Review: UMoves Conveys Racism, Love and Vulnerability in Modern Dance

Photo courtesy of Zachary Z. Handler
Photo courtesy of Zachary Z. Handler.

The entire crowd jumped as the sound of a gunshot rang through the audience.

The dancer crouched on stage, trembling.

Devin Seldon, choreographer and lone dancer twisted, trembled and leapt in anguish to sound clips from CNN and ABC News.

The words of Trayvon Martin’s mother resonated from the speakers:

“And it’s a more deep-rooted hatred that people have. If you’re not African-American, a lot of people don’t understand, they don’t quite get it. They just think we are complaining about something that doesn’t really exist. And we’re living this everyday. This is our life.”

This was a pivotal moment in the UMoves 2015 performance at The Clarice. The show featured choreographed routines from this university’s students, and explored issues of race, loneliness, violence and love.

A burst of light ended the show. One dancer standing on stage in earth green garb stared over her shoulder with determination at the audience.

In this routine, each of the dancers, except for one, represented a fear. The main dancer was the exception; her fears twirled and leapt around her. Slowly, one by one, the performers left the stage. With each dancer’s absence, the lights brightened, symbolizing clarity.

This was the conclusion of a piece called Teetering, and it is the one performer Chelsea Brown connected with the most.

She explained the dance is about being on the edge of making a decision.

“The edge is a good edge so you let go of your fears as you go and you jump into something,” Brown said. “I feel like for everyone, myself included, fears hold us back from doing things that we’re capable of that we don’t realize we’re capable of.”

The first performance began on a similar note. It boldly explored the intersection of fear and love.

During other songs, four dancers dominated the stage with Ben Howard’s “Promise,” a song thick with emotion and rain. The performers began slowly, holding their necks and twisting around their own bodies, exploring the space cautiously.

They seemed to convey that loving someone deeply is difficult and requires great vulnerability. During the dance, they opened up slowly by using their hands to create momentum for spinning rather than for clutching their own bodies.

With arms outstretched, exposed and vulnerable the dancers pulled and pushed each other across their stage, flinging the weight of their own bodies. Each dancer slowly began to smile.

Christina O’Brien, a dancer and the choreographer of the piece is a student at this university.

“[It] came from a lot of different places, and this meaning of trust and isolation and community kind of developed as it went on,” O’Brien said.

Hearing onlookers explain to her what they got from it was an astounding experience, each individual had unique interpretations of the production.

“There’s this idea that art is always relative and about your own interpretation, that you can have almost any interpretation and it will be right,” O’Brien said. “But I also think that there is something absolute about it. Some broad theme that’s going to be interpreted by everyone.”

O’brien said she learned how there is a central truth to each piece that will likely be perceived by all who see it, even if they view it through different eyes.

As the dancers threw themselves with precision about the stage, O’Brien aimed to capture “the experience of being alone and trying to be content but there’s only so much that you can fill yourself with alone.”

When the dancers open up, they begin falling on one another.

“There’s a youthfulness about it, but also something heavy,” O’Brien said. “And then as it progresses there’s a moment of risk where we decide to trust each other.”

There is a “transcendent joy” about it. Not a happy-go-lucky atmosphere but a deeper, more persistent joy.

Andre Artis, a performer, described the show as “an explosion of ideas.”

“We are allowing these different events to move through us,” Artis said.

Another dance featured two bodies moving in unison. They explored the space around them, surrounded by the holograms of water and tree branches, which created the illusion of gazing up at the sky and down at the ocean simultaneously.

The performance explored a range of truths and memories. They focused on the experience of being black in the United States, learning to love, and battling with the sheer joy and terror of being.

Each piece relied on repetition and relapse, the rising and falling of bodies in fluid motion, separateness, togetherness and overall precise precision.

Even the stage itself came to life as the dancers explored flux and flow of emotion. One performance explored police brutality to the beat of a rap.

So pretty all these hands, this dance we do with dusk, how fast we fall and fade to dust.

Dancers in black sweatshirts and sweatpants, hoods pulled up to hide their faces, stomped about on stage as the voice in the background chanted.

What a way to fade, what a way to die.

The hooded figures continued to pace on the stage to the beat of the words and violins in the background.

I ask the man in blue if maybe we won’t have to go today.

Two dancers curled on the floor, writhing and curling into fetal position.

Just a black boy. Just another speck of dirt on the road. Kinky hair and a thousand wishes.

Two of them removed their hoods, exposed and vulnerable, they held up their hands in the orange light and air filled with fog. The lights were the color of dusk, and the fog looked like dust in the air.

The dancers stood, hands raised as if standing in front of a police officer. Their backs were to the audience.

Shadows of men run amok, pursed heads stained with blood. I hope they drown in the sea of me.

headshot_rayeRaye Weigel is a freshman English and community health double major and can be reached at

One response to “Review: UMoves Conveys Racism, Love and Vulnerability in Modern Dance”

  1. […] UMoves Dance Concert Explores Themes of Racism and Love […]

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