“Thriller” by Michael Jackson faded out and the rumble of stomping feet echoed across Wilson Hall as the crowd eagerly awaited the start of Evolution Dance Crew's (Evo) annual Halloween dance show.
On Oct. 30, Evo presented “The Resurrection of Evolution,” a performance whose title was chosen both as an allusion to Halloween as well as to their long-awaited return to indoor, in-person shows. The show lasted approximately an hour, with 12 main dance numbers in addition to an assortment of shorter transition pieces. The last time the crew performed a show in Wilson Hall was in the fall of 2019, somewhat ironically titled, “The Mask Has Fallen.”
“One thing we are doing differently this year is putting up two shows in one night, and we’ve never done that in Evo history,” Evo Co-President Seiha San ’22 said. “We wanted the opportunity to present what we’ve been working on to more people.”
Evo held a 7 p.m. and a 9 p.m. show, allowing for a larger general audience of 800, with the earlier show nearly full and later show sold out. The show has sold out for the past couple of years and the dance crew has now grown to over 50 people, 10 more than in 2019. Not only was the show back in Wilson Hall, but the audience was comprised of more than just students. Because the performance coincided with Homecoming Weekend, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and young children populated the crowd, especially at the earlier show. A dinosaur, Sherlock Holmes and Catman were also in attendance, as some of the audience showed up in costume.
Before the show began, co-presidents San and Aliana Thomas-Adams ’22 came onto the stage to introduce Evo’s mission. The group was founded in 2014 by BIPOC students as a space for people whose experiences and body types hadn’t typically been represented in the Middlebury dance scene.
“A lot of our dancers are untrained. They evolve with the dance crew,” San said. “[...] We strive to create a space where all of our dancers feel supported. Some of them have not performed in front of an audience before.” San then asked the audience to be generous with their applause.
The curtains parted and the lights came on for the first number, “She Don’t Text,” named after the song it was performed to, with dancers decked out in white collared shirts, black dress pants, ties and black masks. The piece was brought to life by first-time choreographer Kent Canonigo ’24, who joined Evo last year during the pandemic. While he was grateful to be a part of the group last year, he missed the energy of a big audience.
“I was on autopilot the whole time, but it felt good to be out there,” Canonigo said.
This first dance, along with every piece that followed, left the audience spellbound. The crew swayed, they shook their hips, they twirled, and they did it as one. Whether the number was joyful, sad, sensual or anywhere in between, the dancers performed with intense focus and enthusiasm.
Throughout the show, yelps, cheers and whistles could be heard from the enthusiastic audience. Audience member Kristen Morgenstern ’24 was there to support her roommate, Makeda Hevrin ’24, who is part of the crew. Morgenstern expressed her delight at the novelty of the indoor performance space complete with lights and powerful sound.
“This was the first real dance show I’ve seen, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.
Morgenstern belongs to one of the other dance troupes on campus, which like Evolution, performed on the outdoor stage on Battell Beach last spring. While the outdoor stage provided a safe and feasible approach for dance groups to perform, it came with its setbacks.
“When I had my show last spring, people were walking by on the sidewalk and there was literally a quidditch match happening next to us.”
Brittney Azubuike ’22, Evo treasurer and crew member, joined the group in the spring of 2020, and was getting ready to perform in her first show when the school announced that students would be sent home. This was Azubuike’s debut performance, and she dazzled the audience with her seemingly effortless moves. She choreographed four numbers in the show, including a seductive pair number with Jarlenys Mendez ’23 titled “The Feels.”
“It was very much a romantic duet. Guy sees girl. Girl sees guy,” Azubuike said.
Azubuike also choreographed “Feel Good Inc.” in which dancers moved in rigid, robotic motions and wore white thespian masks in addition to their face masks.
Another number that particularly excited the crowd was titled “Squid Game” and was based on the new, wildly popular Netflix series of the same name. Given the praise and media coverage of the television series, the number felt especially relevant in speaking to the cultural moment.
Choreographer Jaab Veskijkul ’22.5 noted how the process of putting together the number was somewhat accelerated. Because it was a transition piece, it came together just a couple of weeks before the show, and he didn’t teach the dancers the piece until the week prior to the performance. Transition pieces are shorter pieces that the crew sandwiches between the longer, more rehearsed pieces. After Veskijkul finished watching “Squid Game,” he realized he could use the show’s notoriety to his advantage and envisioned his choreography based on events in the first episode.
The final number of the show was the “Newbie Piece,” which is the debut for all the new dancers. Thomas-Adams helped to choreograph this number. There were 17 new dancers this fall, marking the largest group to ever join Evo in a single semester.
“It’s a great way to get to know all the new members at once,” Thomas-Adams said. “There's so many of them who have never danced before, so we feel honored and excited that they want to come try that with Evo.”