With a sprinkle of Ellen DeGeneres stand-up comedy, a pinch of ’70s aerobics moves and a dash of film experimentation, the winter dance production of “Sweet Moves” was created.
When Heather Coker and Sarah Wilbur, both graduate students in dance with an emphasis in choreography, had to make a decision on what kind of project to do to complete their Master of Fine Arts, they both decided that a concert together was best.
The name “Sweet Moves” is a play on words that Wilbur and Coker came up with to explain their choreography.
“We are doing what looks like a beautiful dance, but we are also asking questions, which is really fundamental in world arts and culture,” said Wilbur.” “”˜Sweet Moves’ is a double meaning. It looks sweet but is kind of sour and salty under the surface.”
Coker said that it was easy for her to team up with Wilbur on the concert because they worked well together last winter in their previous concert, “Watch This.”
Wilbur said that her piece is a mix between dance and a theatrical monologue.
According to her, the 45-minute dance is a solo that describes her experience landing in Los Angeles and trying to answer the question, “Why does one dance?”
Wilbur’s narrative combines dance with fitness moves, hip-hop moves from 1992 and audience participation. The dance monologue shows Wilbur’s encounter with women who no longer dance.
“The dance gets bigger and bigger and 25 women suddenly burst into dance and hijack (the performance) for six minutes. I don’t stick with any one idea in the piece. In the end I finally disclose what I’ve been trying to say all along,” Wilbur said.
Wilbur notes DeGeneres as one of the influences for her piece because DeGeneres’ stand-up comedy helped Wilbur learn not to take herself so seriously.
“(DeGeneres) will bring through ideas throughout the stand-up that keep resonating through new ways. She also makes you understand her personal values by being funny,” Wilbur said.
Coker uses the elements of dance and filmmaking to bring a modern contemporary performance to life. The experimentation creates three pieces, which show what Coker has recently been thinking about: her family as a support system and as entities.
“Basically, it is a play finding the balance of where I can use film or video as a shorthand to give direct meaning right away and then where I can add dance to be abstract. Then I also try and transpose these qualities on the other forms,” Coker said.
Coker said some of her influences include Stanley Donen and Bob Fosse. Donen is known for his directing and choreography in the film “Singin’ in the Rain,” and Fosse is known for directing “Cabaret” and choreographing the original production of “Chicago.”
“There are so many directors I admire. I enjoy framing, color and experimenting with narrative structure. The way I make dance is the way I think about working with film,” Coker said.
Dancer James Sheldon has been working with Coker since junior high school and will be participating in the upcoming concert. Sheldon said that Coker is a great filmmaker as well as a choreographer because of her keen eye for dance and the camera.
“(Coker) is a dancer’s choreographer. She will choreograph to your strengths and make you look as good as you possibly could look when you’re on stage,” Sheldon said.
Coker hopes that the audience will be left with a potent image that will stay with it and resonate.
She said artists need to bring a certain amount of thought and weight to the work, and her master’s program at UCLA helped her achieve that.
“I feel like what this program has asked of me is to be brutally honest about how I think and feel about the world,” Coker said.
“It definitely shaped the work in a way I wouldn’t have gone if I wouldn’t have been in the program.”