If you’re concerned about seeing modern dance and not “getting it,” fear not. Pas de Monkéy Dance Project from Akron wants to keep dance accessible — friendly, even. The young company affiliated with the University of Akron might be gaining the training and the chops for serious dance, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. This unexpected mix, combined with spoken word elements and a touch of audience interaction, makes their trio of pieces, Dances for a Recession, pretty entertaining. From geeky humor to casual costumes, they keep things informal; they try to keep it real.
It’s refreshing that they give a damn about the audience’s experience. Clearly, they want to demystify dance to bring people along on their journey. Just before the show begins, choreographer/dancer Robin Pritchard and dancer Chelsea Hupalowsky provide a brief Modern Dance 101 moment, downloading the audience on the art form’s formal properties: time, space, energy. They also instruct us not to think about relationships as we watch the first piece, “Learning to Listen.” This is art for art’s sake, they say.
Resisting the urge to interpret the duo’s interactions is easier said than done. Pritchard and Hupalowsky take turns in an extended conversation where each completes in myriad ways the phrase, “When I do [INSERT SHORT MOVEMENT PHRASE], it means [INSERT EMOTION OR DESIRE].” The results are often fun, funny or poignant.
Now and then, they pause to address to audience directly — in theater parlance, they “break the fourth wall” — reverting back to rehearsal mode, giving the audience a glimpse into what the choreographic process entails. It keeps those in attendance on their toes, if nothing else. But for all their choreographic and verbal witticisms, I wondered why we were asked not interpret what we took in.
Themes of relationship tension underscore “Duet for Three.” Dancers Erin Buck, Chelsea Hupalowsky and Ellyn Sjoquist take turns being the proverbial third wheel. Though they display a dynamic range of movement qualities as they gently or roughly oust one another — and even come together in unison at times — I longed for a bit more emotional presence. The violin strings of Michael Nyman’s score drive most of the drama in this work.
“Cracks,” the final piece for the eight University of Akron Dance Company dancers, meanders through several disjointed sections, some somber and some silly. Ostensibly, the piece addresses the concept of entropy. It almost feels like multiple pieces had been rolled into one. A woman disdainfully says to another, “ Look at yourself!” Out of nowhere an inexplicable cheering conga line appears. Twice. I stopped trying to “interpret,” as instructed before, and got the feeling elements were indeed falling into disrepair. But we should keep our sense of humor, I suppose. Choreographically speaking, “Cracks,” offers some well-turned movement phrases and capable partnering. Why did we have to wait so long to see the dancers cut loose?
Their offbeat humor carries over into the show program. Their bios are a hoot. They’re equally committed to their random silliness offstage as they are engaged in their movements onstage.
Overall, the dancers display varying degrees of technical prowess, but what stands out is their commitment to movement. When they drop to the floor, they really give in to gravity. When they lean into one another (weight sharing), they really depend on each other. They convey a strong sense of weight and potent energy that makes their moves flow. More lifts would have been exciting, as they pull those off without hesitation.
Above all, the performers never appear rushed, as if they are truly enjoying every moment — and inviting us to savor it, too. Call it dance for dance’s sake.