Breaking Ground 2014 in Tempe Showcased Diverse New Choreography, Fell Short on Film

CONDER/dance's Breaking Ground took over the Tempe Center for the Arts for two nights this past weekend in hopes of highlighting choreographers and videographers on the cutting edge of the contemporary dance scene.

If diversity was the end goal, the show was a raging success.

See also: Slideshow - Breaking Ground Contemporary Dance and Film Festival 2014 in Tempe

The evening began with a pre-show, reConception, which featured various local dance groups scattered around the inside and outside of the performing arts center. The unconventional use of space allowed for a refreshing level of interactivity between audience members and performers. Anna McClellan's casting your imagination into the depths of sleep was performed in an intimate setting just beside the infinity pool on the north patio; audience members were separated from McClellan by a small ring of luminarias, allowing for an intensely personal performance experience. Liliana Gomez's INTO THE DISTANCE was another stand-out piece from the pre-show, in which Gomez and fellow dancer Joseph Mack Hall performed among a series of streamers strung between light poles. Their performance was impressive, and the piece was a true reimagining of the space.

On Friday night, the shift to the formal seated performance began with the premiere of subSTRATA, a piece choreographed by Chad Michael Hall that arguably was the standout of the evening. The work purportedly was inspired by Jungian conceptions of the shadow self as well as Plato's allegory of the cave. And the really amazing thing is that the connection to these philosophical ideas was quite clear in the dance itself. The piece showcased the athleticism of the dancers, while expounding upon a clear narrative arch driven by the conception of the shadow self. It was a real treat. subSTRATA was the only large company piece featured during the first night of Breaking Ground, which was a shame, but it fulfilled the role well.

Apart from subSTRATA, we tended to favor the second half of the sit-down performance, which featured two duets: OFF-LINE by Nadar Rosano and Not a Love Story by Leanne Schmidt and Kim Goss. The juxtaposition of the two duet pieces was a good call, though the dances weren't really about the same thing at all. OFF-LINE immediately drew us in with its use of standard repetitive movements and some seriously wonderful face grabbing. Not a Love Story took a humorous route, clearly tickling many audience members with its melodramatic movements but sincere sentiment. These two performances in particular seemed to harken to a new and exciting sense of dance grounded in the present moment. The meanings were more subtle than we are accustomed to experiencing in dance, but the understated nature of the performance made for really sincere work that really got us excited about the state of choreography today.

Throughout Friday's portion of Breaking Ground, the dancing was phenomenal across the board, and the choreography was consistently impressive. If we have one complaint, it's that we were left feeling a little unsure about the film aspect of the festival. While Boris Seewald's Momentum was a huge crowd pleaser, and ended the evening on a feel-good note about the nature of dance, we were lukewarm about the film itself. And the videography that was incorporated into some of the other dances seemed distracting at worst and unimportant at best.

Still, we hope the Breaking Ground festival continues to bring new contemporary choreography to the Valley for many more years to come. You'll find us sitting front and center.

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Katrina Montgomery