February 2, 2001


Fairchild Theatre, Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan

February 2?4, 2001

Reviewed by Kate O’Neill

It’s surely remarkable when a small dance company weathers funding and other crises over the years to reach its twenty-fifth anniversary?even more remarkable when past dancers return to perform at the anniversary concert.

Yet when Happendance, Michigan’s longest-running professional modern dance company, marked its first quarter-century, Happendancers from the 1970s and ’80s, along with current company members, performed with spirit in “25 Alive!” The anniversary concert, directed by Happendance founder Diane Newman and co-artistic director M. Jane Heppner-Gamble, featured a new work by New York choreographer David Dorfman along with favorites from the Happendance repertoire.

Dorfman’s Here, Right Here was created “in collaboration with the Happendance community” during a ten-day residency. Dorfman elicited both writing and movement from the dancers to create a work that spoke of the many years they had shared making and performing dances. Intrigued by the performing space chosen for the concert (the 600-seat Fairchild Theatre shares a stage with a much larger auditorium on the opposite side), Dorfman decided to take full advantage of this setting.

In the opening section of Here, current company members projected a feeling of mutual support in their slow, sustained movements. Then the backdrop curtains parted to reveal more dancers moving through the vast spaces of the larger auditorium, like visions from the past, arriving to join the group onstage. In the finale, children ran through the distant auditorium?a look to the future. Altogether, this was a wonderfully quirky piece, filled with both humor and bittersweet nostalgia.

It was a pleasure to revisit the program’s three revivals from the company repertoire. Two were by Newman: Cosmic Buccaneers (1980) and Shards (1990, revised 2000). The former ranks among the best of Newman’s earlier works, a comic piece about cosmic explorers staking their claim in space. By contrast, Shards takes a thoughtful look at women in Third World countries. Newman weaves movement with gesture and props to convey both their hardships and their will to endure.

In Crepitant Whispers, Heppner-Gamble, an ardent animal lover, presented her view of the social and gentle nature of the wolf. This was a compelling work, especially the passages for the Lone Wolf (Heppner-Gamble) and the young wolf that befriends him (Melissa Bischoff).

by Doris Humphrey and Ruth St. Denis, and Gently Quirked by Robin Wilson, separated by eighty years, were sharply contrasting music visualizations. Soaring, set to music by Robert Schumann and staged from a Labanotation score by dance professor Dixie Durr (mentor to many Happendancers), seemed to float right off the page of a dance history book. Quirked, by turns frantic and languid, reflected the volatile moods of Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G for Piano and Orchestra.