A simulated black hole from NASA that Su Wen-Chi thought best illustrates her yet unnamed and unfinished work.
Dance is a play with gravity; and one that choreographer Su Wen-Chi is exploring on the level of a physicist.
The Taiwanese choreographer is going deep on the subject of gravity – its subtlety and its power – in her latest work-in-progress. Yet unnamed, it’s taking shape during a residency at the EMPAC at Rensselaer and rightly so. Much of what is developed on the Troy campus is scientific, academic and, of course, experimental. And while the work, as shown on Thursday evening, is clearly in its infancy, Su’s work offers some sparks of promising inspiration.
For one thing, her single dancer in the piece, a man named Adam (last name not given), actually dances. Anyone who is familiar with EMPAC knows that walking in a circle, crawling through a hoop or standing at a podium is often, annoyingly, deemed to be dance. Thus, I was well-pleased when I saw that Adam moved, and moved well.
In the opening section of five shown, the soloist is revealed by the flash of strobe lights that freezes him in various states of movement. He hops in arabesque and cartwheels his legs behind him. His arm shoots upwards, but the feeling is gentle, carefree. He doesn’t devour the space, he freely inhabits it, comfortable with the gravitation pull.
That section moves onto one in which ambient sounds hums while his limbs float upwards – above his body as if gravity no longer exists.
Music is added – at various speeds – and his solo becomes gestural as if demonstrating how to live or cope in the force field of our often taxing world.
The lighting design was spectacular, a whirlpool of dotted lights that left one seeing Adam tumbling through the universe. At one point, the audience is allowed to take the stage. The experience from there, with the lights and sound in the Goodman Studio rotating around the crowd, was intriguing. But equally fascinating was the view from the seats – with the audience in silhouette, they looked like aliens exploring an uncharted cosmos.
The only problem with the unfinished piece, and this was likely because it was in-progress, was Su. She kept stopping the show to explain what she was trying to do in each scene. And as much of what she was describing was beyond my comprehension, it was not helpful, only bothersome.
I prefer the dancing, the lights and even the unusual sounds. No narration needed.
"Dancing With the Stars Live!" is on tour and stopped at the Palace Theatre in Albany.
What’s not to love about “Dancing With the Stars Live!” tour?
Yes, it is cheesy, and yes, it is contrived. But it is pure eye candy that flashes so quickly that I still can’t tell if, on Wednesday night, I was entertained or stunned.
Either way, I barely remember what happened at the Palace Theatre. The images do linger, however, of scantily clad dancers who gobble up the space to pop tunes in front of swirling digital backdrops on a two-story stage.
I’m not a fan of ABC’s long-running and popular competitive dancing showcase. But I do understand the attraction. It’s dancers – who in Albany included such champs as Emma Slater, Whitney Carson, Gleb Savchenko and Sasha Farber – are all fine ballroom technicians. They are sleek, polished and know how to play to the audience. They lend every step -- in such dances as a paso doble or a waltz – a confident attitude, unleashing showy flourishes that are typically kept under wraps in a sanctioned ballroom event.
Its “stars” are another matter. Rarely does the show have A- or even B-listers. Mainly, their stars are fallen ones, ones seeking their first or second shot at fame or any fame at all.
Singer Ally Brooke was the night’s celebrity guest. It was her last night on the tour and it’s probably a good thing. She looked terribly unable to move competently and each of her appearances, despite her partner’s best efforts, were embarrassing.
Luckily, the sequined females and the bare-chested male dancers were marvelous. Among my favorite dances were a tango to the Eagles’ “Hotel California” and a lyrical one to the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” The pairing of music and dance were always surprising, proving that clever choreography, well danced, can be coupled with nearly any song.
The team of five male dancers also did a silly bit where they pulled five women, of a certain age, up onstage for a lap dance. It was hilarious and all of the women seemed to enjoy the joke.
What struck me the most was the dancers’ generosity. Valentin Chmerkovskiy came out solo to tell the crowd how much he appreciated Capital Region fans who have cheered them on in previous tours – including one at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. His sincere thank you was followed by a video Valentine from the ensemble that was also sweet.
The gesture wiped a bit of the TV sheen away – showing a glimmer of heart and humanity. “Dancing With the Stars” is more than spray tans, sexy costumes and plastered on smiles. It’s people who love to dance and do it in dazzling style.