By Demi Guo and Jenny Jeng
In the light of the Stony Brook University Wang Center Theater stage, Lila Glansberg ducked to one side of the fence while Tim Chak ducked to the other, dancing around the prop in a display of “Migration of Human Desire,” a recital inspired partially by the European migrant crisis. Chak and Glansberg would perform from Thursday to Saturday night a routine they had practiced for their DAN 400 course all semester.
Through the political nature of the fence, which echoes the migrant crisis, and introspective movements ranging from energetic to slow and tired, Glansberg said, the recital was loaded with concept.
“It is examining the human condition,” Amy Yopp Sullivan, the director who conceived the show, said. Her inspiration, she said, came from 30 years researching the science of “intention and thought becoming human action,” her work with Parkinson’s Group, a workshop and think tank in the Center for Dance, Movement, and Somatic Learning, and the “profound” nature of the European migrant crisis.
“The idea of migration applies to every form of life in the world,” Chak said. Whether it is patterns in animals, people “just getting up every day,” in Sullivan’s words, or the 173,720 refugees who have entered Europe since January, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Once upon a time in East Germany, “Wir sind das Volk” echoed in protests for the fall of the Berlin Wall, Philipp Niemietz, 24, a student at the University of Leipzig, said. “We are the people,” he translated, is now ironically being repeated in protests against migrants, almost half of whom are Syrian refugees, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
“They ask the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to set a limit on the refugees coming in,” Niemietz, a counter-protester, explained. “They say they are stealing jobs, and that they are the ones raising the crime rate. They say that they are bringing too much of their culture into our European culture.”
“The question is why they desire to leave,” Sullivan said.
The idea of constant movement echoes in what Chak said was the hardest part of creating the performance. Sullivan’s direction is rare, Glansberg said, in that instead of choreographing the dancers’ movements like most directors would do, she lets the students feel out what they want to do onstage for themselves. For Glansberg and her fellow performers, that meant facial expressions in breaks when they sat on chairs, points when they would gather on one side of their prop fences, then stomp and scamper to the other side.
The 24 of them, Chak said, had a lot of ideas, but the most profound experience for him was that everyone learned from each other and managed to work in harmony. “It didn’t matter if they were better than me or worse than me,” he said. “That didn’t exist in the studio. We were all hungry to learn from each other.”
As a dancer throughout his life, Chak said, he had specialized in hip hop until now. The play was a learning experience, relying heavily on styles in contemporary and modern contemporary dancing and ballet. “Dance is universal,” he said. In the end, he finished, the “ideas just flow into each other.” But the props, including sashes, chairs and the fence, he said, were “all Amy.”
“It’s just personal desire,” Glansberg said about the show. “Your personal journey.”
Sullivan actually changed the last act to match the first act the night the performance premiered, Glansberg said. “In a way,” she said, “it’s like coming full circle.”
For Sullivan, the change only illustrates the ever-changing nature of life conceptualized in the story. “It is a developing product,” she said. “I’m very proud.”