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The Scarlet & Black

Jaw-Dropping dance group graces Roberts Theatre

By Lily Jamaludin

On Wednesday evening, Roberts Theater was honored with a performance from critically acclaimed modern dance company, Michael Mao Dance.
The performance lasted over an hour, interspersed with commentary from choreographer Michael Mao and followed by a question and answer session.
The dance company performed five pieces choreographed by Mao: “Lorca Libre,” “China Moves Phase 3,” “Weaving,” “Day of Anger” and “China Moves Phase 1.” The five pieces demonstrated Mao’s original choreography and exhibited the dancers’ ability to move their bodies with strength, power, skill and enormous dexterity.
Mao’s dance company is widely known for including multicultural and international influences in its performances. The pieces included international influences from Spain, Cuba, Italy and China.
The dancers’ physical and athletic skills were perhaps best demonstrated in “Weaving,” in which the dancers moved—or weaved—between various pairs of other daqncers. They jumped and spun to heavy Kodo drumbeats and ended the piece theatrically stacked on top of each other.
Staying true to the dance company’s global outlook, “Day of Anger” utilized the music of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s requiem. The piece highlighted the dramatic movements of Kristin Draucker and Antonio Fini, evoking the tragedy, melancholy and beauty of death.
Dancer Antonio Fini described it as one of his favorite pieces to perform.
“It was very good for my soul,” Fini said, smiling.

Multicultural sensitivity was also highlighted in “China Moves Phase 3,” a collaborative effort between Mao, composer Huang Ruo, and visuals by Shawn Duan. The piece began with a sense of a slow awakening and moved towards a pace of frantic tension. It exhibited both Mao’s knowledge of modern dance and his cultural heritage.
Interestingly, and perhaps appropriately, the singing in the piece was not an actual language.
“Language doesn’t exist,” Mao said regarding the piece.
Indeed, language was highlighted throughout the event, with the dancers introducing themselves in their native languages, which were not always English. Indeed, many of the dancers come from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds in the United States and abroad. They hail from Atlanta, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and Utah, as well as Japan and Italy.
However, they are all united by their love for dance.
“I came to America to dance,” said Nao Yamada. Yamada trained in ballet with Takane Kisumi and studied at the Ailey School in New York.
The performance inspired and moved audience members.
“They danced with so much strength and passion, and at the same time you’re still thinking that body is something I have also, and I know how easily my body can break […] but they were so stable and centered and moving with all their energy, and putting it all in the performance,” said Joyce Bartlett ’15. “It’s incredible to me. It makes me realize how incredible it is to observe people living… [As] humans, we are led by our desires and impulses, and you can just feel those feelings through the dance. Even with all our flaws, we are still incredible.”
At the end of the performance, the dancers ended the session by answering questions from the audience, sharing their experiences with the Michael Mao Dance company and offering their advice on topics such as being professional dancers and eating right while on tour.
Notably, Michael Mao Dance, in addition to performing contemporary dance pieces, has also founded arts education project ESLDANCE. The project assists young teen immigrants in learning English through movement and modern dance, rather than translation. ESLDANCE has been endorsed by the National Endowment of the Arts as a “National Model Program,” and is now to be replicated nationally.
At a time when the United States is struggling to understand its multifaceted, multicultural identity, Michael Mao Dance demonstrates the beauty and power of the diverse bodies we own, and the need to utilize them to recognize the humanity that unites all of our identities.
Within the Grinnell community, it is hard not to connect the performance to current events at the College. Michael Mao Dance serves as a reminder that all of our bodies are beautiful, strong and powerful and demand respect and empowerment.

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