Synapse delivers a heartfelt dance spectacle

The ache of longing, the search for identity, the desire to rule, these and other themes culled from the depths of human experience defined the fall program of Synapse. Staged by the Santa Monica College dance department, Synapse is an annual celebration of all the facets of modern dance. On Sunday night those in attendance at The Broad Stage were witness to great dancing, but also to a profound, riveting show of pure expression through the human body.

Before the gallery of performances began, the show's artistic directors, SMC dance instructors Jae Lee and Mark Tomasic, provided an introduction. Tomasic set the tone well by describing the emergence of modern dance as a rebellion against the rigid structure and conformity of the Victorian era in Europe. What followed was a show of light, sound and movement that seemed to rebel against the confines of the stage.

While Synapse has always been a visually striking production, this semester there was a particular, refined sense of forming images. One of the first numbers performed, "Song Of The Winter Sun," a mix of modern dance to the 14th century sounds of Motet's "Nesceins Mater," featured dancers in white, flowing costumes posing like figures in a Renaissance painting. Framed by light and shadow, their faces and bodies breathed like flesh and blood incarnations of Caravaggio, or a distant, morning dream. This was elegant choreography by SMC dance student Rachael Servillo.

But the vein that coursed through this Synapse show was the idea of human interaction and contact. In the piece "Barbara, Katherine, Grace," choreographed by Tomasic, male and female dancers in conservative clothing expressed through a tense, but fluid dance the dynamics of familial and romantic relationships. The men embodied the idea of the "man of the household" while the women danced in expression of the struggle within definitions such as housewife (in one moment dancer Maisha Morris was made to hold cooking items). It was direct, but poetic social commentary.

One particularly original moment was the piece "A Link To The Past," which was the brainchild of SMC student dancer and choreographer Glenn Rodriguez. In a Romanesque-style costume, Rodriguez alone held the attention of the audience as he moved with a sharp tension in a piece about falling in life and finding oneself again. Rodriguez was inspired by the character Link from "The Legend Of Zelda."

A moment of deep eloquence came with "Contagion," a dance choreographed by SMC student Alex Perez. To the sounds of "Another Love" by Tom Olden, the dancers, first in everyday shirts, pans and dresses, performed moments of general human contact and how feelings can be passed through actions. A man reaching for a woman who rejects him, a moment of conversation, anger, jealousy or sadness, all this was brought to life. To long for someone who does not want you, to meld closely with another were emotions brought to life through a hand reaching out, fierce eyes locking and in all the dancers changing into the same color of costume.

And when the show did not immerse the Broad in the melancholia of Max Richter's orchestral strings, it came alive with the sounds of modern rhythms. "Days Like This" was a fun, energetic number choreographed by student Juan Diaz which featured dancers in modern clothing simply taking over the stage with joy, as if dancing at a block party to the sounds of "I Love Days Like This" by Sean Escoffrey.

Yet this Synapse excelled when it focused on deep reflection. "There Is More," choreographed by SMC dance instructor Karen McDonald, was an eloquent set of movements in simple, flowing dress. The dancers balanced on chairs and moved in beautiful synchronization, expressing the quest of individuals to find more in life. Returning Synapse dancer Luciana Tarantino, in beautiful Roman profile, especially caught the eye by evoking mood through her precise, strong movements.

Another standout through out the show was SMC dancer Maisha Morris. She was a towering performer on stage, embodying different styles and moods with a magnificent skill. Her greatest moment came during the show's closing number, an epic piece titled "Reign" set to Lorde's cover of "Everybody Wants To Rule The World." Morris appeared sitting on a throne, dressed like some sci-fi empress decked in gold. A troupe of dancers, dressed like Roman slaves, moved in powerful synchronicity before Morris joined them to the ferocious beat of Michael Jackson's "Slave To The Rhythm Remix." Empress and slaves became one. It was decadent, feverish and brilliant. It was no surprise that this piece was choreographed by SMC dance instructor Angela Jordan, who last year astounded audiences with a feline adaptation of Lady Gaga's "Applause."

When the curtain fell it was evident that the entire SMC Synapse team should be proud of another masterful delivery. They stormed heaven, they danced the night away, but they also managed to find a pulsating, human heart in every step.