Impressions at Hope Show, Dallas

{Written while attempting to stand en pointe….for about 4 brief seconds}

“Doors close at 8pm sharp, and they are not kidding around here,” runs a series of text messages on my phone, as I enter the sophisticated atmosphere at the foyer of the Bob Hope Theatre. Artists, musicians and other fine arts professors, professionals, and students are ushered to their seats inside, as the lights illuminate the heavy red curtain onstage. Conversations continue in hushed tones amongst people – who are far more knowledgeable about dance than me – offer their insights on motifs to look for in “Appalachian Spring,” the first of the three performances of the night.

Choreographed in 1944 by dance revolutionist Martha Graham, “Appalachian Spring” is considered one of Graham’s signature creations for the foundation of modern dance. Altering movements to a structure based in but morphed away from ballet, Graham’s unique work continues to push audience members’ concept of dance even tonight. Coupled with Pulitzer Prize-winning Aaron Copeland’s orchestral music score, “Appalachian Spring” demanded the audience’s attention every minute. Each singular detail from the dancers held symbolic meaning, which required complete stillness and exact action from other dancers on stage to ensure the audience’s eyes remained on the relevant dancer’s muscle movements.

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A still from Appalachian Spring, a post WWII piece on “Americana” (PC: Meadows School of Arts)

Olivia Schmid (3/31, 4/1) who danced the part of a Follower, explained how the “different characters were represented spatially as well as visually: the Groom was the only one who went outside of the fence; the Bride and Pioneering Women were the only ones who sat on the rocking chair; the Revivalist was the only character who stood on the rock, thus giving each character power over a certain domain of the stage.” Their dances were a fusion of jarring yet graceful movements; it felt like their feet contained springs as they encircled the Revivalist in vivid adoration and borderline obsession. The Pioneering Woman, danced by Summer Myatt (4/1-3), pursued complicated choreography, such as rolling up the stairs in a single fluid movement. Unorthodox choreography such as this, made “Spring Awakening” – despite its cheery program summary – come across as a slightly disconcerting yet impressively precise, allegorical marionette doll show to me.

However, audience member Andrew Timmons countered with an entirely different, yet completely relevant perspective on the piece: “the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of “Appalachian Spring” is the devotion evoked by each of the characters. From the congregation’s devotion to the Revivalist, to the couple’s devotion to each other – every dancer captured a purity of commitment that was engaging and interesting to watch.”

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“Pas de Deux” (PC: Meadows School of Arts)

A ten-minute intermission pushed away the American frontier, making way for a magical Tschaikovksy’s “Pas de Deux,” a ballet performed in accordance with the Balanchine Style. Eric Emerson described that the hardest part of the performance for him was “physical stamina. Balanchine’s technique is very precise and expressive, which takes a lot of energy. The choreography is constantly transitioning from a lift, to a turn, into another section et cetera… there aren’t any breaks.” Emerson also contrasted his experience dancing the “Pas de Deux” with his part in “Firebird” explaining how “there’s no [place to] hide in this choreography either…[since it’s] just my partner [Gabriela Stilwel (4/1), Summer Myatt (3/31)] and myself, it adds a mental pressure and anxiety that isn’t typically experienced when you’re dancing in larger group pieces.” The elegance of the Tschaikovsky piece served to soothe audience members with the ebb and flow of its lifts and twists – a contrast to the sharp and demanding choreography of the piece before and the overwhelming intensity of the “Firebird” that followed.

The third and final performance of the 2016 Hope Show was a premiere of an adaptation of Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird” by Mexican choreographers Claudia Lavista and Victor Manuel Ruiz. When asked to describe this version of “Firebird,” audience members’ reactions ranged from intense, to creepy, to an activist’s dream, to confusing, to beautiful and even to – rather amusingly – a zombie apocalypse. Lavista and Ruiz described that their “aesthetic choices led them far away from the tradition adaptation of … the glowing bird of Russian folklore.” They instead moved the theme to migration, both in the physical sense of human and animal relocation as well as spiritual migration from a younger to older version of oneself.

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Scene from an adaptation of “Firebird” (PC: Meadows School of Arts)

The Hope Show’s “Firebird” opened with ominous music and searching flashlights over a sea of dancers moving as though in slow motion, invoking thoughts of the Mexican-American border so often shown on the news. Piercing blood-red stage lights in the next scene as dancers flung suitcases in despair moved my thoughts to Syrian refugees trying to cross oceans and countries to safety. A scene where dancers move under a fabric creating an ocean of displaced objects and people further instilled the notion of migration and abandonment. However, there were a couple parts to this complex performance that did not quite make sense to me in the context of their relevance to the topic of migration – the operation or abortion scene towards the latter part, for example.

“Firebird” dove and soared with the power of what I would imagine a Russian phoenix to be like, but some may say that it lacked connectivity between its inclusion of environmental pursuits represented by various hopeful green potted plants and the final act’s human “tree of life”. However, while some may criticize “Firebird” for more images than necessary, others may argue that it catered to all for everyone left with a politically charged message they cared about whether it was immigration, abortion, or environmental activism.

The Hope Show delivered four performances this past weekend. Whether you loved it, felt terribly confused by it, or disliked it; the one thing I can guarantee is that you will come away feeling strong emotions towards these talented Meadows School of Arts performances. My congratulations to the entire cast and crew who worked on Hope Show 2016.

Be sure to attend Hope Show 2017!

April 5th – 8th 2017 at SMU Meadows School of Arts, Bob Hope Auditorium, 8PM.

April 9th 2017, at SMU Meadows School of Arts, Bob Hope Auditorium, 2PM.

Buy Tickets Here

*Article originally written for the SMU Odyssey on April 2 2016

Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

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