Crouching at the edges of the stage, two students slap shoes on the ground in a slow, steady beat. A group of women step barefoot to the rhythm, staring ominously into the audience. As they reach the other side of the stage, a dancer throws her head back and releases a howling note. A few nervous chuckles arise from the audience, startled by the unsettling first minute of the fall dance concert Edge of Inquiry.
The show has begun nearly 20 minutes behind schedule. Overwhelmed by a demand for seats, the ushers took the extra time pack in extra chairs and to fit attendees into the isles of Studio Theater. Silently, we all wait for what is already unfolding as a slightly strange performance.
“This concert is based in contemporary dance and experimentation, rather than strictly entertainment value” Edge producer Megan Nicely had told me. “It is meant to provoke thoughts and reflection.” The show is comprised of five modern dance acts—four collaboratively choreographed by USF students and four different Bay Area choreographers, and one by guest performer and female drag queen Fauxnique.
The acts are marked by moments of grace, cacophonous shouting, bizarre flailing, melancholia, and confusion. In the enigmatic fourth act “Corked,” a dancer shouts through clenched teeth “You make me feel so good!” as she repeats a series of energetic leaps and contortions that involve slapping herself over and over in the same places on her body. Like much of the show’s choreography, it looks exhausting, painful, and is totally mesmerizing. The boy seated in front of me leans closer to his friend in the fifth cycle of this routine and (loudly) whispers, “What the f-?”
My neighbor is not alone in his perplexity. At intermission, sophomore Andrew Foy reviews the first half of the show. “It’s really good!” He pauses. “But I have no idea what it’s supposed to be representing.”
“Corked” finishes with six women on stage in ‘50s-style dresses singing Etta James’ “At Last” through gritted teeth after hitting each other with giant cardboard signs inscribed with the song’s lyrics. While still slightly puzzling, this is probably the clearest imagery in the show, with the exception of Fauxinque, whose sardonic ode to fashion, high heels, and consumerist couture started off the second half. Other acts feature dancers solemnly gliding offstage tangled in track lighting, women holding drawings of facial expressions in front of their own faces, and figures staggering around to “This Magic Moment” like Frankenstein’s monster, to name just a moments of the 1.5 hour show.
Though the imagery is not completely cohesive, the performance effectively evokes reflection. When the house lights come up, the audience bursts into conversation, revisiting different scenes. “I felt like it was a lot about oppression and fighting back,” 20-year-old Molly O’Shea Smith says after the show. “The dancers emphasize that really well. You can see their pain when they’re dancing. I think it’s about past eras and moving through it.”
As I exit the theater, I once again cross paths with Andrew Foy. “I think it was about emotion and lying about your emotions,” he tells me. “It was so good, but really hard to interpret.” If the purpose of Edge of Inquiry is to promote deeper thought and discourse, the show is an undeniable success. Whether they liked the show or not, audience members walked away with something to say.