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RnM, Terpsichore, and Ajoyo Spring Show a Success

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The Rhythm and Motion and Terpsichore show on Friday, one of the most anticipated and attended performances of the year, exceeded expectations. The show consisted of thirteen RnM pieces and five from Terpsichore, with one piece from the Bryn Mawr group Ajoyo.

RnM’s doesn’t have a single style, but in the past, it has been more influenced by the African Diaspora dance. This was evident the most in the opening piece, choreographed by Tinuké Akintayo ’18, Freddy Bernardino ’18, Ashley Mbah ’19, and Aly Rabin ’18. The opener exhibited aspects of the Umfundalai dance technique, which is also taught in the African dance courses offered here at Swat.

Many of the RnM pieces in the show came from other stylistic and cultural backgrounds. “Thicc Gyal and Latin Ting,” choreographed by Bernardino and Moniesha Hayles from Bryn Mawr, drew on Latinx and Caribbean-based movements and music. “Afghan Jalebi,” choreographed by Soumya Venkateswaran ’18 at Bryn Mawr, showcased a South Asian dance style against the Bollywood hit song “Afghan Jalebi” by Pakistani singer Asrar Shah. The student choreographers successfully incorporated traditional aesthetics while also using popular movements.

Part of what makes RnM pieces so fun to watch is that they choose popular dance styles and music selections. Songs like “Finesse” by Bruno Mars and Cardi B, artists like Beyoncé, clothes like a “Rugrats” sweatshirt, and trendy dance moves are immediately recognizable and relatable. It’s a celebration of our generation’s popular culture in a performance setting. Pieces like “Thicc Gyal and Latin Ting” and Akintayo’s “#Triplef:fiercefunflirty” also blurred the line between audience and performer when RnM dancers came out and danced in the audience.

For Ahsley Mbah ’19, popular media platforms are a basis for her choreography.

“I have definitely grown up watching tons of YouTube videos of dancers and being moved to create something that gives me the same feeling that I have when watching a dance video. I think I’m listening to music all the time and I’m dancing all the time. Every song I hear, I feel like there’s a choreography waiting to be made for it. Any song in general has the potential to be expressed through dance.”

Terpsichore is also a dance group based on student choreography, but whereas RnM participation is based on auditions, anyone can choreograph for Terpsichore. The pieces tend to display more lyrical and modern dance styles, but there is some crossover with incorporations of popular movements.

Ajoyo, a dance group from Bryn Mawr, also had the stage for one piece entitled “The Showdown.” Using inspiration from West African movements, the piece imitated a rivalry and then coming together of two groups, with a humorous ending when one of the dancers came back out to show off her splits.  

One aspect that makes the show so exciting for students is that all of the dance is choreographed by their peers. Student choreographers have control over all aspects of the process, from the music choice, the style of dance, the specific movements, and the mood they want to portray. The amount of creative freedom can prove daunting, but student choreographers have developed methods to make their visions real.

For student choreographers  music choice is central to the choreographic process. Liz Lanphear ’19 choreographed “Rain Dance” in fullfilment of a vision she had while listening to the song “Rain Dance” by Whilk and Misky.

“My mind constructed this story of a band of farmers recognizing the signs of the oncoming storm … and then celebrating this force of power and unpredictability that would also secure their livelihoods. That, to me, was a story I thought could be told compellingly through movement,” Liz Lanaphear said.

For Rabin, her inspiration for “Evergreen” simply came from finding a cool new piece of music, in this case the song “Evergreen” by YEBBA. When coming up with movements to set to her music choice, she looks back to past RnM pieces.

“My dance [is] definitely inspired a little bit by the choreography of past RnM performances, especially dancers who were seniors when I was a freshman. [They] did a really good job of combining African with Contemporary and finding a balance.”

Not all pieces are inspired by or set to music, however. Zara Williams-Nicholas ’19 set part of her piece “Colorblind” to an interview with Misty Copeland describing what it was like for her to be the first black principal dancer with American Ballet Theater. Homogeneity of body type and skin color has been a barrier for a lot of dancers in the professional world, and the highest paying and most accredited positions in the dance world are still largely held by naturally thin white people.

Williams-Nicholas, in her choreographic debut, impressively tackled this issue. In the program, she explained her objective.

“The piece attempts to create discourses about blackness in a white space, the desire to be heard, and the feeling of loneliness and a desire for solidarity.”

The show finale brought all the dancers onto the stage, and honored the seniors in each group: Tinuké Akintayo ’18, Freddy Bernardino ’18, and Aly Rabin ’18, and Bryn Mawr student Soumya Venkateswaran ’18 of RnM, and Charlotte Raty ’18, Rachel Diamond ’18, and Prairie Wentworth-Nice ̕18 of Terpsichore. The show was a highly entertaining break from the weeks leading up to finals.

