The Odyssey Theatre was buzzing with excitement on Sunday, Feb. 17.  The enthusiastic filled-to-the brim audience was there to see Donna Sternberg & DancersAwe and Wonder with 4 scientists and 4 choreographers pairing to build the unique pieces in this program.  Awe and Wonder is an apt title for the coupling of science and movement.  Ms. Sternberg presented a beautiful, intelligent program of pieces done with experts in arts and science.  They challenged the audience, creating pieces that not only questioned the concepts and movement but dug deeper to find tangible fulfillment.   It was Sternberg’s passion for both art and science that brought her together with Devavani Chatterjea, an immunologist, that lead to this collaborative project.

The first piece “Unstoppable: Her Diligence” – choreographed by Malathi Lyengar, award winning choreographer and Artistic Director of Rangoli Dance Company, a Master Artist of Bharatanatyam Indian dance, paired with Lorraine Turcotte, a professor of Human Biology, a Gabilan Distinguished Professor in Science and Engineering explored “Gender Discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”    This gorgeous piece with its stunning dancers in golds and mauves slowly built from intermittent foot stamps into powerful percussive hand and foot movements. The scatting Indian vocals were so rhythmic that the dancers fully expressed their entire body including eyes and eyebrows.  The exquisite staging and warrior stances so clearly represented the title, “Unstoppable.” Every part of this meticulous piece was extraordinary with its beautiful dancers (Shivani Aysola, Vyshnavi Aysola, Nina Krishnan, Amiya Prasad, Nishitha Viswanathan, Anshu Voruganti).  They brought, with sheer defiance, the ending of this truly superb piece.

The next was Anima Mundi, a work in progress, choreographed and performed by Banfsheh Sayyad an innovator of Sufi Dance (originally only performed by men) and paired with Omolola Ogunyemi a computer scientist.  Its hope was to express the connection of all living things much like the soul and its connection to the human body.  At first we hear bells and birds singing and then a vision in white and blue appears.  The “Ave Maria” by Anton Zakharenko sets the mood, and Miss Sayyad begins her spiritual journey with meditative languorous movements which soon becomes a dervish-like prayer.  We feel like the entire universe breathes together as she disappears into the background and the lights fade.

Adaptation,” Donna Sternberg’s and Devavani Chatterjea’s collaboration is beautifully constructed with unique and fascinating music, “Hauschka” by Hillary Hahn.  The music itself is improvised with the concept of “being on a ground that is not safe.”  Sternberg and Chatterjea’s intelligent work builds on this, which creates tension and often surprise.  Then adding elements, first sparse and then with a crescendo of lifts, the dancers with each of their strengths are wonderfully adept, technically beautiful, and intriguing.   An exciting special mention of Dominique McDougal’s technical and emotional prowess is in order.  Moises Josue Michel is a superb partner for the delicate Rein Short who is featherlike in her lifts and lyrical movements. Amy Oden’s strong control and buoyancy helps to drive and build the tension of the piece.  The beautiful and powerful Ani Darcey, along with Joseph Lister gives full support to the integrity of the work.   The structure goes beyond the ordinary, with designs that create powerful lines, and the collaboration defines and clarifies the concept.  The work done to counterbalance the movements is often seductive and surprising. The interesting shaping and juxtapositions of movements render “Adaptation” the ideal theme.

Malathi 2 Malathi 3 Banafsheh Adaption 2 Adaption 3 Adaption-DS&D #1 Jay Carlon 1 Jay Carlon 2 One #2 One #3 One-DS&D 1
Jay Carolon's “Labing Anim, Meaning “16” in Tagalog” - Photo by Paul Antico

Labing Anim“, Meaning “16” in Tagalog – our next is an interesting piece beginning with balancing card board squares on Orlando Agawin’s head and hands as he travels across the stage and onto gold and silver foil laid randomly around the floor.  We soon become keenly aware of the sounds of foil underfoot and it then becomes chaotic as Agawin begins tossing and rolling upon the field of foil.   He rolls out of his jacket, then he slides.  First we hear the sound of foil then silence, he drags the foil, we hear helicopter sounds.  He clears a path in a circle on the floor, then utters, “I was there, now I’m here…I was there.”   These cryptic utterings are not clear how they relate to the chaos on the stage.  Perhaps the choreographer, Jay Carlon and scientist Michael Alfaro, a Professor of Evolutionary Biology may wish to extend the pieces exposition to clarify a bit more for the audience.  It’s intriguing, but incoherent.

And the last piece “One” is another partnership with Ms. Sternberg and Chatterjea.   It is dedication to Michelle Wallace, with a poem by Devvavani Chatterjea:

. . .

“You breathe…

The soft lift of air.

barely but surely

shifting the hem of sky

over the world.”  (Chatterjea)

The statuesque Ani Darcey, in a deep purple silk hooped skirt, designed by Rosalida Medina, with her arms reaching out, her tall outstretched limbs and slim body circles in place and angles as if reaching the sky, she seems to hover over the earth.   Then from under the abundant folds of the wide hem comes first one dancer (Rein Short) and the music swells, then another comes from beneath the skirt (Moises Joshua Michel,) then third (Joseph Lister) and finally one last dancer (Amy Oden).  All the dancers focused and committed.  And as in the first piece the unique configurations of movement and design makes this a fascinating and poetic work … committing the audience’s involvement with the elements introduced.  This piece appears to be a metaphor for not only the dedication and poem, but for the day of collaborative and excellent work…a perfect piece to end a day of Awe and Wonder.

For more information on Donna Sternberg & Dancers, click here.

For more information on the Odyssey Theater, click here.

Featured image: Donna Sternberg’s One – Photo by Paul Antico