People filed into Rodey Theatre Friday evening for the opening night of “AMPLIFY,” a dance performance by the University of New Mexico Department of Theatre and Dance.
For audience member Theresa Sherman, the performance was one to remember.
“It's really impressive to see students do such a quality, professional level of performance,” Sherman said.
The dancers, all students at UNM, performed pieces choreographed by UNM faculty and guest artists. The work varied in theme, technique and dance type.
Donna Jewell, the head of the dance department and the artistic director of the show, said such diversity has great benefits for the students and the audience members.
“A diverse program, the kind that we're doing this weekend, provides a place to have conversation about what's important to us as humans and accepting each other's aesthetic diversity,” Jewell said.
The two flamenco pieces were choreographed by guest artists from Spain who came to work with the students, she said.
“One is from the south of Spain in Málaga, and his name is Adrián Santana,” Jewell said. “The piece has these really big, bata de cola dresses, the Spanish dresses with the long tail behind...The other piece is by Jesús Carmona. It has some props. It has a really driving rhythm. Very intense, very dramatic piece.”
The dancers whipped and twirled about the stage to a mixture of recorded and live music in both of the flamenco pieces, using facial expressions along the way.
Sherman attended the show, because she is taking a beginning flamenco class and it sounded interesting, she said. Her favorite part of “AMPLIFY” was the flamenco.
“This is the first time I've come to a performance here, and I need to come more, because it's amazing — the high level of talent and costuming,” Sherman said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I need to come more often.’”
There were also some contemporary dances such as “Anthem for a Porcelain Generation,” which was choreographed by a group called the AGA Collaborative.
The AGA Collaborative, created by dance artists Gretchen Alterowitz, Alison Bory and Amanda Hamp “digs into questions about the experience of being alive in this moment,” according to the “AMPLIFY” program.
“It's a piece that they have worked on with other campuses around the United States, and it's about social media — how people use social media, how it affects their lives,” Jewell said. “When they work with the students, they interview and get information from the students about how social media affects their lives, and they use that information to create the work.”
The piece included many moments where the dancers stopped and spoke, often causing the audience to laugh.
Jewell said she really likes it when a piece pushes an audience’s boundaries and makes them think in new ways.
“It's very interesting to me to have people who get really upset by a piece and they're sitting right next to somebody who's really enjoying it...I think it opens up a window on the possibilities of performance. I think it helps people ask questions about how performance evolves and how it changes over time,” she said.
Jewell choreographed one of the pieces herself, titled “Shimmer.” This piece included a large, gold dress held up by the stage like a curtain.
Mariah Baker, one of the dancers for this piece, said the garment gave the group a lot of unique challenges.
“We just got the dress in January, so we had about a month to really work with it,” she said. “It's like another dancer, is the best way to describe it.”
Baker could just stop thinking about the steps and get lost in the music, she said.
“In this piece, especially where the music was so prevalent and big, it's more just listening to the music and feeling whatever sensation you feel when you're doing it and kind of living with that and living with the other people who are onstage with you,” Baker said.
Julie Abeyta, who also danced in “Shimmer,” “Anthem for a Porcelain Generation” and “Bricolage,” choreographed by Vladimir Conde Reche, said she also felt like she could stop thinking while dancing.
“I think (practice) is important, because nerves always get to me,” Abeyta said. “I can kind of get out of my head and just know that I have a ton of muscle memory to rely on, because we've been doing this for (so long). I think things will get better. There's always the first-night jitters, but I think it went well either way.”
Brandon Ortiz, an audience member, said that he knows some of the dancers.
“It's cool to see them in their element,” he said. “I know them as just people, but it's great to see them as artists and see the expressions that they put out there.”
Ortiz said he has been to the annual dance department’s spring production multiple times.
“I like to think of these events as expressing an overall color...Last year was like a dark maroon — it was very heavy. This year, it definitely lightened up a bit. It was a little more lively,” he said.
The pieces change a lot throughout time, even from performance to performance, Baker said.
“I find that the first performance and the last performance, they probably don't look very different, but they feel different,” she said. “It's manifested, and it's become something larger and more profound. I'm looking forward to seeing how we continue to dive into it each night and how it might be different.”
“I want to communicate to the community that we want to share an experience with them,” Jewell said. “All of these pieces are open for interpretation, and they're not complete until the community is there for us to communicate with.”
“AMPLIFY” will show Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Rodey Theatre.
Ariel Lutnesky is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ArielLutnesky.