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Robin Becker Dance

'Into Sunlight'

by Carmel Morgan

January 20, 2012-- Gonda Theatre, David Performing Arts Center, Georgetown University, Washington, DC

On a cold January night, Georgetown University presented a very special performance by Robin Becker Dance titled “Into Sunlight,” inspired by David Maraniss’s “They Marched Into Sunlight – War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967.” The performers consisted of the Robin Becker Dance Company, plus students and alumni of Hofstra University’s Dance Department, where Becker is presently a faculty member. In the audience were several Vietnam War veterans. Maraniss, who authored the book that inspired the dance, delivered some short introductory remarks and participated in a panel discussion along with Becker and her dancers following the performance.

I’ve seen many, many dances that speak to the issue of war. However, it’s quite unusual to encounter a dance piece based upon a work of non-fiction. “Into Sunlight” clearly benefitted from the book that inspired it. Becker explained that the book was rich with imagery, and indeed, her choreography was rich with imagery as well. “Into Sunlight” featured many interesting juxtapositions. Perhaps most significantly, the dancers embodied the two groups Maraniss concentrates upon in his book – young protesters and young soldiers. But there were also ghosts that interacted poignantly with the living. All of this adeptly reflected the conflicting feelings that surrounded the Vietnam War.

“Into Sunlight” opened with a breathtaking sequence of dancers walking slowly backward from the wings on one side of the stage. Dressed in pale gray, they were spirits of soldiers who had died in other battles. The departed individuals made an ocean through which a boatload of young soldiers on their way to Vietnam traveled. A beautifully sculpted grouping moved through the sea in anticipation of a war about which they felt uncertain. Yoko Sugimoto-Ikezawa often climbed high atop the shoulders of other dancers, seeking sight of what both terrified and fired up the group.

Throughout “Into Sunlight” there were, not surprisingly, multiple scenes of struggle. Dancers lunged backward and forward. The emotional thrust of war propelled them along. The stage sometimes literally boiled with dancers popping up and down, bodies flying and quickly shifting. Pain, sadness, fear, anger, unease, disagreement, disorientation, and utter disbelief – all were appropriately part of this important work. In addition, there was longing. In a section called “Longing,” Sugimoto-Ikezawa and Joseph Jehle, in a stunning duet, ripped my heart to shreds. Jehle at first remained upright, like he’d sat up from a nightmare. In ghostly gray, he could have been a gravestone, erect and still. Sugimoto-Ikezawa clung to Jehle, hugging him from behind, but he was unmoved. She leaned heavily onto him. He stared straight ahead, solid as stone and empty of life. When he finally settled flat on his back, Sugimoto-Ikezawa placed her body on top of him, then placed her body snugly beside his. She manipulated his arms to rest around her, effectively eliciting my compassion for her loss (and the loss of everyone involved in the war).

Becker’s young dancers truly excelled. They impressed with their ability to deeply connect to the subject matter, and they conveyed the tragedy of war remarkably skillfully. Becker’s expertly constructed choreography must be given credit, and Maraniss’s book, too, but the absolute commitment of the dancers to “Into Sunlight” was, for me, the most moving part of the performance. It was apparent from the post-performance discussion that Becker spent a great deal of time talking with her dancers about the Vietnam War and that the dancers seriously explored the subject on their own as well. Stories of a war they were not a part of flowed through them with incredible conviction and composure.

It’s always a pleasure to experience a work that truly shines. Not only did Becker, Maraniss, and the dancers stand out, but the compositions by Chris Lastovicka, music direction by Arthur Solari, lighting design by Burke Wilmore, and projection by John Goodwin perfectly complemented “Into Sunlight.” The final moment of the work is apt to bring tears to anyone’s eyes. Not to give too much away, but the dancers literally walked into the sunlight, and you could hear sniffles all around.

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