Dance students encounter obstacles accessing physical therapy

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Dance students at Swarthmore have access to physical therapy on campus to help treat injuries. However, there has been no direct, convenient way for students training in dance classes at the college to see a physical therapist, particularly one who has experience treating dance injuries.

Gabriella Small ’19, a non-major student in the department, sustained an upper back injury from overuse in a ballet class during the spring semester of her freshman year.

It got to the point where I couldn’t take a full breath without really sharp pain or lie down on my back,” Small said. “Over spring break of my freshman year, I went home to see my physical therapist who works with dancers, and she showed my mom how you could see the [rib] bone. It was a dislocated rib that was twisted and sticking out of my back, it was kind of gross.”

According to Small, the lack of a convenient option on campus prevented her from treating her injury early on and further exacerbated her dislocated rib.

“I didn’t see anyone before spring break because there wasn’t an easy way to quickly go and talk to somebody about a twinge in my back before it got really out of hand,” Small said. “[My PT] did some manipulations over spring break to try to put my rib back in place, but the problem is that I let it go on for months so the muscles had gotten used to it being rotated out, so pushing it back in at one session didn’t work.”

Small returned to campus with the injury and, after seeing a doctor at Worth Health Center, was given a prescription for physical therapy with the Sports Medicine Office. However, because the injury was mainly found in dancers, the PT at the college was unfamiliar with it and recommended other exercises instead of the same treatment Small’s PT at home provided.

“I needed to see someone who knew about it and did some research on my own and found the closest PT,” Small said. “I had to bike a mile and a half there once a week or so for a couple weeks because they were able to do the manipulations I needed to put my rib back in place.”

According to Olivia Sabee, assistant professor and interim director of dance, while access to physical therapy on campus is both possible and beneficial to dance students, dancers have not been able to make total use of physical therapy.

“I haven’t seen students accessing physical therapy as much as they should,” Professor Sabee wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix. “[One student] received PT while at home but didn’t continue upon returning to campus. [This] student, who has a chronic injury, would have benefitted from continuing to receive treatment upon returning to campus.”

According to Amelia Estrada ’17, an honors dance major who also worked closely with the Sports Medicine Office to pursue an interest in sports medicine, access to a PT is incredibly important especially for dancers training a rigorous amount.

“I spent about 90 percent of my time dancing, especially in my last two years, and I definitely did sustain injuries while I was in school specifically from dance,” Estrada said. “I think there should be some understanding that dancers who are taking more than one class a week should have access to a PT or at least resources.”

According to Marie Mancini, director of sports medicine, the athletic trainers work under the supervision of an orthopedic surgeon who sets the parameters of their practice within the limits of their licenses.

“Who we are allowed to treat as athletic trainers is governed by our state and national licenses,” Mancini wrote in an e-mail to the Phoenix. “We are hired by the college to care for intercollegiate athletes and club sports participants. We will see non-athletes on a referral from a physician with a working diagnosis and a prescription for therapy on a space available basis.”

While dancers can be treated by the physical trainers on campus, they are not a top priority since the athletic trainers are contracted to treat athletes involved in sports on campus. However, for dancers, being seen by a physical trainer is not always the best option, since dancers utilize their bodies in such a specific way that physical therapy treatment sometimes needs to be distinct from typical sports medicine.

“ I’m not quite sure how familiar PTs on campus are with dance-related injuries, but I feel like that is a common problem dancers have,” Chandra Moss-Thorne, associate in performance, said. “I went to my insurance PT and asked for dance-related physical therapy in particular and they didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Estrada also believes that it is not just the accessibility of physical therapy resources that is important, but rather the access to physical therapists who have experience treating dancers.

“I was having issues with my foot and Worth gave me a recommendation to go see a podiatrist [outside of the college] who ended up making my injury worse because he didn’t understand dancers,” Estrada said. “It didn’t occur to me to look for someone who specifically works with dancers even though dance medicine is a very different beast.”

Small has also experienced frustration when seeking medical help from professionals at Worth who did not have experience working with dancers. She also would like to see a way for dancers to seek help early on before injuries become worse.

“I saw the doctor [at Worth], and she said it was just a pulled muscle, which I knew it wasn’t,” Small said. “Right now, there’s not a way to get seen sooner. If I had gotten to see somebody, it wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it did, and it wouldn’t have taken three months to heal— it would’ve taken a week.”

Barrett Powell ’18 experienced an injury his junior year and was recovering while also enrolled in a dance class. He also feels that he would have benefited from seeing a PT who was familiar with dancers.

