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Annual Chelonia dance performances wow Beloit

Nicole Fredericks/The Round Table

The recent hate crime(s) on campus have forced me to ask a distressing question: “Do I really go to school with these people?” After attending Chelonia (directed by Chris Johnson) on Friday night, I found myself asking the same question, but this time it had only positive connotations. The outrageous level of talent and creativity on display left me in grateful awe, and I walked back to my dorm in stupefied silence (which is probably for the best because I was walking back alone). I’m still in a bit of a stupor, but I’ve thankfully had some time to begin reflecting on what I saw.

Here it goes.

The first dance of Chelonia, titled “Miss Millie Millicent, Hubert K., and Lil Dinah,” immediately grabbed (and held) the audience’s attention. Four dancers, decked out in innocuous 50’s suburban attire, took the stage, holding hands as if posing for an awkward family portrait. It’s worth noting that each was wearing a comically large mask that resembled a koala bear (or maybe a kitten, or maybe a marshmallow with ears). The comforting picture of banal domesticity initially presented was quickly exploded, replaced by an emotionally and sexually charged choreography. Layers of domestic repression were shedded, only to be returned to as the masked dancers repeatedly went back to their initial stoic lineup. A particularly rebellious koala (marshmallow?) would not be constrained, however, and her unbridled physical expression presaged an evening of compelling  physical and emotional performance.   

The next dance was a solo entitled “Time Spent.” There was no music, only the sharp inhales from the audience as Zoe Koenig’18 slowly moved across the dance floor. Her solo was a remarkable display of both technical virtuosity (how anyone’s neck can bend to such an extent without breaking is beyond me) and raw feeling.

A large ensemble followed Koenig in a dance called “Go(?!).” Attempting to zero in on just one aspect of the performance proved impossible, as the stage presented a constant sea of color,  each performer’s brightly extravagant hat disappearing then coming back into focus in a new spot, beside a new extravagant dancer.

The Baskin Robbins worthy blend of color in “Go(?!)” was replaced by a wall of red in “America Wild,” a jazzy five person performance set to the tune of “Lover’s Revolution” by Iron and Wine. The mood took a more somber turn with “Group Session,” where four dancers dressed in brown robes paced lightly across the stage in step with a haunting piano soundtrack, climaxing with John Paul Marquez reaching out at the edge of the stage, only to be held back (saved? Or stunted?) by his fellow dancers.

Nicole Fredericks/The Round Table

The final dance of the first act was “LesBi(s)ches,” choreographed brilliantly by guest artist and director of Ballez, Katy Pyle (who was previously profiled in the Round Table). 12 performers, half wearing full on tuxedo tailcoats, half wearing tuxedo vests, reenacted a fairy tale like ballet ballroom scene sans dresses. The notes that I frantically wrote on my phone between songs describe “LesBi(s)ches” as “real good,” and that description sums up the subtle, subversive, and invigorating performance pretty damn well.

The dance that forced me to confront just how insanely exacting a science dance is was “It Goes Without Saying.” Projected above the eleven dancers was footage of the exact dance they were performing. The dancers froze, statue like, multiple times throughout the song, perfectly synched with their past and now projected selves. As the song continued the film began to deliberately lose pace with the dancers, presenting their filmed performance in slow motion, prodding the viewer to try to view the past and present simultaneously.   

Next up was “Plastic3,” a solo dance by Aliza Tresser’18. Set against a song titled “Her,” by Madame Gandhi, Tresser moved in a hypnotic and almost devotional fashion, punctuating her movements in rhythm with the songs haphazard electronic pulsations and near constant refrain, “I’m made of salt.” Following Tresser’s one-woman show was a mix of spoken word, singing, beatboxing, and dance. “Porque ?por que no?” stuck all four elements in a blender and somehow managed to create a delicious smoothie of a performance.

Half a dozen dancers took the stage next for “something is happening that is not happening.” At the beginning off the dance all six were lined up in a chain, like toy soldiers, each movement reflective of a metronomic rigidity. As the song continued, however, the dancers began to detach one by one, casting off their conformity in the process.

The next dance, “Too Cool for School,” rejected the typical conventions of dance entirely. Zoe Koenig and Charlie Vail’18 half hugged, half wrestled their way through Foreigner’s pop hit “I Wanna Know What Love Is,” frantically trying grasp their way towards the answer to that question one mesmerizing moment at a time.

Chelonia finally concluded with a swaggering, frenetically competitive display of Hip-hop dance set (appropriately) to “Last Dance” by Two Banks of Four. The performance (and all eleven prior) left the audience buzzing as they left their seats and slowly returned to the frigid cold outside.

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