Berkeley Dance Project 2012 Explores Transformation Within Community

Berkeley Dance Project 2012: Beneath the Flesh, the final production in UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies Main Stage season, opens April 20 in Zellerbach Playhouse.  The production features three choreographic premieres by Lisa Wymore, Amara Tabor Smith, and Stephanie Sherman, each exploring the theme of transformation within community; how we change, grow, shift and ultimately find a place of knowing.

The dead are born from a dream of the living, was inspired by Professor Lisa Wymore’s hope to create a work informed by Jerzy Growtowski’s method of expressionist theater making, “which is dependent on bringing forth a powerful experience between the actor and the audience,” says Wymore. The sixteen dancers, whose choreographic input heavily informed the piece, engage in four distinct environments and share one common space center stage. Each environment tells a different story about a transformative experience around the theme of life and death. These stage spaces are both functional and steeped in ritual, and the set utilizes raw materials, including rock, wood, metal, and dirt. Throughout the piece, the dancers use their voices to resonate and tune their bodies for both expression, and also to haunt and provoke the audience. “I became very interested in the dancers not representing characters,” says Wymore, “but standing in place of characters and attempting to have a direct relationship with the audience through action.”

Assistant Choreographer: Katie Faulkner. Music composed by Ryan Ross Smith, Set Design: Gena Whitman with Annie Smart, Costume Design: Grace Colletta, Lighting Design: David K.H. Elliot


Choreographer Amara Tabor Smith’s piece, titled Searching for the Moon in the Dark Night Sky, explores what it means to become a woman, reflecting on the loss of passages to womanhood in contemporary American society.  Based on the personal experiences of the ensemble of nine female dancers, the choreography references Sabar, a Senegalese communal dance form recently taught to students during a Fall 2011 departmental residency with Senegalese artist Ciré Béye . Comments Smith, “Traditionally, Sabar was only danced by women. Now men have become the superstars of Sabar, which to me is a metaphor of how rituals involving women have been co-opted by men.” Additionally the choreography references dances for the female deities Yemanja and Iansan from the African Brazilian Orixá tradition, Candomblé which represent the power of the feminine principle. The piece is ultimately a celebration of what it means to be “what we are, as we are, as opposed to transforming ourselves into an ideal,” says Smith.

Music Composed by: Ajayi Jackson, Video Direction: Kwame Braun, Scenic Design: Gena Whitman and Annie Smart, Costume Design: Robert Lowman, Lighting Design: David K.H. Elliot

In (fitting) room, clothing is used to convey a landscape of shifting identities.  Choreographed by TDPS graduate student Stephanie Sherman, and based off deep collaboration with the six dancers and their own relationships with identity categories, the piece plays with ideas of “fitting in,” in the literal sense of clothing, but also metaphorically as a group. Each dancer possesses a distinct movement style, costume color, and theme within the music. The work features striking visuals in which costumes accumulate, shift, and are shed from the body, and a tender but conflictive group dynamic emerges as the dancers try on and steal each other’s clothing and moves. “Identities are fluid,” says Sherman, “and the things we appropriate at some level, do become a part of us.”

Music composed by Ben Juodvalkis, Costume Design: Wendy Sparks, Lighitng Design: David K.H. Elliot

About the Choreographers:

Lisa Wymore is the Director of the Dance Program within the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley. She is also the Co-Director of Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts – an award-winning dance theater performance group based in the Bay Area (see: Her work with multi-media and real time video has led Ms. Wymore to create her own dance and media laboratory at UC Berkeley called the Z-Lab (see:  In 2005 she founded the Dance Studies Working Group at UC Berkeley. She is a certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst and uses her work in Laban theory to influence her conceptual investigations.

Amara Tabor Smith is the Artistic director of Deep Waters Dance Theater and Co-Artistic Director of Headmistress, an international dance collaboration with movement artist Sherwood Chen. She is the former Associate Artistic Director and dancer with the Urban Bush Women dance company of NYC, and has worked with artists such as Joanna Haigood, Ronald K. Brown, Anna Deveare Smith, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Herbert Siquenza and Faustin Linyekula. She was an artist-in-residence at The Headlands Center for the Arts and Espaço Xisto in Salvador, Bahia. Most recently she received a grant from the Gerbode Foundation to support the creation of He Walked Swiftly… a site-specific dance theater work in collaboration with Dancer’s Group, set to open on the streets of San Francisco in June 2013.

Stephanie Sherman (BA, Vassar, ’01, Spanish/ MFA, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, Dance, ’09), danced in Boston’s Prometheus Dance Company (’01-’05). In ’05, she won a Fulbright to choreograph in Ecuador. In ’10, she received the National Performance Network’s sponsored-artist residency to Ecuador. She has taught and choreographed for major companies such as Ballet Contemporáneo de Humanizarte (resident choreographer), la Compañía Nacional and el Ballet Ecuatoriano de Cámara (Ecuador), as well as Danza Universitaria and La Compañía Nacional (Costa Rica).

Berkeley Dance Project 2012 opens on Friday, April 20 at the Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC Berkeley campus (at Spieker Plaza across from the Haas Pavilion) and runs on weekends through Sunday, April 29.

Presented Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

April 20, 21, 27, 28 – 8pm
April 22, 29 – 2pm

Purchase tickets online

Written by Marni Davis