“I didn’t necessarily feel hampered by not having a PT easily available since you heal when you heal, but I would’ve appreciated having a PT person who I know is familiar with dance and injuries associated with dance,” Powell said. “From a certain perspective, there are many people who do athletic things on campus, and some of those things are sports and some are performance arts. I understand why physical therapy has historically been easily available to sports, but resources should be available to both.”

While Sabee believes that it is not feasible for the college to hire a physical therapist for dancers specifically, she is a proponent for early, easy-access treatment for injuries so that dancers can get treated before injuries become severe.

“Our program is too small and it would be too cost-prohibitive (not to mention that we don’t have the facilities for it) to hire a staff physical therapist,” Professor Sabee wrote. “One potential solution could be to offer a periodic Dance or Performing Arts Medicine Clinic, but we still need to do more research into what is feasible. A clinic like this might help students get help before their problems become chronic.”

According to Estrada, having a specialist or even a list of resources available to students would allow for dancers to seek the treatment they need.

“I really do think that for some students, it is necessary to have a dance medicine specialist available,” Estrada said. “I understand the confines of the [college] setting, but I don’t think it’s out of the question to find a research page of local people who can be contacted when you are injured who understand dancers or even contracting someone to come to college once a month and work with dancers.”

Outside of referring students to Worth to receive treatment, the dance department is working to develop more programs to help dancers build strength and flexibility so as to prevent injuries in the first place.

While they cannot replace appropriate medical care and physical therapy, two critical elements of injury-prevention are cross-training and developing a better knowledge of your body and its alignment,” Professor Sabee wrote. “Cross-training is especially important for those students who have come out of pre-professional training programs and who are used to dancing upwards of 20 hours per week. There are ways for these students to continue to maintain their technique and dance smarter while spending comparatively fewer hours in the studio, but these are also the students most at risk of injury if they aren’t able to take the time to maintain their bodies.”

While the department of music and dance has courses like yoga and will be offering pilates in fall 2018 to help dancers prevent injury, the lack of a convenient and immediate way to access to physical therapy that understands dancers has made it difficult for students to maintain their physical health.

I think that it’s extremely important for dancers to know that they can see a PT on campus and the protocol to go through it because that is better than nothing,” Moss-Thorne said. “I also hope that dancers know to take advantage of the other class offerings that we have here because cross-training is key.”

However, the experiences of dancers working through both acute and chronic injuries have raised an awareness of the need for more direct access to resources ranging from ice to a trained medical professional who has experience working with dancers.

“I know that we are working on getting an ice machine so that we have one in close proximity. Our ultimate intention is to model after other schools by bringing in a dance PT on campus to have preventative talks teaching different exercises and having appointments,” Moss-Thorne said. “This is a priority, and we definitely see a need for it.”

A Taste of Home on Lunar New Year

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My parents and I never ran out of plates to use⸺ unless it was Lunar New Year. On that special occasion, we cooked up a storm. We adorned our dining table with dumplings, vegetable stir fry, braised pork, spiced beef, and many more dishes, all displayed on the table using every single plate in our kitchen.


Lunar New Year is one of my favorite festivals. I grew up in Singapore, a predominantly Chinese society where Lunar New Year is a public holiday. My extended family lives in China, and every Lunar New Year we would Skype one another to show off our tables full of food. I loved Lunar New Year when I was at home and was pleasantly surprised to learn about the Lunar New Year celebrations at Swarthmore.


Lunar New Year is celebrated in various parts of Asia including China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. It marks the beginning of a new year according to the lunar calendar, which tracks both lunar cycles and solar phenomena. During Lunar New Year, households and businesses are abuzz with activity, including worshipping deities and ancestors for good fortune, as well as thoroughly cleaning out properties to purge the environment of evil. Friends and families gather for feasting and merrymaking to honor their close relationships.


Although Lunar New Year is not as grand an affair in most of the U.S., many Swarthmore students gathered last Friday, Feb. 16, to celebrate Lunar New Year.


The celebration began at LPAC with a dinner and performance organized by the Intercultural Center. As participants enjoyed some Filipino food, they watched a lion dance by the Penn Lions. The Penn Lions are a lion dance troupe at the University of Pennsylvania and have been performing for colleges, museums, and other organizations since 2007.


Lion dance is a traditional Chinese dance performed at Lunar New Year and other occasions such as business inaugurations. Two performers dress up in one lion costume and mimic the movements of lions as they dance to loud percussion music. In Chinese belief, the loud music deters malevolent spirits and demons from interrupting an important event.


As the Penn Lions’ percussionists started sounding their drums and cymbals, the lions began to move, adjusting their speed to match the rhythm. Their goal was to destroy a poisonous spider on the ground and usher in prosperity for the year ahead. The spider represents the hardship from the past year that the lions must destroy.


