Dance Happening: UNCA students show work-in-progress at Fall Dance Happening

By Kathryn Gambill
Sports Staff Writer
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Dressed in all black, eight UNC Asheville students jump, glide and roll on the dance studio floor, warming up for the Fall Dance Happening.
The event was created three years ago by Celia Weiss Bambara, director of the dance program at UNCA.
“My first year here, I said we need to have some sort of way in which students can show work-in-progress and receive feedback and faculty can too if needed,” Bambara said. “It’s informal, and most importantly, is a really safe space to share before they are produced in the Belk (Theatre).”
Bambara’s main goal when starting the event was to create a departmental culture which facilitated a space where both undergraduate and graduate work could be created. She said she wanted students and faculty to have a space where they could openly test new ideas and discover themselves.
“We’re thinking really big-scale about how this work fits into a larger notion of global contemporary dance,” Bambara said. “The idea behind the happening is that this type of informal, experimental showing happens internationally. It’s part of parallel notions of post-modernism that arose in the 1960s and ‘70s in the United States and in Europe and in Asia and in Africa.”
In order to show work at the Happening on Nov. 16, Bambara said students must apply and have their work accepted. Students must take a separate dance class to showcase unique work composed outside of the context of the dance program.
The evening opened with the loud echo of Sam Smith’s “Burning” filling the dance studio. Jess Williamson, a senior mass communication and dance student, moved with power disguised as grace to the center of the studio, creating graceful lines and working in tandem to the music.
Throughout the evening, the students showed work using a variety of multimedia forms, including video projections and  sounds from nature. One student danced to the noise of gravel underfoot, while another danced to music created by plants connected to a synthesizer via electrodes.
The fourth dance of the evening, performed by sophomore biology student Myles House and management student Sarah Hirst, filled the studio with “Drop the Game” by Flume & Chet Faker. Lea Zdanski, a junior mass communication student, shared her work in silence, without the accompaniment of music or sounds.
“My piece is centered around the projection of a short film I made,” Zdanski said. “I’d have to say I’m most excited about that aspect of this.”
While she had ample time to edit and revise her film, Zdanski said she was nervous about performing live in front of an audience and had to mentally prepare herself for the accompanying piece.
She said she composed her piece, which she has worked on since September, as a part of her Site Specific and Experimental Dance-Making course taught by Bambara.
Lane Wagner, a senior women, gender and sexuality studies student, showed work which was composed  in collaboration with his major for his senior capstone.
“I was able to really focus my studies about embodied aspects of gender and sexuality,” Wagner said while introducing his piece. “As a dancer, that was extremely important to me.”
When completed, Wagner’s piece will include a talk, solo performance and a film, each of which are 10 minutes long.
“My video is going to be kind of a continuation of a solo I put together last semester, where I really explored the discovery of my gender identity and sexuality,” he said.
The video will be a combination of two solos intertwined, almost as though he is dancing with himself, Wagner said. The masculine aspects of the dance will be performed in feminine spaces, primarily nature. The feminine performative character, also portrayed by Wagner, will be placed in the urban areas of West Asheville, such as the railroad tracks and alleyways.
“I tried to challenge the idea that masculinity is harsh, masculinity is hard and unyielding,” Wagner said. “So I tried to dance the most masculine parts of myself in some of the places that I find most beautiful.”
Wagner’s solo, titled “Children of Mars,” explores and critiques the ways in which society celebrates masculine identities. He said a large part of the excerpt presented at the happening focused on the ways young boys are socialized to be masculine.
To finish the evening, Williamson joined Wagner on the studio floor for an excerpt of a piece they have been working on together.
“They work together very nicely,” Bambara said.
Williamson and Wagner danced to the acoustic rendition of “Superpowers” by SAARA. Powerful connection and trust between the dancers was evident as they moved across the floor together.
More student work will be shared at the Fall Dance Sharing at the Carol Belk Theatre on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, held in collaboration with the drama department. The Spring Dance Sharing will showcase advanced student work on April 26 and 27.