So, you have all probably seen the new floor routines from the Meet the Bruins event on the weekend. Every single year college gym fans look forward to seeing what will be produced out of the UCLA camp, where the combined talents of former dancer and current head coach Valorie Kondos Field and co (notably over the last few years, former Bruin and hip hop dancer Arianna Berlin) are used to create a host of new, creative and exciting routines.
There are several reasons the Bruins floor work is always exciting to see. For one, they are rarely ever run-of-the-mill. You will see no bland, pose-after-pose-to-techno randomness here. In fact they are often downright kooky. While many like me adore this quirkiness, there are some who don’t cope with some of Kondos-Field and co’s more unique approach to floor work.
Another reason UCLA routines seem to shine is because these routines seem so specifically tailored to the personalities of the gymnasts- even those who don’t have a real gift or nerve for performance. This gives them an edge other teams don’t necessarily have.
And of course given the depth of World-class post-elites the Bruins seem to attract these days (in stiff competition with Florida who are also pulling them in hand-over-fist) it is always fascinating to see these gymnasts in the hands of a new college choreographer. The looser requirements for floor exercise in NCAA means there is actually time given to develop dance and choreography throughout a routine and as a result these routines are often crafted to show off a bit of personality. This is not just the case for the Bruins, but for all teams.
With gymnasts like Mattie Larson, for example, who is already known for strong floor choreography and who grew up in a gym that was devoted to attention-to-detail and stylish floor work, it was still interesting to see what would come from UCLA’s more avante garde style choreography. In the past, her elite routines had always been quite traditionally classical, albeit lovely. Now we get a chance to see her branch out a little.
But there can also be some big surprises in the Bruins camp. One standout from the last few years in that regard has to be former Canadian elite Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs. As an elite, Hopfner-Hibbs was known for the original beam work that earned her a World Championship medal, her floor choreography had never stood out particularly. But while in California, Hopfner-Hibb emerged as something of floor star, known for her amped, saucy floor work. She could always tumble, but with UCLA choreography, she danced like she’d been possessed by some sassy, exuberant imp. It was awesome. This is what a great Bruin routine can do for a gymnast.
So, now we have a new season and a new set of routines. Let’s take a look at some of this year’s batch, shown at the Meet the Bruins show on the weekend.
As I said on the TCG Facebook, I have been looking forward to seeing what they would do with Sophina DeJesus. For those of you who are not aware, Dejesus is already a professional hip hop dancer. And UCLA love a hip hop routine!
Sophina’s choreography does not disappoint. This beatsy, tribal, high energy routine is perfect for a gymnast who can handle this kind of high octane non-stop choreography- and Sophina is perfect for the job. Not only does she handle the pace with style and a sense that she has energy to spare, the girl knows how to perform.
It’s not easy to handle that kind of high-energy routine AND keep it sassy while you are running out of breath, but Sophina has got it down. The floor sequence from 50secs onwards is awesome and very trademark early 2000s Bruins work. Love it!
Let me start by saying that I don’t think Vanessa Zamarripa has ever looked totally comfortable on floor. I have always found that a little odd given her vibrant presence of personality and her impeccable form. But these two things do not always maketh a dancer. And for those who saw that video a couple of years back where self-confessed non-dancer Vanessa attempted a hip hop class, you’ll be well aware this girl does not feel confident in this area.
The challenge, then, for her choreographers has been to come up with a routine where her particular brand of cute/awkwardness works. Last year it involved messing with an imaginary prop hat- and that kind of worked. Her routines often tend to have a slower pace, involving a sort of poses-step-pose kind of deal. While many gym fans criticise this in elite gymnastics, what makes it work in a Bruin concoction is the poses are unique. Take, for example, the terrific lean and fall at 30 seconds. You don’t see that in elite.
I am not 100% sold on this routine, but hey, with Vanessa looking this fit and her leaps looking this good already, I am happy to have her smiley, super-talented face out on the floor again for the season!
Mattie Larson’s routine for this season was kind of the routine I was hoping she would get last year. Although I liked her first season routine, I really had thought more would be made of her talents in that routine.
This is exactly what they have done her this season.
First, I want to say ‘yay!’ to someone else finally using this crazy fun piece of music from the Fifth Element soundtrack. Purists went a bit crazy when Vanessa Ferrari used it on floor way back when, but I always thought it was a great piece to use with the right kind of choreography and performer. Mattie is one of those.
This is one of those full-guts, all-out kooky Bruin routines I love. This is up there with the likes of Yvonne Toussek and Kate Richardson routines I loved and miss. What is particularly cool about this routine, aside from the amazing shapes and movements, is that there is no fear of ugly. What I mean by this is that in the right kind of routine, a sharply flexed foot and an awkward, insect-like walk across the floor can be awesome and even strangely beautiful in the right kind of context. Heck, a host of modern dance choreographer lived by this rule throughout the seventies and eighties- so why not in a Bruins routine (hah, I just listened to the latest Gymcastic podcast and Dvora Meyers says the same thing- jinx, lady! AGREED! Ugly can be beautiful!)?
My only issue with this whole routine is the back arch at 45 secs where Mattie comes up from it and drops back. I like the idea of the move, but it looks like she struggles a little and it loses fluidity.
This is a win of a routine for me.
Ah, just what we have been waiting for- when Danusia Francis becomes a Bruin floor worker! Her first season floor routine had a lot to live up to, given the piece of awesome that was her routine to Burlesque over the last couple of years. That saucy little routine gave Francis the reputation of being a a fun and animated floor worker- as well as gymnasts known for her incredible flexibility.
Well, UCLA has certainly played the bendy card in this routine, opening with a mind-boggling splits position and peppering the routine with poses that show just how bendy Francis is. It is quite remarkable. And the best bit, Francis looks like she is having real fun with this routine.
I am also incredibly pleased that they have incorporated that terrific turn she does from sitting to standing with her knees flared a la Silivas from her old routine into the opening of this one.
I like this routine, but I think it it still needs to gain a little little cohesion. It has many awesome pieces of choreography in them, but they are not sitting together as seamlessly as Larson’s is at this point. Maybe this is a routine that needs the tumbling to pull it together, but something tells me it is the pacing that needs work to pull it all together.
Alyssa Pritchett looks to be having fun with her energetic choreography. This to me seems to be a bit of a re-combination of a few routines of the past few years. There are definite shades of moves from Hopfner-Hibbs’ work, minus the sauce, with a few of the go-to modern dance moves you’ll see in most Bruin routines. Still, Pritchett carries it with enthusiasm.
Actually, if anyone has inherited the sauce factor, it’s Monique De La Torre. Her routine is great. It’s dynamic, sassy and the best part is that Monique plays right up to it. She doesn’t just paste on a smile, but uses her facial expressions and her head movements to further express the dance. Other gymnasts might have been awkward about giving this routine what it needs to work, but not De La Torre.
There is a moment where I am scared she is going to break a neck if she miscalculates her close-to-the-floor work, but all in all, I think this is one of the better-performed routines. I don’t know how much we will see it, but I really hope it gets a few runs throughout the season!
We haven’t seen them all yet, but there are enough choreographic carrots dangled in front of us from this show to tell us it is going to be another fun year from the Bruins.
Article: Brigid McCarthy
Photo: Vanessa Zamarripa
Join in the conversation on Facebook on The Couch Gymnast’s News Page.
Join the TCG Twitter