With each resounding beat of the drum and clang of the cymbals, the lions ran, jumped, blinked shyly at their audience, or nuzzled up close to them. Most spectacularly, the lions sometimes stood on their hind legs, necessitating one performer in each lion to stand atop the other’s shoulders.


When the time came to confront the spider, the lions carefully approached the spider, scratching behind their ears as they contemplated their best plan of attack.


In a flash, the lions charged at the spider while the music built to a crescendo. They tore the spider up, revealing a cabbage underneath the spider’s body. This was “Cai Qing”, the climax of the lion dance. The lions gobbled up the cabbage and spit the shreds at the audience to bless them with wealth and abundance. To end the lively performance, the lions unfurled two red scrolls inscribed with auspicious Chinese poetry.


Sara Zhou, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania and External Vice President of the Penn Lions, has participated in lion dance since freshman year. Zhou sees lion dance as a way to keep in touch with Chinese culture. “I didn’t feel so connected with my culture before college, so participating in lion dance is a way for me to go back to my roots,” Zhou said.


Besides the Penn Lions themselves, audience members also enjoyed the lion dance.


“I thought the performance and music were powerful. They provoked a visceral reaction in me, like when the lions were attacking the spider. They were scary,” Nicholas Anderson ‘20 said.


“I loved the lion dance a lot, “ Alexis Riddick ̕20 said. “I liked the fact that there were two people in each lion costume and they had the strength to lift somebody up.”


Besides the lion dance, there was also a Hot Pot Party hosted by the Swarthmore Chinese Society. Hot pot is a Chinese dish where a pot of broth is placed on an electric or propane stove at the table. While the broth is boiling, raw ingredients displayed on the table are put into the broth to cook. When the ingredients are done cooking, they are removed from the pot for consumption.


Inside the Intercultural Center, students lined up to cook their favorite ingredients in the pot from the vast selection prepared by SCS. There was a seemingly endless array of ingredients ⸺ beef and pork slices, meatballs, cabbage, mushroom, rice noodles, and much more. Meanwhile, the television played the annual Lunar New Year extravaganza on China Central Television, a staple of many Chinese family gatherings.


SCS Co-President Sophie Song ̕20 stressed the importance of holding the Hot Pot Party. “We host a Hot Pot Party every year because Lunar New Year is about being with your family. There are many international students around, and it’s sad for them to be alone on Lunar New Year, so we try to make it a happy occasion,” she said.


Leren Gao ̕20, the other SCS Co-President, agreed with Song. “It’s great that so many people are at the Hot Pot Party. A lot of people are away from home, and it can be especially difficult for freshmen. We are trying to bring a bit of home to Swarthmore,” she smiled.


Among the crowd savoring their food, chatting with their friends, and watching television, an undeniable coziness arose. “Lunar New Year is different from Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is noisy and crowded like a carnival. At this Hot Pot Party, I feel like I’m coming home, because there are lots of people around, just eating and hanging out,” Zechen Zhang ̕18, a student from Tianjin, China, said.


“Having people come together and celebrate is important for keeping my identity of being Chinese. The Hot Pot Party is one of the few events where I feel I can connect to tradition and heritage,” Zhang added.

“It’s great that we got the funding and location to hold the Hot Pot Party this year. It’s important for Chinese students abroad and Chinese-Americans away from home to honor our culture through this event. Hopefully, as the years go on, we can expand this event. It will require more funding, but hopefully we can get that,” Billy Yang ̕19, a student from Inner Mongolia, China, described his vision for the future of SCS.


No matter how far from home we are, Lunar New Year is a wonderful time for us to connect with others and share our delight in one another’s presence. That is the universal spirit of Lunar New Year, which transcends culture and tradition to bring people from different backgrounds together.


Making Black Magic

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For the past two weeks, the Frear Ensemble Theater has undergone curious transformations. The seemingly ordinary black box theater became a vehicle hurtling through time and space, transporting audiences to sugar cane fields, cotton fields, and communes; to mystical destinations of unreality; and finally, to the furthest corners of being.

The transcendental journey consists of two performances: Thomas DeFrantz’s CANE and Ni’Ja Whitson’s A Meditation on Tongues. DeFrantz is a Professor of dance, African and African American studies, theater studies, and women’s studies at Duke University. They and their company have put up various performances of CANE since April 2013. Whitson is an artist from New York City who uses diverse media, including dance, poetry, and theater, in their work. Together with their co-performer Kirsten Flores-Davis, they also direct The NWA Project, which creates performances at different sites in collaboration with guest artists.

Along with workshops and discussions with DeFrantz and Whitson, CANE and Meditation define the two-week program titled “The Black Magic of Living,” an apt opener for Black History Month.

