Emerson Urban Dance Theatre packs a punch in “POW!”

by Shelby Grebbin / Beacon Staff • November 18, 2015

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Kurt Joyce choreographed “Suffocator,” a contemporary dance.
Kurt Joyce choreographed “Suffocator,” a contemporary dance.

Underneath the powerful pulse of pop hits playing, the thundering stomp of combat boots, and the crisp clap of tap shoes, the only other noise in the Greene Theater last Saturday night was “YAS WERK!”—the distinct battlecry of dancing superheroes and daunting supervillians.

Emerson Urban Dance Theatre has been telling unique stories through hip-hop and rhythmic tap since Michael Love ‘10 founded the company in 2006. This semester was no exception—EUDT’s most recent production “POW!” tells the tale of a misunderstood girl with an exceptional superpower and her transition from hero to villain.

Composed of two acts, “POW!” featured 12 dance numbers where EUDT members performed hip-hop, rhythmic tap, and contemporary styles. Student narrators who appeared between numbers told the original story of Piper, the villainess. Costumes and sets were kept relatively simple—a purple cape was donned by the dancer who represented Piper in her respective dance, and the costume was passed to new performers throughout the show.

Senior marketing communication major Kurt Joyce said he has been dancing with EUDT since 2012, and is currently the artistic director of the 25-member company.  

“For this show specifically, we [were] really trying to promote female empowerment through having our lead as a female villainess,” Joyce said. “We also just want to celebrate dance and the power that comes with telling a story through your movement.”

Junior performing arts major Alex Smith, the company’s hip-hop director, said the use of superheroes in “POW!” fostered the creation of a dynamic narrative.

“We came up with the idea of the underdog hero who rises to be a villainess,” Smith said. “We really wanted the characters to be relatable and real, and not just superheroes fighting crime.”

Joyce said he has seen EUDT craft more complex narratives into their performances over the years.

“When I first came, our stories were very simple,” Joyce said. “There would be a theme and we would tell it with a variety of different dances. Now we have live actors that are a part of our show. We also do a complete storyline from beginning to end following certain characters. We make sure that every show has an overarching storyline.”

Senior performing arts major Brianne Kowalski is the production manager of EUDT and a choreographer for the company. Her tap piece to “Fitzpleasure” by Alt-J opened the show.  

“I picked that song because rhythmically it's really nice, and it was very easy to choreograph to,” Kowalski said. “Coming up with choreography can be hard, and it’s a different process for every choreographer. For me, I kind of just figure out what rhythms would fit nicely in the song and make my feet do it.”

Kowalski said she had a specific type of performer in mind for her piece.

“Because my dance was very rooted in rhythm, I picked dancers based more on their ear for rhythm than their skill level,” Kowalski said.

Freshman writing, literature and publishing major Kelsey Costa attended the performance.

“It was nicely choreographed, and everything seemed to have balance,” Costa said. “Watching the dances, it was easy to interpret the story.”

Joyce said EUDT’s stylistic preferences have evolved since the company was founded nine years ago.

“Our style of dance has changed from more simple choreography to more complex styles over the years,” Joyce said. “We try to have a lot of hip-hop moves like locking and waacking and have moved more towards the style of an urban dance company.”

Smith said many EUDT routines feature sharp, rhythmic movements often defined as house style.

“House style really just means big movements with your full body, big arms and legs, and huge energy,” Smith said. “Really, it’s just anything that goes with the music.”

Joyce said the urban style of EUDT defines the company.

“We want to differentiate ourselves,” Joyce said. “It’s how we choose to tell our story.”