fresh Tracks” is an evening well spent. A show well worth making tracks to experience.
This review is based on Thursday’s opening night performance.
VSU Repertory Dancers’ “Fresh Tracks” continues 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday, Sawyer Theatre, Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood. Reservations, more information: Call (229) 333-5973; or visit www.valdosta.edu/comarts