“We keep going and making work, and it’s magical. We keep rising up,” DeFrantz said. To them, the real black magic lies in the ongoing resistance of black communities against oppressive structures. In their art, DeFrantz captures the rich collective history of black people through exploring the lingering ramifications of colonialism, apartheid, and slavery.

CANE is a response to its namesake– Jean Toomer’s 1923 novel, “Cane”, about the lives of black Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. Similar to Toomer’s novel, CANE presents a series of vignettes, from cotton-picking to domestic living, interspersed with more abstract episodes that unravel the external environment and internal landscape of black people living in the post-Reconstruction era.

CANE begins with a brief introduction from DeFrantz about their vision and creative process for the piece. DeFrantz also gave the audience a warning about how intense the piece was. Behind them was the set: four translucent panels made of tall hollow rods, on which were projected scenes of a sugar cane field. As the performance began, the dancers moved across the stage, weaving gracefully amongst the panels. Their silhouettes appeared and disappeared in a hypnotic interplay of light and shadow, which blended seamlessly with the rhythmic folk music.

DeFrantz’s cautionary remark soon became apparent as dissonance invaded the music and the dancers’ movements escalated to a frenzy— a far cry from the idyllic opening. Throughout the hour-long piece, scenes of violence, toil, and confusion were interspersed with those of harmony and serenity to depict the complex tale of black Americans who suffered, loved, and lived. The changing scenery projected onto the panels, along with the transitions in music and sound, created a continuous narrative of communal and personal history.

Like DeFrantz, Whitson interweaves collective experiences with their own stories when creating art.  Besides considering specific events and time periods in black history, Whitson also aims to explore black identity as a crucial component of the larger universe. They are fascinated by dark matter— the mysterious substance that astrophysicists theorize about— and view it as a “cosmological extension of blackness” analogous to the historical, spiritual, and emotional breadth of black identity.

Born from these ruminations, Meditation is a bold, experimental piece resulting from active collaboration between Whitson and Flores-Davis as part of The NWA Project. Meditation invites the audience to embark on an intimate journey about the trials and tribulations of LGBTQ black people. Based on “Tongues Untied”, Marlon Riggs’ 1989 film, Meditation is both catharsis and apotheosis– it unleashes raw emotion that elevates personal strife to a spiritual plane of existence.

Whereas CANE began on stage, Meditation starts off in the theater’s foyer with a lively dance from Leggoh LaBejia, New York musician and Vogue dancer. LaBejia guided the audience down corridors lined with little white LED lights, where Whitson and Flores-Davis performed a short duet and some spoken word poetry. After traversing the corridors, the audience finally filed into the theater. They passed a shrine honouring queer black icons, many of whom lost their lives during the 1980s AIDS epidemic.

Inside the theater, the audience sat on chairs arranged around the performance space. As Whitson and Flores-Davis traversed the space, traditional notions of stage and audience became irrelevant; there was just one large, liminal space. In this unconventional dimension, Whitson and Flores-Davis swept their viewers into a torrent of powerful emotions– anger, fear, grief, lust, yearning, camaraderie— to capture the complicated reality faced by LGBTQ black people, a historically marginalized community

Their movement and vocalization were incredibly varied; sometimes the steps seemed carefully choreographed, their voices confident and articulate in reciting their poetry; but other times their bodies appeared animalistic and primal, their throats only capable of uttering indistinct sounds. Clips from “Tongues Untied” were screened occasionally, and at the end of the performance, served as a stark reminder of the real people from whom Whitson and Flores-Davis seek inspiration.

As Meditation draws to a close, so does the official program for “The Black Magic of Living.” However, for Whitson and DeFrantz, the true “Black Magic” never ends because they view artistic endeavour as an ongoing and malleable process.

“If I know a thing, it’s not done. I try not to speak in absolutes,” Whitson said.

“Black life is improvisation because tomorrow is not promised,” DeFrantz said. They likened their work in improvisational dance to the daily routine of black people, and indeed, the true “Black Magic” does not end with CANE or Meditation. Every day, innumerable people create “Black Magic” in their conversations, laughter, labor, and much more. Despite the end of the official program for “The Black Magic of Living”, the captivating qualities of “Black Magic” live on in the audience’s minds, reminding them of the wonders of leading a seemingly ordinary life.


Editor’s Note: On February 15, 2018 Meditation was described as a piece co-created by Whitson and Flores-Davis. This description has been amended to portray Whitson and Flores-Davis’ creative process more accurately.

Dance department brings in professional dance to stage Antony Tudor ballet

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The dance department has brought in professional dancers and stagers Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner to stage Antony Tudor’s place “Dark Elegies.” The play will be staged for Dance 049E Dance Performance Repertory: Ballet.

