Opening night at Synapse: Joined together in a bundle of grooves
The definition of “synapse” is derived from Greek. Literally, it means to “join together”. In terms of human anatomy it’s referring to a gap between one neuron and another. With over 450 students, parents, and local residents attending Synapse’s opening performance, flooding the Broad stage lobby at SMC’s Performing Arts Center, “a place to join together” is the perfect analogy. But the “gap between one mind and another” isn’t bad either, for as the grand hall of the Broad’s lobby fills with attendees — most dressed to the nines in as much finery as they can bring — the buzz of excited chatter as people connect and talk and pass on their thoughts rises to a crescendo before the doors finally open. Everyone quiets down as they take their seats in the beautifully designed wood paneled cavern that is the theater proper.
The lights dim and in front of the chocolate velvet curtain hiding the night’s performers, three people walk on stage: Judith Douglas, the chair of the SMC Dance Department, Jae Lee and Mark Tomasic, the directors of the show everyone’s about to see. After the standard salutations and announcements from Ms. Douglas and Lee, Mr. Tomasic makes a bold declaration to the audience, “What you didn’t know is that when you came here tonight, you are taking part in a rebellion — a rebellion called modern dance.”
After pressing the audience into the Army of Modern Dance Attendees, Tomasic assures the audience that no matter what they think of any of the 11 pieces they are going to see tonight, they’re absolutely right. “Guess what? These are all abstract dances,” says Tomasic, “So if you have a different idea about what a dance is about, then you are absolutely correct. Then you become part of our modern dance rebellion.”
As the curtains pull away and chanting music swells over the loudspeakers for the piece, “Behind the Wall,” it’s Tomasic's philosophy that informs all that is to follow. This spirit of rebellion is Synapse 2015.
“It started as a rebellion against ballet. The ideas of ballet,” says Professor Angela Jordan, one of the faculty choreographers featured during the night’s performance, “It deals with one's philosophy. The subject matter can relate to human emotions, to storytelling, to anything you know.”
Professor Jordan’s piece, “No Tears for Goodbye,” is part of a number of pieces that exemplify her words. A number that, set and staged as a gospel funeral procession, the dancers flow with frustrated yet joyous grace that belies a sense of loss and celebration of a life passed. It’s a tribute to Broadway dancer Jeremiah Tatum, who Professor Jordan was profoundly moved by in life saying, “It was still with me this semester, and I just wanted to do something in honor of him.”
“No Tears for Goodbye” is one of a number of complex storytelling pieces featured throughout the night, trying to capture more than just a single emotion in its scant seven minutes. Others — like “Give Me Wings”, an amazingly well timed bit of staging showing the feeling of performing on stage choreographed by Laura Karlin — create a humorous tone with its short story.
Some, like “Power,” a ponytail whipping love note to Madonna’s “Vogue” and other club hits of the last two decades choreographed by SMC Student Jayna Goins, feel more like a step squad getting the football team pumped for the big game — no plot to tie it together, just a beat and sharp motion. Says Goins of her piece, “It's basically about girl power and being a woman and not being afraid to show off your curves. Just knowing that you're beautiful.”
Goins gets her dancers to perform her high-energy number well and, for the most part, this holds true for most of the cast that get up on stage. There are occasional missteps that show up throughout the performance and the occasional late cue, but only rarely is it noticeable — the Synapse crew is well honed after 9 straight weeks of rehearsal.
“I've messed up a myriad of times,” says Charlie Diaz about these kinds of errors, “You have to make it work, you have to be professional enough to not let it show and say 'oh I messed up' through your facial expressions."
Diaz holds true to his level of professionalism throughout the night and never cracks an unintentional scowl or grimace. He may claim to hide it well, but the truth is that he’s just that good. Diaz appears in more than half of the pieces of the night as the primary male lead before the night is through.
The night goes on and some numbers prove to be more captivating than others. Diaz joins in the pas de quatre (dance for four) of Professor Lee’s “Interrumpere,” a highly technical whirling blur of spins and sharp motion that captures a sense of overly formal sexuality. Others, like Roberta Wolin-Tupas’ “Forces,” come off as simply too abstract to get into — the kinds of pieces that scare people away from modern dance for simply being too out there to connect with, even if it’s flawlessly executed.
The best bits for were saved for last. Goins stars in the final number, “The Bench,” a raucous bit of dancing prop comedy choreographed by members of the LA based dance troupe, DIAVOLO. But it’s “Hither and Yon,” a piece by returning student Rachael Servello that comes across as the best of the show — a completely balanced number that focuses on classical techniques intermixed with excellent pas de duex (dance for two), grounding the poetry in motion it creates amidst the best technical use of lighting on the night.
As with Professor Jordan’s piece, Servello says it’s a number inspired partly by loss. “I had someone pass away close to me and that was the first time I had experienced death,” says Sevello,” It left a mark on my life and so I was affected by that. I was also affected by seeing . . . an improv duet — it was so beautiful. Both those things together really inspired me to do this piece."
Soon the night’s performances, and the modern rebellion they represents ends. Not all in attendance are impressed with the concept and seem to want the “status quo” that is ballet. Ethan Noh, an SMC student in attendance says, “I think if they focused more on the traditional dancing part and taken out the pop songs. [The pop songs] ruined the mood. I think the show was alright.”
So if you’re looking for more technically perfect ballet, perhaps Synapse (and modern dance in general) isn’t for you. That’s an understandable view. But if you show up with an open mind ready to rebel – even (possibly especially) if you don’t know you’re there to rebel – then watching the drove of dancers joined together for Synapse proves to be a great time.