August Wilson Ensemble dances with emotion

Katie Pryor
Assoc. Arts & Culture Editor

On September 28 in the Winter Visual and Performing Arts Center, Millersville University was treated to a mix of modern ballet, jazz and African tribal dance from the renowned Pittsburgh-based, eight-membered August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble.
The ensemble is part of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, which was named Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright and strives to bring African-American culture to life through the arts. With this performance, eight amazingly talented artists from several different walks of life brought stories and emotions to life through choreography and artistic expression.

In the piece “The List,” a Jewish family learns that they are being sent to a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
In the piece “The List,” a Jewish family learns that they are being sent to a concentration camp during the Holocaust.

The first piece, “The List”, depicted the pain and fear of a family living during the Holocaust. Choreographed by Christopher, the piece starts with a family – the husband, wife, and two daughters – sitting around the kitchen table when they receive a letter telling that they are being sent to a concentration camp. As they fearfully and desperately start dancing on and around the table, as the wife and husband embrace each other, as they pack and are sent away to the camp, and as they slowly perish to illness in the concentration camp, the dancers truly portrayed the fear, heartbreak and anguish the victims of the Holocaust went through. It was especially effective with the choice of music, which featured songs from the film “Schindler’s List”, and the dancers brought musicality and expression to the choreography as well as their impeccable technique.
After a brief intermission, the next piece, “Relations,” was about a couple who at first seem so in love, but then another woman comes into the life of the man, and he’s suddenly torn between his girlfriend and his mistress. The choreography starts off very soft and romantic, but when the mistress comes in, the dancing then becomes more intense, with the man trying to win back his girlfriend but then eventually losing her and having to go with his mistress. The male dancer, James Barrett, had a lot of partner work in terms of lifts, but was there for the two female dancers – Kaylin Horgan, the girlfriend, and Rebekah Kuczma, the mistress – every step of the way.
While the first two pieces were in the genre of lyrical, modern ballet, the next piece, “Breath,” was more in the genre of African tribal dance. It featured the entire August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble and had dancing to music with bolder rhythms and tribal beats and instrumentation. The dancers seemed to really let go in this piece and were very free, jovial and organic in their movement and technique. The choreography, which was done by Terence Greene, had the performers dancing in big, swift, lively movements and they were very bright and exuberant in their expression. It was a very entertaining piece to watch and the dancers seemed to be enjoying themselves while dancing it.

August Wilson Dance Ensemble’s “Faith” brings soulful modern ballet to the VPAC.
August Wilson Dance Ensemble’s “Faith” brings soulful modern ballet to the VPAC.

The next piece, “Springtime,” fit more into the genre of jazz, with its music from Stevie Wonder and the dancers dressed in black costumes. The stage darkened and an armchair was set at the side of the stage. Judging by the lyrics to the songs, especially Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer,” the chair seems to represent death in this piece. The dancers slowly dance and move towards it as if they’re afraid of it, and then slowly move away from it as if repulsed by it. Then at the end of the piece, when there is only one dancer left on the stage, she wraps herself in the coat that’s sitting on the chair, perhaps symbolizing that she has accepted death.
Finally, the ensemble closed the recital with “Faith,” a piece about the salvation of religion. The songs were a mix of soulful gospel music and contemporary Christian music. The piece was beautiful and joyous, both in terms of movement and expression, and the dancers played off of each other well and looked like they were enjoying themselves.
It is evident that the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble is a very talented, well-trained and expressive group of artists. They brought technique athleticism, soul and emotion to every piece of choreography they performed, whether it was tragic modern ballet, bluesy jazz, lively African tribal, or religious soul. It was a truly breathtaking and unforgettable experience.