Both Gardner and McKerrow learned the ballet from Tudor himself. The two danced at the American Ballet Theatre before moving onto work for the Antony Tudor Trust, traveling the country to stage different Tudor ballets. Assistant Professor of Dance Olivia Sabee stressed how lucky the department is to have two teachers who have worked with Tudor.

“The instructors will be teaching them about the poetry that the piece is based on, about the history of the piece, and about their experience learning the piece. We’re so lucky to have them here because they’ve performed Tudor’s work many many times and they stage not only at schools but at professional ballet companies,” said Sabee. “Choreography can be learned from notation or video, but in ballet, it is most frequently passed down, like oral tradition, from performer to performer.”

In addition to teaching the choreography and staging the ballet, McKerrow and Gardner will be teaching about the history and background of the work. Dark Elegies is one of Tudor’s most famous pieces. McKerrow and Gardner describe it as a story of overcoming grief.

“Dark Elegies is a study in grief, and the coming to terms — mourning if you will — over loss. And the different stages of grief, and coming out of the other side through a community, through support. Even the sharing grief, a community in grief, that’s a whole other layer to grief … sometimes the only way you can get through something is with someone else,” said McKerrow.

Dark Elegies is unique because the story was originally told in poems, and then adapted into music and later dance.

“It is a remarkable piece this piece of Dark Elegies because of the Frederick [Ruckert] poems which inspired [Gustav] Mahlers to write the music and it was the music that Tudor took inspiration from to choreograph it. The poems are on the death of children; Ruckert had lost two daughters to Scarlet Fever,” said McKerrow. “It’s a deep well with a rich history of inspiration for this piece that I think is really [inspired], not that all pieces aren’t inspired, but [with] this one it’s a lot of people [who] brought a lot to it so that I think creates even more depth.”

According to Sabee, Tudor’s work is full of powerful emotions that are portrayed through understated movements. McKerrow echoed this description.

“His movement is designed to express an emotion. I think that was something that really interested him in the choreography … He wanted to tell stories without words, their plays without words,” said McKerrow. “But the fascinating thing about the actual movement is — and it takes awhile to get there — you can’t just do the movement and feel it, but the effort to do the movement properly produces the emotion that he wanted to express or convey, and in the end you actually end up feeling it yourself, as the dancer, for real.”

Rachel Isaacs-Falbel ’19 is taking the class because she saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn from talented instructors.

“I think most people in the class are excited to work with John and Amanda as well but a little hesitant about the choreography. It is unlike anything I have done before, and I know that others feel the same way. I am personally excited to be learning something a little different from what I am used to, though it is a little nerve-wracking,” said Isaacs-Falbel.

Gardner said that every group they work with is different, and that the most important part is that they are present.

“It’s not so much about individual people, but groups how they work as groups and what they have to offer as a group is really kind of the interesting thing. Because every time you take one person out or put another person in, everything changes,” said Gardner.

The ballet will be performed at the Spring Dance Concert on April 28th and 29th.

Artists discuss “Everyday Life in the Middle East”

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On Friday evening, a series of events under the title “Passion for the Arts and Everyday Life in the Middle East” took place over a span of just four hours. The events — workshops, screenings, and performances — were sponsored by the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, the Islamic studies program, the peace and conflict studies program, the department of film and media studies, and the sociology/anthropology department.

The evening began with two concurrent workshops in Kohlberg classrooms. Ala Hamdan, a Palestinian Jordanian photographer and filmmaker based in Amman, Jordan, led one. Marwa Sayid Ahmad, a Lebanese-Palestinian dancer and musician, currently living, in Jordan lead the other. David Heayn, a professor at Villanova University, introduced the artists.

“Ala is based in Jordan,” explained Heayn as he introduced Hamdan, “but her work has a global reach.”

Hamdan’s workshop was a mixture of practical skills as well as personal and cultural anecdotes. As a Middle Eastern woman, she overcame many hurdles as she pursued her career in photography and film, particularly from her parents.

“My family and friends were worried that I was going to lose my morals and break too many cultural norms,” recalled Hamdan. “It took a while for me to convince them that I could practice art without disrespecting where I came from.”

Hamdan described the endearing chain of anxious texts she received from her mother every time she traveled alone, which is somewhat taboo for Middle Eastern women. Students who attended the workshop found these personal narratives refreshingly honest, and felt they learned a lot from them.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of context she gave for her work,” said Selina Ye ’20. “The stories about being a woman photographer in Jordan … [were] enlightening and very interesting … I learned more about gender biases and barriers in the Middle East in her particular profession.”

Nonetheless, students were saddened by the wealth of obstacles Hamdan and Ahmad had faced and discussed in their workshops.

