Review: ‘Look Back: Move Forward’ at UH-Manoa

Nov. 16, 2013 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY CAROL EGAN / Special to the Star-Advertiser

“Look Back: Move Forward” at Kennedy Theatre is proof — if any was needed — that the University of Hawaii dance program is contributing to and enriching the dance community in Hawaii in many ways.

The production, directed by dance professor Betsy Fisher, is part of Kennedy Theatre’s 50th anniversary celebration. It includes pre- and post-performance video and slide projections on the building facades, the adjacent lawn and the East-West Center across the road. Once inside, a short film showing the history of Kennedy Theatre precedes the concert, while the eight dance segments ranging from traditional to contemporary offer a cornucopia of styles and rhythms.

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‘Look Back: Move Forward’

Presented by the UH-Manoa Dept. of Theatre and Dance

» Where: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa
» When: 8 p.m. Nov. 22 and Nov. 23 (pre-show discussion at 7 p.m.); also 2 p.m. Nov. 24
» Cost: $5-$25
» Info: (808) 944-2697 or

“Look Back” examples are Jean Erdman’s “Hamadryad,” originally choreographed in 1948, and Carl Wolz’s “Blue-Green” from 1980. Erdman, born in Hawaii in 1916, had a successful career in the New York modern dance world before returning home. The first dance performed on the Kennedy stage in 1964 was a work by Erdman. Wolz founded the UH dance program in 1966 and is credited with developing the foundation for the strong training for which it is known.

These early works both show a respect for form and spatial exploration. “Hamadryad” teams up a solo dancer and flautist (Debussy’s “Syrinx” is the musical accompaniment). Although created 65 years ago, the dance struck my companion as being “very modern.”

Wolz’s “Blue-Green,” a mere 33 years of age, features a statuesque duo, the excellent Mareva Minerbi and Blythe Stephens, dancing to Francis Poulenc’s lyrical “Sonata for Oboe and Piano.” Echoing each other’s movements at first, with broad and full sweeps of arms and legs, they traverse the stage, sometimes in unison, often in counterpoint. Whether together or apart, one feels they are united.

Remaining works on the program were created by UH dance alumni. In his opening remarks, department Chairman Gregg Lizenbery explained that the program is proud of its diversity. “We don’t like to make clones,” he stated. Evidence of this philosophy was soon to follow.

Blythe Stephens, left, and Mareva Minerbi perform "Blue-Green," part of Kennedy Theatre's "Look Back: Move Forward" production at UH-Manoa. (Courtesy Chesley Cannon)

Blythe Stephens, left, and Mareva Minerbi perform “Blue-Green,” part of Kennedy Theatre’s “Look Back: Move Forward” production at UH-Manoa. (Courtesy Chesley Cannon)

“The Other Rhythm,” a newly choreographed piece fusing Hawaiian hula with Indian bharatanatyam, was choreographed by kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine, Jeff Kanekaiwilani Takamine and Anita Vallabh. It blends the rhythms of hula with intricate and percussive Indian rhythms, alternately featuring one or the other ensemble before allowing the dancers of both to interact and eventually join forces. The combined group of 15 student dancers performed with the assurance and presence of professionals.

The dramatic duet, “Deep Divide,” created by Jennifer Shannon, is an intense 13-minute dance, exquisitely performed by Alexa Manalansan and Kent Shinomae. Depicting the trials of a relationship, it opens with the couple enclosed in a large gold frame on a pedestal. Standing close yet alienated from each another, the woman descends to the stage. Though they periodically reconnect, there is never a sense of tenderness. Excerpts from Philip Glass’ String Quartets 3 and 5 offer the perfect accompaniment.

Further works include the sassy “Cell Block Tango” from “Chicago,” adapted by Tony Young and performed with just the right amount of pizzazz by six talented young ladies; Yukie Shiroma’s elegant “Okinawan Spirit,” danced to the exotic sounds of Tuvan throat singers; Andrew Sakaguchi’s jazzy “Street Dance”; and Cheryl Flaharty’s “You’re the One for Me,” a brilliant parody of the Pele-Kamapuaa myth. Flaharty, who graduated from UH in 1981, went on to create Iona Contemporary Dance Theatre, one of Hawaii’s most popular dance groups.
Carol Egan is a Honolulu-based freelance writer and Juilliard graduate who has performed, taught and choreographed throughout the United States and Europe. Prior to her retirement and relocation to Hawaii in 2001, she was a faculty member at the University of California.

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