As shadows clad in flowing suits and beaked masks emerged from a stage pitched into darkness only interrupted by vibrant lights, audience members quietened in anticipation for the Concord Academy Dance Project: Dark Before Dawn. On November 11 and 12, the company of eight dancers—Maureen Coffey ’24, Irene Jiang ’24, Julia Milan ’24, Anja Westra ’24, Christine Cevallos-Lozano ’25, Ava Angele Khabbaz ’25, Jake Klineman ’25, and Hannah Crozier ’25—invigorated the dance studio with performances imbued with artistry and emotion.

Punctuated by brisk, fluid pulses of movement, Dark Before Dawn presents a jolting rendition of the modern society in which we all partake. Drawing inspiration from surrealist art (such are the bold, beak-shaped masks donned by the dancers), Dance Project co-directors Rika Okamoto and Alex Brady aimed not only to demonstrate but also to subvert society’s suppression of the individual. “We wanted to reveal the humanity under the rigidness required of us in routine, in everyday life,” Okamoto commented. In the performance, this was achieved in more than one way. Just as they trudged mechanically in legion-like formations, the dancers also roamed the space spontaneously and without constraint in the show’s numerous improv numbers. Thoughtful seating arrangements (in a loose V-shape staggered on both sides of the aisle) further enabled audience members to be truly immersed in—and confronted by—the dancers’ movements.

Central to Okamoto and Brady’s choreographing process was their ardent desire for each dancer to shine, both as individuals and as a collective. They engaged in conversation with each dancer about their respective solos or duets and incorporated elements that reflected each dancer’s identity. Each scene transcends mere spectacle and instead invites the audience to contemplate its multi-faceted significance. Okamoto recalled discussing Jake Klineman’s tap solo with the dancer, which featured a monologue they themself penned. She said, “Jake’s solo was something I had wanted to incorporate from the very beginning.” 

Indeed—Jake’s soul-stirring tap performance constituted one of the show’s many climaxes, as they questioned what it means to express, hide, and stay true to oneself in our reality. “I am a shadow of myself, a beat only I can hear, a fascinating function of life and movement…How can my feet match the speed of which people walk past only stopping to see me and my shoes struggling to move forward in a world that rejects my rhythm and rhyme,” they said, amidst resounding raps of soles against the floor. “If not for what I dance, can my feet do anything?”

For Brady and Okamoto, the beauty of dance extends well beyond the performance itself. “Dance is a very special art form in which you could be who you are while building community, because you have to be aware of the person dancing next to you—every dancer is tuned into each other. There is strength in individuality and in unity,” Brady noted. These are the bonds that the community takes root in and flourishes upon. As the show drew to a close, the eight dancers formed a circle once again, reaching up toward the light, before dispersing across the stage with grace, purpose, and freedom. Congratulations to the company and crew of Dark Before Dawn for creating such an incredible performance!