“I was a bit upset that they [Hamdan and Ahmad] had to surmount so many barriers to become successful because they were women,” said Gabriel Brossy de Dios ’20.

In her workshop, Ahmad taught students how to dance dabke, a traditional Palestinian folk dance often performed at weddings and festivals. Ahmad is part of a dance group that performs dabke competitively in both Arab and Western countries.

“I have two passions: music and dancing,” Ahmad said frankly. “When we dance dabke, we relive how our ancestors used to meet, how they used to fall in love, and so on … It’s very important to us that we claim this history when so much has been taken from us.”

Ahmad, who has played the “oud,” a Middle Eastern instrument similar to a lute, for the last 14 years, is also a part of an all women’s musical ensemble, Naya, with whom she has performed across Jordan as well as in Cyprus, Kuwait, and Algeria.

After the workshops finished, the artists and the students in their workshops all moved downstairs for a lively reception by the Kohlberg Coffee Bar. Students munched on hummus, dolma, and pita as they looked at a pop-up exhibition of Hamdan’s work.

“Ala was super accessible,” said Xihan Zhang ’20, describing how Hamdan and Ahmad comfortably chatted with other students about art and life in Jordan.

Eventually, the students and professors were herded into LPAC Cinema, where the evening of events was to conclude with performances by Ahmad and screenings of films by Hamdan. As they waited for people to fill the auditorium, they casually played “Somos Sur,” a song by French-Chilean hip hop artist Ana Tijoux that featured British-Palestinian singer and MC Shadia Mansour, called “the first lady of Arabic hip hop.”

Ahmad played a number of home videos in which she danced dabke. In one, she is happily performing with her dance group.

“We love dancing dabke,” said Ahmad. “We’re always looking at each other’s faces, enjoying it together, enjoying our time together.”

In the other video, she is dancing at a lively wedding.

“When we were touring in the West, people often asked us about Middle Eastern weddings,” said Ahmad. “They often envisioned women in hijabs, very serious and separate from men. It’s actually quite different.”

After the videos, Ahmad skillfully played a number of songs on her oud. The audience was completely captivated by the performance and erupted into applause after each song.

In addition to discussing her passion for music, Ahmad mentioned her second job as a pharmacist, which she needed to help support her artistic pursuits.

“It doesn’t make a living,” said Ahmad in regards to her music and dance. “Everyone has their extra thing that supports their passion — pharmacy, engineering, and so on.”

After Ahmad’s performances, Hamdan screened a number of informative videos she made for Mawdoo3, an Arabic Online encyclopedia, and continued to discuss the formal elements and practical skills necessary to make them.

“Make sure you have large apertures!” she stressed.

The event-packed evening left many students feeling more informed about the artistic landscape of the Middle East.

“I felt like I gained a lot of knowledge, but not necessarily in the way that I hoped to [in regards to my own practice],” said Ye. “I loved the workshop nonetheless.”

Some students like Ye attended the events with the main intention of hearing practical tips to inform their own work, while some went specifically to listen and learn about the Middle East.

“Arts have a unique way of introducing people to topics they may not know about,” said Heayn in one of his artist introductions.

Such was the purpose of the event as a whole. In addition to learning practical skills about filmmaking, photography, dance, and music, they also gained particular insight into “everyday life” in parts of the Middle East — just as the title of the event suggested.

“The Performers” draws attention to everyday performance

in Arts by

“The Performers,” a multimedia piece staged by Erica Janko ’17 last weekend at the annual Philadelphia Fringe Contemporary Arts Festival, tackled a range of themes from femininity to the audience’s role in a performance through the deft use of technology, choreography, and audience plants.

The show took place in the University City Arts League building. At six in the evening, a crowd of mostly students filed upstairs into a room where live projections, shone from an array of inward-pointing cameras, bathed the plain white walls and worn wooden floor in an eerie light. Opposite a mirrored wall to one side the space usually served as a dance studio four young women posed on windowsills with blank expressions. In one corner, A. Nirvaan Ranganathan ’17 manipulated a grid of colored lights on a tablet to fill the room with elegant chords.

It started without fanfare.

“They look left,” Jenko said, sitting neatly on a folding chair in the middle of the aisle. “Their feet are flat on the floor.”

The arrangement of the chairs in the middle of the room, with rows set up opposite one another, meant that no seat provided a view of the entire space. Audience members squirmed in their seats, craning their necks to find the subject of Jenko’s narration. She kept speaking, gradually speeding up until she was gasping for air between sentences. The audience slowly realized that she was describing Asher Wolf ’18, sitting in the row closest to Jenko, whose initial fidgets were turning into frantic spasms.

Then, a quarter of the “audience” burst from their seats and began dancing around the room, including Wolf, whose street clothes had allowed him to blend in perfectly with the audience members.

