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Choreography, costumes, and artistic direction by Ryan Nicole Chrisman, MFA candidate, University of Maryland

by Carmel Morgan

March 6, 2008 -- Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland

On March 6, 2008, Ryan Nicole Chrisman, an MFA candidate in Dance at the University of Maryland, gave her audience multiple views of the Dance Department's outdoor courtyard in her site-specific work, "Place(d)." Patrons were escorted to the courtyard where the performers stood still amid trees, benches, and evening light as if they had been planted there. The audience was bundled in coats while many of the performers, layered in shades of cream, tan, and brown, wore knits and gloves.

"Place(d)" had an improvised, organic feel. However, it was carefully choreographed to fully explore the environment.

The piece began in silence. One figure did a squat-like jump. Another tugged the branches of a tree. The distinctive thunk of feet landing on soft earth and the clatter of naked branches striking each other provided the first hints of music. Then an electronic soundtrack started up. It captured the scratching of the branches and the rattle of rocks being displaced by fast-moving feet. Eventually musicians in the space began to play drums and trumpet. There was also a set of chimes in a tree. "Place(d)" was incredibly rich in its sounds.

The dancers exchanged wanting stares and gestures. In a canon, they lunged forward onto benches and fell back again. A hide-and-seek chase interrupted the flow, dancers delightfully running amok calling out, "Wait for me," or "I'm right behind you," as voices on the soundtrack also whispered lines from the children's game. Later the dancers came together in an impeccably timed series of movement. They rotated together in wide second positions, arms in front of them, finger splayed, as if they were jumping from an airplane.

Toward the end of the work the performers exited, leaving the audience enclosed in the courtyard alone. Soon, however, one heard knocks on the windows that border the space. The dancers stood against the glass, hands sliding down the panes, making magnificent shrieking sounds.

After the dancers made their final exit, the audience viewed a black and white film by Chrisman and Betty Skeen which provided another view of the courtyard and the choreography. The film gave insight into the choreographic process and the changing seasons. It was a shock to the see the dancers clinging to leafy trees, their cold-weather costumes replaced by sleeveless tops. Close-ups and shots from the ground showed the dance and the space in new ways. At the same time, it was wonderful to revisit the same familiar movement.

Chrisman, in a remarkable collaborative effort, successfully wove music, movement, film, and the natural and man-made elements of the space into a synchronous work. The unique music by University of Maryland composition student Kyle Johnson, performed by music performance students Justin Bland (trumpet) and Lee Hinkle (percussion,) was a perfect accompaniment to the dancing. Ultimately, "Place(d)" had a quality as fresh and pure as the grounds explored.

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