Choreographers 'wreck' each others' work for UI dance concert

URBANA — The Dance at Illinois November Dance concert is usually a showcase of discrete faculty-choreographed pieces.

But this time around, the eight choreographers had to put their egos aside as they developed an hourlong piece called "Big Tiny Little Dance," opening Thursday evening at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

For this piece, the faculty contributed movements that could be eliminated or revised by other choreographers.

"It came out of a conversation that (faculty artist and New York-based choreographer) Tere O'Connor led in a faculty meeting about a choreographic and compositional tactic he's used a lot, called 'wrecking,'" said concert director and dance Professor Sara Hook.

The concept: One choreographer creates a short dance and then another choreographer enters and does what he or she wants to do, wrecking, destroying, building off of or editing what the other choreographer created.

"In terms of pedagogy, wrecking helps students not be too precious about the material and be open to other ways of operating," she said. "It's a way of shorthand feedback. Instead of giving advice, you enact yourself on the work, and that becomes the feedback."

Hook acknowledged that there was a "little bit of questioning" by the choreographers as to why someone changed or erased moves they had come up with.

"That was part of our purpose," Hook said. "Somebody comes in and wants something to cohere. Somebody else might find that too flat, that it doesn't have enough information or the edge that it could have."

"That stricture or structure you rub up against — this 'wrecking' process gives you more information about where your aesthetic resides," the professor said.

"The real test of this process will be in the next works we create. What have we learned, either consciously or subliminally?"

Two graduate students, among them rehearsal director Sophia Levine, and 11 undergraduate students perform "Big Tiny Little Dance," which will be presented without intermission in the Colwell Playhouse.

Through the process of development, Levine noticed that the choreographers had to come to terms with how much they cared about the movements they had choreographed, and when to let go of their attachments to them.

People familiar with the UI dance faculty members' work might recognize individual styles in the hourlong "Big Tiny Little Dance," but the faculty contributions are not chronological.

As a dancer in "Big Tiny Little Dance," Levine said it was a mental challenge for her and the other 12 dancers to adjust to the changes and different styles.

"You had to be mentally flexible," said the graduate student, who has a bachelor's degree in dance from Middlebury College in Vermont. "We had to be fully aware because we were making changes all the time.

"It was definitely challenging but incredibly engaging. I feel very engaged by the material. I already knew I would be invested in it, but I feel fully invested in it. I don't always feel that way." Said Hook: "It's a lot about letting go and taking ownership at the end."

Seven university and community musicians add to the collaborative piece by providing original music. Among them are John Toenjes, director of music for the dance department, and Jason Finkelman, an improviser.

"There are some points when some instruments take a dominant role and others fall back," Levine said. "There are some pre-recorded elements, and some silence, which is really nice because we have a thick dance and the music."

There also will be video projections by media designer John Boesche, and lighting by Lainey Senft. In a process that mimicked wrecking, the costumes were created by students in Susan Becker's experimental costume design course.

"Ultimately, I think ('Big Tiny Little Dance') will be a luscious visual journey for the audience — at times fervid or whimsical and other times, poignant and quiet," Hook said.

Besides Hook, the faculty artists who contributed are department head Jan Erkert and Philip Johnston, Linda Lehovec, Jennifer Monson, Rebecca Nettl-Fiol, Cynthia Oliver, Kirstie Simson and Rene Wadleigh.

They have dedicated the three performances to the memory of Mary Margaret Masko, who died on Nov. 2 at home in Fisher. The 29-year-old Miss Masko loved dance; her mother, Cindy, works for Dance at Illinois.

The "Big Tiny Little Dance" team has maintained a blog at http://publish.illinois.edu/novemberdance2013/ on the "wrecking" process. Also, video of the choreography as it was developed and revised was shot, to be used as reference.

The audience will be given another insight to the process used in "Big Tiny Little Dance" during a talkback with the choreographers and performers after the performance on Friday, in the Colwell Playhouse.

If you go

What: Dance at Illinois presents "Big Tiny Little Dance," an hourlong choreographic "conversation" among faculty artists, with media design by John Boesche and costumes by fashion designer Susan Becker and students

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

Where: Colwell Playhouse, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U

Tickets: $18 for adults; $17, senior citizens; $15, students; $10, University of Illinois students and youths

Information: 333-6280; http://www.krannertcenter.com

Also: A Dessert and Conversation about "Big Tiny Little Dance" will take place at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Krannert Room (tickets are $7)

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