38 years later, UI Dance Department stays ‘In Motion’ with annual Dance Gala

38 years ‘In Motion,’ the University of Iowa’s Department of Dance presents an ever-unique perspective with its annual Dance Gala, collaborating with choreographers, musicians, and performers to craft a truly memorable night.


The University of Iowa’s Dance Department rehearses the Dance Gala at Hancher Auditorium on November 14, 2019. In this act, three dancers performed as a trio. (Raquele Decker/The Daily Iowan)

Kyler Johnson, Arts Reporter

Poised in the shadows both on and offstage, lunging under the stage lights, and speaking stories wherein movement is the teller, the UI Department of Dance’s annual Dance Gala, entitled *In Motion,* transported Hancher Auditorium into a night of magic.

The night stretched across six different performances, each segment individual in style, yet blending and binding themselves together in being stories about connection. 

The University of Iowa’s Dance Department rehearses the Dance Gala at Hancher Auditorium on November 14, 2019. In this act, many dancers perform together on and off stage to put together an artistic scene. (Raquele Decker/The Daily Iowan

Literally drawing the audience into the space of the performance through a projector, “(dis)APPEAR(d)ances” began the night with an integral performance aspect being technology. I found a great release in the end as a projector zoomed the audience back out, stating firmly: “We were here.”

Jumping off the existentially-hinted note, masked performers coated in a dripping, aggressive red light took the stage for “The Reaping 6.7.” The dark piece, presented by a cast of more than 10 dancers, filled almost every inch of the stage with little pockets of motion.

Small groups of these 10 had moments of unison, sometimes clashing and collaborating. I felt the tone of the piece and the aggressiveness shift in a beautiful juxtaposition, a bellowing religious chorus ringing throughout Hancher, now coated in a deep, calming blue. 

The audience was left, however, no final conclusion of communion. A single dancer remained on stage with an ever shrinking spotlight, speaking only of isolation.

Related: The UI Theater Department’s production of Orlando is a work of art come to life

Questioning the ways in which isolation arises, one of the standout moments of the night for me was the preempt to the intermission, Associate Professor of Dance Eloy Barragan’s “Dream the Wall Away.” 

Boxes of light acted as a motif in the segment’s presentation, playing heavily in the essence of what it feels like to be trapped. Another recurring element was the chain of the performers, aligning themselves in a fashion that bound them all together — sometimes dividing or excluding a dancer, other times creating an inseparable bond between them all.

“‘Dream the Wall Away’ is the wall of intellectual, moral, spiritual wall that we as humans put as barriers among humans, cultures, preferences of sex, religion,” Barragan said. “We cannot be a part of this society that stereotypes and isolates.”

The University of Iowa’s Dance Department rehearses the Dance Gala at Hancher Auditorium on November 14, 2019. In this act, dancers performed as a group tending to follow a leader. (Raquele Decker/The Daily Iowan)

With the calm, wistful serenade singing out the title throughout the piece, Barragan’s choreography was allowed to make a peaceful, yet poignant, proposal to the minds of the audience.

The second half of the performance kicked off with a mysterious look into humanity’s own playful mystery. “Struggle for Pleasure” crafted a narrative of a woman flowing about the stage in a forest-green dress intimately engaging with a man. Tension filled beginnings ending with a final embrace, Armando Duarte and his dancers collaborated to craft a truly authentic and intriguing ambiance.

“I like the different colors and textures different performers bring,” Duarte said. “In times like these we discuss important subjects like inclusion, diversity, etc. I always say there’s nothing better than your own work to put it into motion — I put that into my choreography.”

While the piece focalised on two characters, the ensemble dancers caught my attention throughout the entire piece, shaping the environment alongside another unique element — music by the Laptop Orchestra at the University of Iowa.

Wrapping up the night, Kristen Marrs “Out of the Depths” presented a triage of women dressed in these white, purple-streaked ensembles performing a classical, yet creative and energized piece.

Guest artist Urban Bush Women slapped the audience with a final blast of energy and intensity, capping the night off entirely to make the gala’s 38th one of significance, power, and pensive reflection.