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Wacsmash to highlight personal stories of student choreographers

Raphael Smith, a fourth-year dance student, choreographed “Mad Haus,” a piece that uses Vogue Femme dance moves to rebel against the masculine standards that Smith grew up with. (Edward Figueroa/Daily Bruin)

"PRO/FILES WACSmash 2018"

Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater

Friday, 8 p.m. and Saturday 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.


By Sidra Rashid

Feb. 1, 2018 10:36 p.m.

Five women will glide across a mostly bare stage, with only a table, a newspaper and a photo of a house wrecked by natural disaster to set the scene in Glorya Kaufman Hall.

The world arts and cultures showcase – Wacsmash – taking place Friday and Saturday will celebrate the visual and performing arts cultivated by dance students. Entirely student-run, the show’s theme for 2018 is PRO/FILES, focusing heavily on the personal stories and ideas of the dancers and choreographers themselves. Many of the dances will focus on audience engagement through off-stage dancing, sensory experiences and ground-level stages.

“Ego on a Ledge”

Matthew Rogers took philosophical ideas and used them to create art about his mental health experiences.

After dancing and choreographing for Wacsmash in the past, this will be the fourth-year dance student’s first year as a student producer, which involves finding funding, deciding the theme of the show, choosing choreographers and advertising.

“Our title is PRO/FILES, and (the dances are) a lot more (about) personal experiences and (are) individualized,” he said. “So, it’s even more important to be able to showcase our own voices and our art.”

Rogers choreographed his own piece “Ego on a Ledge” and is dancing in two other pieces. His original choreographed dance stems from thoughts of depression and anxiety, which he has experienced for the past several years.

“My dancers represent those thoughts, those manifestations of my subconscious thoughts and how they relate,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he was fascinated with Freudian concepts – specifically the ego and the id – and how they synthesize the thoughts he has. His dance incorporates repeated patterns of alternative contemporary dance moves, such as spinning motions and dancing while sitting or standing on a stool.

“When you’re in times of turmoil, and not in a good place, those thoughts can be chaotic and also comforting at the same time,” he said. “So its about the unconscious and conscious in conversation with each other.”

“Mad Haus”

Raphael Smith said he never expressed himself the way he wanted to until becoming a dance student at UCLA.

The fourth-year dance student said his piece stems from his experience trying to live up to certain standards of society as a person of color and a dancer.

“I’ve always have been told to be cautious of how to act around people, how to present myself so I don’t appear threatening, and that I need to dance more masculine because otherwise I won’t book jobs,” he said.

His dance primarily features hip-hop moves mixed with Vogue Femme fundamentals – a dance style that uses voguing techniques like floor work, hands and spins – to portray the rebellion against the strict masculine standards and stereotypes he grew up with.

“The piece is just me putting together people who are completely different in their own way and own styles, and (coming) together as a group of misfits,” Smith said. “And performing it for a bunch of people as a way of saying, ‘I can dance however I want to.'”

“Left With Only Senses”

Audience members of Malia Lam’s choreographed dance will have to rely more on their ears than their eyes.

Lam, one of the producers and choreographers for Wacsmash, said she, along with many of the other choreographers, used more minimal backdrops while focusing on personal content.

The fourth-year dance student’s personal story will take center stage in her choreographed dance for the show. When she was younger, Lam had cancer and lost her left eye as a result. Because she only sees out of one eye, she said she occasionally runs into objects or people, which can sometimes be frightening. And since people don’t normally think about what it means to lose half their vision, she said she wanted to reflect her difficulties in the dance.

“Having to rely on certain senses … and just the idea of my partial blindness has really shaped the way my piece has been created,” she said.

During Lam’s performance, dancers will make sounds with their body parts under dim lights while also performing athletic movements in the audience seating area. By integrating the dancing with the crowd, she said she hopes to mimic her own struggles with the sensations of sight and space perception.

“When you close your eyes and heighten your senses, how does that affect how they feel, what they hear,” Lam said. “I really want to be experimenting with the idea of heightening and lessening.”

“External Dialogue”

Michelle May’s dance begins with tape over the mouths of her dancers. The tape is removed halfway through the piece to depict how they break barriers while using dance as their voice.

May has tap danced since she was 10 years old. Now, the third-year dance student used the style as the focal point in “External Dialogue” – the first group piece she has ever choreographed.

“My piece is about how I was really shy for a lot of my life, and dance was always a way for me to express myself,” she said. “I … wanted to highlight that and how dance allows dancers to express how they feel, or express what we can’t verbally say sometimes.”

The dance begins in the dark, with dancers scattered around the stage, near and far from the audience. One by one, each dancer begins to execute a tap rhythm.

The second half of the dance features more floor work and a faster tempo – imagery that is supposed to evoke the idea of using their bodies as their voices.

“That’s my way of expressing that tap is not just a dance, but it’s also music,” she said. “It’s another way of having a voice.”


Claudia Mayoss took inspiration from the crowded walkways around UCLA.

“I was sort of inspired by … walking to class and literally having to dodge people and move, so literally choreographing a pathway,” the third-year political science and dance student said.

While choreographing the dance, Mayoss said she was interested in the small details and moments of life – sometimes people inflate small moments, or miss them altogether. During the dance, performers will use facial expressions and hand gestures as a way to hint at small details in the dance, such as shaking their leg, holding their necklace and moving their hands while talking.

“The way I thought of it, the audience might see that and then they might not,” she said. “And I’m wondering whether or not their experiences will change if they see those details.

Mayoss said she also wanted any improvisations from her dancers to shine through in the performance because of its focus on personal, daily motions.

“I wanted everyone to have a chance to show some of the movement in the piece that is something they’ve brought in from their daily lives,” she said.

“ˈRiT͟Həm Kəˈnekt’s”

Alex Swift Almaraz fused together dance forms such as ballet, modern, hip-hop, house and Chicago footwork in his choreographed piece for Wacsmash.

“I might not know a lot of the fundamental steps (of these dance forms) fully, but I’m in the process of learning those things,” said the fourth-year dance student. “I was so intrigued by what they were and how they really got embedded in my own body … and I wanted to incorporate that.”

The piece begins with each dancer performing a different style. He blends in the various dance forms like ballet and hip-hop alongside freestyle dancing and floor movement. He also incorporated a bit of partner work as an ode to salsa, which he has been studying for a few years.

“I like to say that dancers and artists are the secret kings and queens of the world, because we’re able to change moods, we’re able to enforce something onto the people that can remain positive or negative,” Almaraz said. “Or it can create overall conversation, and I think that’s something a lot of people can’t necessarily do.”

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Sidra Rashid
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