“A spirit unshakeable…unbreakable”: LaGuardia High School Graduation Dance Concert 2021

June 22, 2021

When the Graduation Dance Concert at New York’s famous Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and Performing Arts (to give it its full name) was forced to go virtual in 2020, I don’t think any of us really thought this year’s would have to be online too. But here we are, although this year, and despite the restrictions and having to at least part rehearse and create using Zoom, all the pieces bar the one dance film were captured on stage.

The concert very much reflected the times. Not surprisingly, the pandemic never felt far away. It’s not just the face masks the dancers wore that were a constant reminder (although they were a lot less obvious than many), but also the content and inspiration behind many of the pieces.

LaGuardia class of 2021 in Infusion of a Beat by Darrell Grand Moultrie
Still from film

The playing of the theme music for Fame (LaGuardia was the high school that inspired the show and later film) got us in upbeat mood, though, continued by the opening Infusion of a Beat by Darrell Grand Moultrie. It could hardly be more aptly titled. It’s a demanding piece, the choreography often eating up the stage. The dancers did not just move to the house music of DJ, producer, and electronic musician Honey Dijon, they become as one with it.

The performance exuded energy and youthfulness, the dancers sweeping across the stage as they responded to the words “turn it up” heard in the music. Within that high energy were some super moments of control, however, not least in some juicy balletic attitude turns and developpés; and several time, Moultrie asks the dancers to hang on to moments, extending movement like a rubber band being stretched, before it snaps and they fizz off once more.

The class of 2021 in Through a Glass Darkly by Joey Smith
Still from film

Through a Glass Darkly by Joey Smith takes us back to one of the more distressing pictures from the pandemic: the sight of care home residents only being able to ‘meet’ even close relatives through a closed window. That reference is immediately apparent as the cast form two lines and mime the scene. A very balletic and deeply touching piece to music by Debussy, Chausson and Poulenc, Through a Glass Darkly creates mood and feeling perfectly. A later section is much brighter, referring to the phrase’s origins in Corinthians I, and the notion that, while things may not be right now, they will be so in time.

With the Tide by Michael Greenberg was created by the dancers taking words and phrases from their own experiences during the pandemic and creating movement based upon them. The absorbing piece showcases nicely the individuality of the dancers in a series of solos (occasionally, several at the same time) that often have an underlying pensivity. Nils Frahm’s music, Said and Done, with its looping, hammering piano motif, is the perfect accompaniment with its suggestion of time moving slowly, as indeed it often seemed to in lockdown.

LaGuardia graduating dance students
in a moment from With the Tide by Michael Greenberg
Still from film

Mayte Natalio describes her Current as ode to where the students are in their lives and their energy, explaining that it’s about this moment they find themselves in: a time that is simultaneously the most exciting and the scariest as they move on from school. There’s certainly lots of energy in the busy choreography that features lots of circling as a group and turning individually, both reminiscent of water swirling.

In many ways, the one film on the programme, Solo for Ten by Amanda Krische is like turning the clock back twelve months when we were hit by a plethora of dance films that stitched together individual dancers in different locations. Yet, as it looks back, it has a poignancy that none of the other pandemic-inspired pieces comes close to achieving.

To music by Frahm and Samora Pinderhughes, and made entirely over Zoom, it flips frequently from dancer to dancer, and from apartment kitchen, lounge or bedroom, to deserted street, park and children’s playground. The patchwork of solos captures beautifully that sense of isolation, uncertainty, and often eerie quiet that we all experienced.

Doors are a recurring feature in Solo for Ten
by Amanda Krische
Still from film
A deserted street in another moment from Solo for Ten
by Amanda Krische
Still from film

Again, it provides an opportunity for the cast of nine to open a door on their individuality. Indeed, doors opening, front door, kitchen cupboard doors and more, appear time and again in the film. There are so many simple but beautiful, thoughtful moments: a solo behind a desk, fingers dancing on a table, a solo in the street that moves not an inch from the spot.

The best moment of Sanctuary by Damani Pompey comes with its opening tableau of characters in long dresses, some also in hats, that looks like an old sepia photograph. As they come to life, we see that faces are fully hidden by fabric masks, the dance itself initially having a tense, bound quality.

You have to feel for the current crop of dance students, wherever in the world they might be. They’ve spent a lot of the past sixteen months being taught via Zoom or such like, attempting to perfect their skills and technique in kitchens, living rooms, anywhere they can find an inch of space. And yet, they have come through. Resilient and adaptable barely does them justice.

The LaGuardia dance class of 2021
in Against All Odds by Meagan King at their Dance Graduation Cocnert
Still from film

The final work of this year’s graduation concert, Against All Odds by Meagan King, brings voice to the spectrum of emotions experienced by this class in particular, who lost so much in both their junior and senior years.

At times, it very much has the feel of a ‘goodbye piece’ as it marks a landmark in the young dancers’ journeys. After an ensemble opening, the second section of solos and small group dances is enthralling and thoughtful. It then takes on a more upbeat mood, the dance having a particularly optimistic feel and a strong sense of moving forwards. You very much feel that the young artists very much have “A spirit unshakeable…unbreakable,” as we hear in the music earlier, as they show us their uniqueness and that each is indeed “the illustrator of [their] destiny.”