I’m sorry, but dance and writing are utterly incompatible. Writing is so slow that dance blazes past it in a sparkly blur. Dance is full of potential stories, but try to put them on paper and they will elude you, like trying to make a sculpture of smoke. I can leave a dance performance feeling moved or inspired, then discover upon writing that the specifics of what I’ve seen have evaporated from memory, leaving me with vague, throwaway descriptors like “high-energy,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. This happens again and again. My apologies, dear reader. Below is my smoke sculpture.
Infusion, directed by Michelle Epperheimer, is the annual showcase of the San Luis Jazz Dancers, the jazzier performance arm of the Academy of Dance. As the show date neared, a recent rehearsal kicked off with an athletic piece choreographed to Maroon 5’s poppy, heavily Auto-Tuned “Moves Like Jagger,” followed by one to the more organic sounds of Coldplay’s “See You Soon,” which makes creative use of several wooden benches, bringing new dimension to the poignant piece. The benches are a hurdle, a soapbox, a springboard, something to clamber onto, or perhaps a height from which to fall. In the final moments, dancers arrange the benches perpendicular to the audience, each one in turn leaping from the benches into the wings. The last dancer to jump, Jane Selna, lingers before taking the plunge, balancing with one foot in the air as if frozen in time, questioning the choice. But the momentum is already insurmountable, and she lets it carry her to the other side. It’s lovely.
As in previous years, I try to get director Epperheimer to divulge her inspiration, the unseen catalysts for her pieces, the secret stories she’s encrypted into the language of dance. I am cheating because I find it insanely hard to write about dance. I crave a narrative, a trellis for my words to wrap themselves around. As in previous years, I am unsuccessful.
“I kind of like the audience to come up with their own story,” she says sweetly.
She’s so mysterious.
There’s a piece choreographed to Sara Bareilles’ bouncy “Gonna Get Over You”—a buoyant, pick-yourself-up-and-start-over kind of song—featuring a short solo by dancer Oksana Moscoso. Adele’s mournful, piano-driven “Hometown Glory” accompanies another.
Dancers, crouched low to the ground, move with quick angularity, suggesting a terseness to the spare opening lyrics of Christina Aguilera’s plaintive “You Lost Me.” (I am done/Smoking gun/We’ve lost it all/The love is gone.)
“Zurück zu dir,” a song by German band Söhne Mannheims, lays the melancholy on thick, and you can tell from the way the dancers sweep across the stage that something dear has been lost, something that must be regained at all costs.
Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski’s exquisite “Dance for Me Wallis,” with its soaring strings, is the show’s most classical choice, and the piece it accompanies leans more toward ballet than any other in Infusion’s lineup. Wiggling fingers mimic the song’s lovely, cascading, nostalgic piano melody—one that recalls, perhaps, Yann Tiersen’s “La Dispute” from Amelie.
A short film, featuring the dancers at the Avila Beach pier and on the Avila Ridge, breaks up the live performance. The camera pulls back as dancer Selna strides forward through the great wooden pillars under the pier, the others improvising in, out of, and around the pillars as the rising tide licks at their dresses. As the sun grows heavy in the sky, they spill out onto the sand, synchronizing their movements as Florence and the Machine belt “Shake It Out.”
Epperheimer, who has been dancing since the age of 3, and has directed Infusion for the past seven years, says her approach to choreography has changed little, though she’s far more relaxed about the whole process. When asked about her work, I notice, Epperheimer is quick to turn the spotlight on her dancers, saying gracious things like, “I feel so blessed to be able to work with the girls that I work with. … Every year presents new and beautiful challenges.”
Which is adorable. But she still won’t tell me what anything is about.
Arts Editor Anna Weltner dances about architecture. Reach her at email@example.com.