by Emma Elsmo for The Dance Journal
Xiaomeng Ma and Scott Park debuted their Master of Fine Arts Thesis Concert, Escape/Seed, at Temple University this past Friday, February 22. The Land, choreographed by Ma opened with effortless, calming movement as an ode to the simplistic beauty of nature. Park closed with Escape, a statement piece about vices and a tribute to the punk rock music scene. The two distinct pieces couldn’t have been more dissimilar, yet the show as a whole had a cohesive flow that was both shocking and satisfying.
The Land opened in darkness with the distant ringing of bells filling the theater. As dancers moved into the dark space carrying iridescent candles, the sound grew in confidence evoking feelings of excitement about what was to come. Four dancers illuminated the space with gentle smiles and delicate arm choreography as their long, flowing skirts captivated viewers as if they were moving bodies separate from the women wearing them. It wasn’t until they approached an extended pile of dirt across the downstage space that I recognized the dirt was there at all. As each dancer managed to embrace the mess, the dirt slowly became another character in the meditative-like work.
With a swift transition, the group section turned to a duet. Wangbo Zhu and the choreographer herself entered one after the other in line with the dirt spread straight across the stage. As Zhu coated his body in dirt, he created texture and dimension that added an unanticipated depth to the space the two stayed in, while Ma responded to his movement with striking precision and emotion. The two moved next to each other with intense ease as though they were two bodies moving as one. This duet was incredibly well crafted, and I was sad to see it end as the work transitioned to the closing section, which was a delightful amalgamation of the dancers from the beginning and a few new faces. The strongly executed unison choreography paired well with the dramatic music to create an ending that felt as though the piece finished in suspension.
After an extended intermission to clean the stage, Scott Park’s Escape started with a triumphant bang. With curtains hung mid-stage, a girl wearing a leather jacket and black lipstick entered the space to lip-sync with a live concert recording of Godsmack. As more dancers entered the space, cue cards were utilized to promote audience interaction and intensity deepened as music blared. The usage of recorded interviews proved incredibly effective as the work transitioned through a group dance to an emotional solo performed by Peyton Bellman sound-tracked to Marilyn Manson discussing the need to escape.
Complete with a stage rendition of mosh pitting and an ending filled with middle finger throwing, the clear passion Park has for rock history was palpable as he worked his way through some of the most influential punk rock moments of the last few decades. From a projected documentary of the ’99 Woodstock riots to Metallica’s lead singer, James Hetfield, discussing his drinking problem, Escape explored the duality between the stigma society has against the punk scene and the hard truths when inside the angst-ridden world.