Student performers ring in Berkeley Dance Project 2016

UC Berkeley student dancers will leap onto the stage Thursday in Berkeley Dance Project 2016, a highlight of the season from the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. The show — which includes six works by a host of department and student choreographers — features a special collaboration that explores the interaction of sculpture, movement and technology.


(Photo by Hillary Goidell)

Show director and department professor Lisa Wymore teamed up with renowned sculptor and Berkeley alumnus Bruce Beasley to create “Rondo Variation,” a dance in which performers move with digitally animated rings — based on a series of Beasley’s sculptures that were displayed on campus in 2013 — projected onto the stage’s back wall.

But the animated rings are more than mere projections; they actually respond to the movement of the dancers, who wear iPods built into their costumes that send data to a computer that maps their motion onto the rings.

“We didn’t want the rings to be a background for the dancers,” says Beasley. “Nor did we want the dancers to be independent of the rings. The goal was to create a new subject: a connection between the two.”

To prepare for the piece, Wymore had students visit Beasley’s sculptures on campus (today, one permanent installation remains in the Hearst Mining Circle), where they moved around and through the large metal rings, inspired by the structural and energetic qualities of the sculpture.


Hesed Kim (right) says that the dancers, who are wearing sensors on their chests that communicate with the animated rings, move with a special emphasis on upper torso rotation. (Photo by Hillary Goidell)

Hesed Kim, a double-major in theater and performance studies and dance and performance studies, says because the piece relied heavily on the dancers’ interaction with new technology, it was a challenge anticipating how the animated projections would react to their movements. “I tried to humanize the rings,” says Kim. “I noticed that the rings would quiver and spin as we danced, mimicking human-like tendencies.”

“I felt as if I were giving life to these inanimate objects,” says Heather Brown, a junior double-majoring in dance and performance studies and social welfare. “But I also felt that my own ring was becoming just another part of me, taking on my emotions and my movements as a dancer.”

The performances also include original works by department lecturers Katie Faulkner and Amara Tabor-Smith, who explore the dance project’s theme, “locally grown.” Faulkner’s “Plow” examines the consequences of unrestrained growth, particularly as it relates to overdevelopment and displacement in the Bay Area, and Tabor-Smith looks at the catalyzing elements that give birth to social justice movements in her piece, “Stand.”

dancer Heather Brown

Heather Brown performs her solo piece “It’s a Girl!” which she hopes will inspire women to reflect on their own assumptions about what it means to be a woman and empower them to embrace who they are. (Photo by Hillary Goidell)

And, for the first time in more than 15 years, Berkeley Dance Project will feature the work of student choreographers. Heather Brown, Hesed Kim and Sebastien Hernandez will present original solos that challenge the audience to think deeply about contemporary issues, from what it means to be a woman in today’s society to the importance of creating meaningful relationships in a world of quick connections.

Berkeley Dance Project 2016 continues Thursday, April 28, through Saturday, April 30, at the Zellerbach Playhouse on campus. Tickets are $13-$20 and can be purchased online or at the door. The show runs 90 minutes with one intermission.

Learn more at the Theater, Dance and Performance Studies website.