photo credit Bill Hebert
by Chelsey Hamilton for The Dance Journal
As I walked into Temple University’s Conwell Dance Theater, a cozy black-box theater located on the North Philadelphia campus, I almost expected the MFA Thesis show to be Temple’s usual post-modern style with a few different genres thrown in here and there. What I ended up watching that night was much more unique, and frankly, much more entertaining.
Temple MFA students Ryan Michael Tuerk and Michael Nguyen put on a show this weekend that deeply reflected both of their preferred dance styles and demonstrated a high level of artistry and hard work.
photo credit Bill Hebert
The night began with Tuerk’s piece, Deciphering: He, which explored “masculinity and perceptions of the male body.” The piece featured a trio of male dancers dressed in street clothes and performing repetitive phrases of gestural movement, including pushing their hair back, pointing at the ceiling, crossing their arms, scratching their chins and aggressively tugging at the bottoms of their shirts. The performers continued with an abundance of arm swinging and gestural hand movements.
Throughout the remainder of the piece, the male dancers changed into solos, duos and trios, all the while still staying in character and demonstrating complete understanding of the choreography. A partner section between two of the dancers demonstrated both vulnerability and strength, as they are leaning on each other and depending on the other to keep their bodies moving.
Tuerk’s choreography did a phenomenal job of demonstrating his contemporary modern style, with his classical ballet training also evident in the movement. Micah Geyer gave a standout performance with his strong connection to his own body and the fluidity and grace of his long limbs moving through the space. The piece concluded with all three dancers back on stage and repeating the same gestural phrases they started out with, completing the choreography full circle.
The second half of the night showcased a completely different style of dance, Nguyen’s high-energy, 9-part piece called The Essence of Being. The piece was split into these different sections to “focus on how the world exists with the classic elements of water, earth, fire and air working in harmony.” Each dancer was dressed in either black, white, green, red, or purple bodysuits with their head and mouths covered. All that was visible to the audience was the eyes, which added an interesting element of mystery to the piece.
The dance started out with the relaxing sound of water, with a few dancers on stage moving in graceful unison with the sound. A duo of dancers dressed in green came out next to perform a selection of fluid movement, demonstrating their individual flexibility and strength.
As the piece progressed, the music picked up and the dancers started to move in a more fast-paced and energetic way. Dancers ran on and off the stage while performing elements of hip-hop, martial arts, B-boying and breakdancing. There were fast turns, high jumps and impressive leaps and tricks — it was almost as if they never stopped moving. The piece concluded with all the dancers on stage at once, finally ripping off their masks to reveal their faces and performing a high-energy hip-hop piece.
Standout performances were given by Bevara Anderson, Danzel Thompson-Stout, Frankie Markocki, Julian Darden, and the choreographer himself, Nguyen. Their commitment to the movement and the attitude of the piece was entertaining and very evident in the way they performed. Nguyen’s work was definitely a crowd-pleaser, as the entire cast received a standing ovation from the audience.