The crowd was so raucous that one might have been forgiven for thinking it was a performance by a fraternity at Pi Phi’s Arrowfest. As the lights dimmed in Mandel Hall last Friday evening for the RBIM annual showcase, themed CONTINUUM, the audience wouldn’t stop yelling encouragement to their friends on stage.
A female computer voice introduced the setting: some 13.9 billion years ago when “nothing exist[ed] yet.” The entire performance was framed by this computer and her companion, a young girl. The girl, who wanted to know more about the past, was sucked in by the computer and travelled through time, observing the evolution of human society. Each dance number, starting at “The Beginning” and ending with a potential future known as “Humans versus Aliens,” represented a specific time and place in human culture.
The 12 dance numbers were varied in setting. Along the way, the girl observed Ancient Greece, the Dancing Plague of 1518, and the evolution of jazz in New Orleans, among others.
The choreography for the early history pieces was simplistic; there was no story or vision of what the earliest human societies might have looked like. The standout number for the first act was the “Pantheon” routine, choreographed by Alex Dworakowski and Nora Loughlin. The Ancient Greece presented was more militaristic Sparta than philosophical Athens; the roiling drums of a Woodkid and Imagine Dragons mashup sent shivers up the arms.
The energy among the dancers was high as they twisted onstage in coordinated jumps, head tosses, and complex formations. The later “Dance Until We Drop” number—referring to the Dancing Plague of 1518 where hundreds dropped dead of exhaustion in the Holy Roman Empire in a dancing mania that lasted a week—was confusing. While the choreography was exciting and energetic, the music and costume choices of upbeat Caribbean music and colorful patterned tunics were at odds with the circumstances of the actual event.
Emcee and RBIM Outreach Chair Yvette McGivern hosted a raffle during the intermission, when attendees could use the free raffle ticket they were given upon entry. The prize option of free Chipotle delivered to the Reg was met with great enthusiasm by the audience, who cheered loudly every time someone won. Dancers also emerged from backstage in their costumes to socialize with friends and support their fellow performers during the second act.
Following the intermission, the girl and the computer found themselves in the 20th century. The iconic “Cell Block Tango” scene from the Broadway musical Chicago, here choreographed by Kelsi Rarick, was attacked with greater vigor than other pieces. The male dancers were props for the girls, as each disposed of her “husband” for varying faults, from his gum-smacking habit to infidelity, by poison, bullet, or a knife. The snappy show tune tempo was met by the dancers, who imbued the number with attitude and stage presence, despite a throwback Justin Timberlake soundtrack. After a shrieking crowd quieted down, the dancers performed part of the routine to Britney Spears’s iconic “Oops!...I Did It Again,” wearing striking metallic red biker short suit costumes.
At times, the framing device of the computer and the girl felt clunky and forced. Naturally, the computer interpreted her sarcastic remarks seriously and was often confused by her expressions. After the girl complains about the computer being her mother, the latter replies, “Of course I’m not your mother. I’m a computer.” The girl, meanwhile, came off as childish and unexcited by the amazing premise of the journey.
After a tribute to the RBIM seniors featuring hits from the past two decades and the dancers in pajamas handing in their B.A. theses, the show closed out with a futuristic hip-hop number, set as a battle between humans and aliens.
As with much of the show, the actual theme was unclear beyond a token nod to the supposed time period. Oftentimes the energy of the music, much of it contemporary, overpowered that of the dancers on stage. However, as the curtain fell and the dancers—in various levels of costume—entered the stage en masse, an infectious sense of excitement arose as they hugged each other and celebrated the end of two quarters of hard work. The audience, vocal and engaged throughout, joined in with loud clapping and cheering. Even more than the dancing, the highlight of CONTINUUM was the enthusiasm of the performers and the pride they took in their work.