Synapse dance show displays power and creativity

Emotions became movement on the stage as Santa Monica College dancers performed Sunday night for this semester's closing show of the Synapse dance spectacle at the Eli and Edythe Broad Theater at SMC's Performing Arts Campus.

The theme of this year’s show was postmodernism, which describes the era starting in the 1950’s and 60’s in which choreographers rebelled from the previous avant-garde style that had been in vogue by composing pieces that were more about the artist’s own thoughts and philosophies than the opinions of the audience, explained Jae Lee, artistic director of Synapse.

“This show specifically contained more introspection and the themes were a bit deeper and more personal,” said co-director Mark Tomasic.

With performances choreographed by students, faculty, and professional guest choreographers, the show featured 12 pieces in various modern-day styles, including contemporary, modern, lyrical modern, and others.

The music was a combination of minimalist rhythms, strong percussion beats, and classical influences. The costumes were composed of flowy, simplistic garments that showed off the movements of the dancers in action and resembled the dress of late nineteenth century dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan, whose attire was startlingly revealing for her time.

In a modern piece by Sean Greene titled “With Our Last Breath,” dancers express the forceful emotions that come with the onset of a great loss. Beginning with all dancers frozen in statuesque poses, dancer Kardale Holland escapes from his state of stagnation and moves sullenly from dancer to dancer, embracing them with grasping arms that long for comfort.

His face ridden with agonizing desperation, Holland seizes his motionless peers, and overcome with grief, he sobs into unresponsive arms. Violins play the melancholy tune that resonates between his weary heartstrings.

He spins tirelessly like a top with no direction, then collapses and returns to his feet several times as the surrounding dancers move in and out of consciousness. His bare, sweat-smeared chest reveals the breath of life pulsating through his exposed ribs.

At the performance’s closing, Holland stands toward the back of the stage with his arms outstretched and head thrown back like a tormented martyr soon to be out of his misery. He catches the dancers who leap yearningly into his arms one by one, holding onto the last female dancer who breathes loudly in silence, which is soon to be interrupted by the uproar of applause that follows.

The next piece was a contemporary work titled “Dawn Undersea,” which featured student choreographer and dancer Xiang Xu.

A quick, rhythmic drum beat introduces the otherworldly sight of a being with balls of light for hands entrapped in a thick net. Eerie, dissonant violins clash to the tune of the dancer’s struggle to free himself.

With each strike of the violin, Xu twists and turns like an entangled serpent. He slowly emerges from a hole in the enclosure, but the struggle is not over, as he continues to contort on the ground as if in the midst of an exorcism.

Dressed in nothing but skin-colored spandex shorts, Xu releases his inner primordial being and wiggles wildly to the equally eccentric music. His animalistic motions mimic those of birds, fish, and jungle predators.

A restless performer, Xu’s performance grows more intense as beach-like sounds immerse the stage and he moves excitably, mouth agape, more beast-like than human. The sheen of his sparkling body is only enhanced by the droplets of sweat that are flung away with every abrupt turn. It was a sight unjustified by any description words can muster.

As is typical of performances in which inexperienced attendees are present, there were a few instances of premature applause, one of which occurred near the end of the dance, as if the audience was impatient to praise Xu for his stellar performance.

Other pieces, such as “An Opening” and “Trio,” were more abstract pieces without a clear theme, left for the viewer to interpret. The lack of an apparent purpose or message is characteristic of postmodernism, and viewers who become too caught up in deciphering the meaning may fail to enjoy the simple beauty and artistry of the work.

One of the night’s performances with a glaring message, however, was Gabriel Avila’s “Tragedy and Triumph: Survivors,” which depicted the story of a truthfully inspired fatal accident caused by distracted driving. The piece ended with authentic monologues from various dancers and an urgent plea to “please, please watch the road.”

The final and most eclectic piece of the night was an upbeat jazz funk/whacking fusion dance by student Alex Ayon titled “Necromancy,” in which three powerful witches dominate over helpless dead souls. Set to electro-pop music, the dance employs movements such as stomping, slapping, and striking in sync with the forceful beat.

Whether to return to an era of primitive nature, sacred cleansing, or thoughtful inception, the Synapse dance company upheld its promise of delivering “truth, beauty, inspiration, and meaning” to its fortunate witnesses.