“Sometimes, when you see dancers, you say, ‘she’s red’ — you can feel her personality, just like a painting,” said Tsai Hsi Hung, director of the Queens Ballet Center/QBC Company in New York, of how her work as a painter informs her choreography.
Hung and Chuck Wilt, artistic director of San Francisco and New York-based company UNA Productions, were the 2022 participants in Kennesaw State University’s Eleo Pomare-Glenn Connor Summer Choreographic Residency.
KSU’s Department of Dance will present world premieres by both artists in the second annual iteration of the program. The approximately hour-long double bill “Double Exposure” on Aug. 26 and 27 at the KSU Dance Theater in Marietta will be the first time either of them has shown work to Atlanta audiences.
Hung previously debuted work at the Joffrey Academy of Dance Spring 2020 Winning Works performance in Chicago. For her KSU premiere, “Wu,” she began by giving the dancers sketches of Chinese characters representing their names and asked each of them to create a movement sequence by “drawing” the characters with their bodies.
According to Deonna Francois, one of the students performing in “Wu,” Hung’s creative process pushed her and the other dancers to access untapped reserves of strength and yielded a dance that is “physically demanding, fast-paced and full of strong jumps and movement that the dancers attack with energy and power.”
Francois described the climax of the piece as a kind of “dance-off,” where the ensemble contends with one another in solos, duets and trios. A video on Hung’s Instagram account reveals lighting, music and costume design that all involve contrast — dark and light, ethereal flute and driving percussion, black and white with pops of red.
Hung described the piece as modeling an engine through which oppositional forces generate energy. This energy is what Hung hopes the audience experiences when they watch the performance. Even though story and symbol may not emerge as significant elements, Hung said she worked with the dancers and the score’s composer to infuse different characters and personalities into the piece; the interaction among these keeps the engine moving.
The second choreographer, Wilt, was a choreographic fellow of the Ailey Foundation New Directions Choreography Lab in 2017. He began work on his piece, “Resurface,” with a desire to create new worlds so he could take audience and dancers alike on a journey through different environments. He came into the residency at KSU with a general outline and the underpinnings of a movement vocabulary that he expanded and fleshed out with the dancers. “It’s impossible to come in with too much of anything prepared when each dancer brings unique strengths and experiences that are going to influence the work,” he said.
Wilt and Lindsay Duncan, a KSU Dance alumna performing in “Resurface,” both described the choreographic process as an emotional and intellectual exploration of authenticity and how individuals craft their social personae. During the first week of rehearsals, Wilt asked the dancers to write about and discuss what they sometimes keep hidden from others in social situations, and their reasons for concealing those aspects of themselves. Wilt and the dancers then translated that material into movement using improvisational techniques. “It was a very healing process,” said Duncan, “to hold a mirror up to ourselves like that.”
From day one, Wilt was struck by the dancers’ openness “to this very intense process that asked a great deal of them physically, intellectually and emotionally.” The residency proved to be significant in his ongoing investigation of dance that blends what he terms “onstage” and “offstage” movement vocabularies. The emotional register of “Resurface,” he said, ranges from high energy to meditative, and through everything in between.
The Pomare/Connor residency was initiated by a gift in 2019, and each summer it brings two nationally emerging or mid-career artists to Atlanta for four weeks to work with selected student and alumni dancers.
Marsha Barsky, associate professor and chair of the department of dance at KSU, said the program “provides KSU Dance students with the kind of opportunities they might expect if they were working with professional dance companies — daily technique classes, five-hour rehearsals and immersion in creative research.” The program was delayed because of the pandemic, but Barsky said the first two residency cycles have already “yielded tremendous artistic fruit.”
IF YOU GO
8 p.m. Aug. 26-27. $15-$20. KSU Dance Theater on Marietta Campus, 860 Rossbacher Way, Marietta. .ci.ovationtix.com/35355/production/1124804?performanceId=11083018
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