Fresno State’s ‘Epistêmê’ offers a whirlwind of motion and emotion

You can win a pair of tickets to any of the final three performances of the Contemporary Dance Ensemble


The Contemporary Dance Ensemble at Fresno State continues its run of “Epistêmê,” every night this week through Saturday. There was a very small audience in the John Wright Theatre at the Sunday matinee I attended, which is a shame. These hard-working dancers deserve a bigger spotlight.

A moment from the Contemporary Dance Ensemble concert “Episteme.” Photo / Fresno State

A few thoughts from the show:

The opening: “Project Solo,” which introduces each dancer individually, is a clever appropriation of the tropes we’ve come to expect from “Project Runway”: the focus on personality (we’re bombarded with multiple images of each dancer as he or she gets a moment onstage alone to shine); the confident, fashion-strut-style of interaction with the audience (each move telegraphing “Look at me!”); the music putting a pep in everyone’s steps (with an overall techno-beat feel). Stephanie Bradshaw’s idiosyncratic costumes help pump up that sense of individuality, and Liz Waldman’s projections have a nice, grainy feel, with complexions and hair colors posterized almost to abstraction. Most important, the dancers, guided by choreographer and CDE artistic director Kenneth Balint, exude a sense of basking in our attention — which is what the “Runway” is really about, right?

Win two tickets to any remaining performance of the Contemporary Dance Ensemble’s “Episteme.” To enter this giveaway, leave a comment on this post telling us why you’d like to go. Deadline to enter is 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21. If you win, you can choose from any of the following three performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23; or Saturday, Feb. 24.

The student choreographer: Kudos to Nathalie Quiros for her weird and transfixing “Esoteric Flux,” which began with some of the dancers huddled squarely under a white sheet, like a shuddering ice cube, moved to ribbons of fabric flinging bodies around, and ending with a kinetic, twitchy sense of disrupted time. I liked the fearlessness of the choreography and the impatience of it all, with dancers at times literally being yanked off one side of the stage or the other. Brisk, unsettling and infused with a sort of jittery zombie menace, I found myself drawn to Quiros’ distinct visual language.

The apocalypse is nigh: Coming right after “Esoteric Flux,” a piece titled “The Several Within” continues the rattled feel. This was my favorite work overall. Choreographer Anandha Ray blends an East Indian aesthetic with a fierce, pounding sense of forward motion. The “multi-handed creatures” (which are actually dancers standing close behind each other) evoke a sense of the Hindu god Ganesh. There’s an ebb and flow to the piece that almost feels like narrative (but kept slipping away from me); I found myself thinking of kaleidoscopes, snakes and a “journey to the underworld” theme, but maybe that’s just me. At one point, thanks to Waldman’s top-notch lighting design and Ray’s crisp choreography, I actually felt a chill: The dancers are all stretched on the ground, and suddenly one hand pops up into the light, and then another. Powerful stuff.

The namesake: Balint’s piece “Episteme 1-2-3” inspires the name of this concert, and it’s a thoughtful, playful work. (Kelsey Phillips and Christopher Ballesteros danced the work on the day I attended; for the rest of this week it will be Caitlin Gainey and Mony Souvannasack.) Starting with an extended interlude devoted to the aw-shucks sweetness (and self-absorption) of first love, our two dancers eventually transition into a more complicated relationship, which suggests middle age, and then, finally, a brief nod to the infirmities (but lasting closeness) of old age. Phillips and Ballesteros offered lots of buoyant charm, particularly as young lovers, and the wide-ranging musical selections — from Brenda Lee to Himmelsrandt — pepped things up. I do think, however, the work is unbalanced, with the “1” of the title stretching on too long, leaving the “2” and “3” of middle and old age feeling perfunctory.

The takeaway: I’m impressed overall with the creativity, physicality and dedication I saw on stage. There are varying levels of dancing ability among the members of the Contemporary Dance Ensemble, as befits a student performance, but I was taken with the strong sense of discipline and ensemble before me. If you’ve never partaken in a dance performance at Fresno State before, this will be sure to expand your horizons.

Concert info

““Epistêmê,” plays 7:30 p.m. daily through Saturday, Feb. 24, John Wright Theatre, Fresno State. Tickets are $17 general, $15 seniors, $10 students

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Author: Donald Munro

Covering the arts in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

2 thoughts on “Fresno State’s ‘Epistêmê’ offers a whirlwind of motion and emotion”

  1. I’d like the chance to experience this performance. It would be interesting and refreshing to see contemporary college dancers since I train younger ballet students.

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