Lower Left explores focus

On Oct. 28, Instructor of Dance Margaret Paek brought artists from many different backgrounds together for a collaborative improvised performance. Members of her own ensemble—called Lower Left—joined professors, students, musicians and more onstage for a multidisciplinary dance extravaganza called “Available Space.” Paek acted as the host of the show, introducing the pieces and guest performers.

Paek’s Ensemble Thinking class gave a pre-show demonstration of some of the techniques they have been learning. They practiced giving a particular member of the group their “spatial focus,” arranging themselves in a way that led the audience’s eyes to that person. Paek briefed the audience on what was going on and asked them to speak “yes” when the students had succeeded in giving someone spatial focus. This technique was a neat way to introduce concepts used in the main performance and give students an opportunity to work in front of a crowd.

Lower Left, the professional ensemble leading the performance, consists of Andrew Wass, Kelly Dallrymple-Wass, Nina Martin and Paek, was founded in San Diego in 1994. The four members live all over the world; they travelled from Germany and Texas to join Paek at Lawrence last weekend. Paek wanted to gather these influential people from her dance career to make a momentous dance show.

An amazing aspect of this performance was the diversity of talent onstage. Guest dancers included Dean of the Conservatory of Music Brian Pertl, Music Education and Harp Instructor Leila Pertl, director of IGLU and Lecturer of Music Matt Turner, cellist and Lecturer of Music Loren Dempster, Hurvis NEH Fellow in German Katrina Nousek, Assistant Professor of History Brigid Vance, Associate Dean of Students for Campus Programs Paris Wicker and many others. The passionate and collaborative effort of these people says a lot about Lawrence University.

The first piece was called “One Idea, Two Cellos,” featuring Turner and Dempster on cello. Over fifteen people began the piece by walking in a large spiral pattern before converging on a point on the floor. The cellists improvised slow melodic and rhythmic lines, giving the dancers different moods and tempos to play with. As the dancers moved around, they changed the focal point in the room, giving and taking energy from the spaces they occupied.

Before the second piece, called “50 Ways,” began, Paek instructed the audience to “Choose what you want to watch—what you want to get out of this.” The piece featured four groups of four dancers each. At first the members only interacted with their neighbors, but as time passed, they began to explore the room, mingling in silence with other groups. The way they slowly changed their arrangements and poses almost made “50 Ways” seem like a visual arts piece.

The final piece, “Four by Four,” saw the departure of the guest dancers and the return of musicians. The four members of Lower Left were surrounded on the floor by Dean Pertl playing didgeridoo, Leila Pertl playing harp and Turner and Dempster playing cello. This act featured a constant redistribution of power between musicians and dancers; the leader-follower relationship was constantly flipping. Lower Left had an opportunity to demonstrate its skill and comfort as a small ensemble, performing advanced moves involving carrying and moving each other in time with the ambient soundscape.

“Available Space” was a strong beginning for the 2016-17 Dance Series at Lawrence. Paek’s large ensemble did a wonderful job showing how people of all disciplines can come together to create art, reaching a level of comfort and passion that was captivating and inspiring to viewers.