Barnard and Columbia dancers will explore their animal sides this weekend in “Unearthed,” the 2012 installment of the MaMa Project.
The dance performance is sponsored by Orchesis, and will be presented in the Lerner Black Box Theater Feb. 23, 24, and 25 at 8 p.m. The MaMa Project is a yearly event that allows one choreographer the opportunity to create a conceptual work with a small cast of dancers. This year’s show is choreographed by Marie Janicek, BC ’12, who took her inspiration from the survival-driven movement of animals.
The piece begins with a spoken introduction by Janicek, revealing the motivation behind her choreography. In the introduction, she explains that animals are “captivating” to watch, because every movement they make directly impacts their chances of survival. “One wrong move, and they forfeit their lives,” she says. “As a result, every animal is always fully present in its body and scrupulously aware of its personal relationship to its environment.”
Janicek goes on to say that humans have lost this instinctive sense of connection. She envisions “Unearthed” as a journey through which she and her dancers reconnect with their “animalistic origins.”
The focused nature of the MaMa Project shows in the final product. The dancers have absorbed Janicek’s movement, and look completely natural in their performance. The organic nature of the dancing highlights the themes of intuition and survival. In “Unearthed,” dancers shift effortlessly between spontaneity and calculation. At times, the performers move together, as if they are part of a pack. At other moments, they dart past each other and exchange careful glances.
Janicek also utilizes the unique setup of the Lerner Black Box to its full effect. She and other dancers often use the exposed wall at the back of the stage as if it were a partner. Performers enter the stage from many different points, so that their entrances and exits never become static or predictable. The constantly evolving light design also contributes to this sense of unexpectedness.
The MaMa Project provides a unique opportunity for dancers on campus. The creative process leading up to the performance is very different from that of the other Orchesis showcases each semester, which feature the work of several different choreographers, and involve large casts, since every dancer who auditions is guaranteed a spot.
However, the MaMa Project is conceived and executed by just one choreographer. The choreographer can be selective, and work with a smaller ensemble of dancers who apply for the position in the fall. “Unearthed” features a cast of just 14, including Janicek, allowing for an intimate rehearsal process, which fits the venue. The Lerner Black Box blurs the lines between performers and spectators, and allows audience members to see the dance up close.
The MaMa Project presents a rare opportunity for a student choreographer to work so closely with a group of dancers over an extended period of time. In the case of “Unearthed,” the result is an exciting and primal experience.