JOEY JEPPS reviews UCL Dance Society’s Exhibition.

Not even a fire could stop these dancers from dancing with all of their passion. After the unfortunate event of the stage curtains catching fire at The Shaw Theatre prior to UCL Dance Society’s second performance of their showcase, Exhibition, the last two performances were cancelled – or so was thought – as an investigation to find the cause of the incident went underway. One week later, fuelled by their determination and love for their craft, the cast and crew of Dance Society’s biggest show of the year came back with full force, refusing to be shut down.

When one thinks of ‘dance’, the styles that perhaps come to mind most frequently include ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary and hip-hop. Yet, there is so much more to the sport and art. ‘Dance’ is an umbrella term for so many other unique styles, including culturally specific modes, and fusions of other styles. Exhibition has managed to shine light on a vast array of dance genres, performing the most popular while also accentuating the society’s talent: contemporary dance performers shocked the audience with leaps, throws and drops, while hip-hop, stomp and Bhangra dancers exhibited joyfully vibrant energy, contrasting with the traditional Chinese dancers’ fluidity. The performers successfully presented a range of styles, as well as blending seemingly contradictory styles together, such as hip hop and contemporary, to create unique works of art.

Photo courtesy of Lily Cobbold.

Exhibition pushed UCL’s creatives to their limits, encouraging them to take inspiration from the three prevalent motifs seen throughout the show: ‘The Written’, ‘The Visual’, and ‘The Object’. Consequently, the night consisted not just of dance, but poetry, music and acting as well. There seems to be a common misconception that the trifecta of performance arts – Drama, Dance and Music – all inhabitant their own realms; Exhibition explicitly deconstructs this notion in presenting its stories through pieces where these mediums intersect. 

The stories portrayed throughout the evening were as empowering as they were inspiring; Exhibition adopted dance as a medium through which to spread a message. Bleached, a lyrical jazz piece choreographed by Jasmine Botchey and one of the evening’s highlights, explored the complex nature of loving oneself in a society obsessed with race, through the eyes of a black woman. Moreover, the evening’s final number, This Girl Can, a street dance routine choreographed by Emma Grace Lee, was upbeat and aimed to inspire women and girls to feel confident and eradicate self-doubt.

Photo courtesy of Lily Cobbold.

Outstanding performances were given by the whole cast, and the choreographers’ visions were executed by the talent of the dancers. It is obvious that every dancer has been technically trained and loves their craft, especially when one assesses their technique. Astonishing flexibility, pointed toes, sharp movements. More specifically, moves in the Latin Ballroom Samba number were right out of the Gold level Latin American Dance Faculty Qualification – Bachacata, Samba rolls and promenade runs – all performed in a tight space, with no collisions or stumbles, a terribly difficult feat even on a larger dance floor. In group performances such as these, synchronicity is key: the slightest error can draw the audience’s attention and break the spell. Given the precision necessary to pull off group performance like this, the dancers were extremely professional, for the most part exact, but expertly covering up mistakes while adapting to their new, smaller performance space.

On the other hand, solo performance presents its own challenges, with the performer wholly exposed to the audience. Wasted, choreographed by Esme Miller and beautifully danced by Yuki Pondeca, was one of the evening’s earliest highlights. The incredibly moving performance about mental health, dedicated to Esme’s friend Tom, who took his own life while awaiting professional help, left the room stunned, ending with a ringing silence as the audience watched in awe, unsure whether to applaud or not. Esme’s choreography clearly came from somewhere deep inside and Yuki’s spectacular execution of her vision is definitely worthy of recognition and praise.

Photo courtesy of Lily Cobbold.

Even after an almost disastrous event, in a smaller performance space, and with technical limitations (credit must be given to Head of Lighting Vojta Smekel and his team for their ability to adapt to the change of circumstances), the cast and crew of Exhibition managed to host an incredible evening. The night was well-curated, with the right balance of upbeat numbers and thought-provoking, emotionally numbing performances. Exhibition was a night of fun, passion, messages and pure dance given by a team of performers and creatives who are undoubtedly technically talented, and who have a joyously obvious love for their craft.

Exhibition was performed at The Shaw Theatre on the 8th March, then continued its run at the UCL Jeremy Bentham Room on 17th and 18th. Find more information here.

Featured image courtesy of Lily Cobbold.