“We were told, ‘Imagine your body is like sand blowing in the wind, or iron filings attracted [to] or repelled from a magnet,’” Wolf said.

The players were directed to fall towards an imagined barrier between them and the audience, sometimes pulling back, sometimes breaking through and drawing close to those seated. Their movements were chaotic, almost riotous.

Jenko’s piece always had several things happening at once. While some dancers staggered between the rows of seats, others moved gracefully in twos and threes by the window, and a few sat still by the mirrored wall, watching themselves.

At one point, a woman in an orange shirt and blue overalls twirled in circles, contorted herself on the ground, and rocked back and forth while a woman in black clothing, her hair drawn into a severe bun, attempted to restrain her. At another, the dancers began removing their clothes, with Wolf (back in his seat) stripping to his white briefs. All the while, the mirrors and projectors kept the audience self-conscious and immersed wherever they looked, they saw their reactions.

A recurring conceit in “The Performers” was the concealment of players in the folding chairs. First, Wolf; then, other dancers; and finally, as the performance went on, those seated gradually noticed two other women in the crowd, one drawing a garish clown smile on herself with lipstick, the other slowly covering her forearms in nail polish.

We occasionally heard nervous laughter sometimes from the dancers, sometimes from the crowd. One audience member said the performance made them uncomfortable; another described feeling uncertainty over their role.

“At first, I was confused about the rules. I wasn’t sure if we non-performers were supposed to participate.”

While parts of the piece were choreographed, the bulk was improvised, with often expressionistic direction. Ranganathan, for example, was given adjectives like “uproar,” “playful,” and (his favorite) “particle-y” to guide his mostly improvised, synth-heavy soundtrack. Each of the female dancers, meanwhile, were instructed to embody an aspect of their experience as women. One chose shame; another chose the expectation of grace. Haylee Warner, the woman in overalls, chose infantilization.

“I had done a lot of political [performances] already about ‘being a weak female’ and I didn’t really want to do that,” she says. She recently graduated from the University of the Arts. “I wanted something that’s more fun, something that allowed me to have a larger range of expression. Then I realized how closely related [my character] is to who I am as a person and how I interact in the world.”

Although “The Performers” placed an emphasis on the relationship between femininity and self-presentation, it also challenged the audience to think generally about the ways they perform in their everyday life. Instead of tickets, audience members were given slips of paper reading “You can take action.” In a discussion after the show, led by Irene Kwon ’17, one audience member said they weren’t sure if the note was an invitation to participate in the show; after the first few minutes, they’d decided to remain in their seat.

The performance, which has been in development since January, was part of Jenko’s sociology and anthropology honors thesis examining the lives of contemporary artists living in Philadelphia. Last year, she shadowed several artists and conducted extensive interviews. Putting on her own show, she says, allowed her to experience that community firsthand.

Inspiration came from Erving Goffman’s introductory sociology textbook, which also provided her with the quote she placed at the top of each program: “A ‘performance’ maybe be defined as all the activity of a given participant on a given occasion which serves to influence in any way any of the other participants.”

She hopes that her show would encourage the audience to examine how they perform in their own lives, even if the conclusions they reach might look different for each person.

“We all perform differently in everyday life,” she says. “We all have different bodies and different backgrounds. I’m just one perspective on that.”

“The Performers” ended with the dancers stepping, one by one, in front of each projector, until all images of the audience were cut off. In the few seconds of silence before the applause, the crowd looked blearily around at the motionless dancers, the other members of the audience, and the mirrored wall, unsure what to do next.

Despite student pushback, Gregory King departs

in Around Campus/News by

Despite a letter of protest from students and his application for a tenure-track position at the college, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance and Postdoctoral Fellow Gregory King will be leaving Swarthmore at the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

King, a former Broadway dancer, was hired to begin teaching courses in the 2014-15 academic year, and his position was funded by a fellowship grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The fellowship is intended for scholars who have been awarded a Ph.D. or M.F.A. no later than the beginning of the fellowship year and no earlier than five years before the beginning of the fellowship year. Fellows receive compensation commensurate with the salary of a full-time, one-year faculty member with comparable qualifications, and “…modest funds” are available to finance proposed research, mentoring, and scholarship.

At Swarthmore, King has taught all three levels of modern dance and Introduction to Laban Movement Analysis. His unique teaching style within the Department of Music and Dance has gained him a small but loyal following of students. Jong Seok Lee ’17 is one of these students. He began taking modern dance in the Spring of 2015 and has taken a dance course with Gregory every semester since.

“….all the dance majors just say that [King] is overqualified for Swarthmore because he just has so much experience teaching. He used to teach at Boston Ballet, so we’re very fortunate to have him. I don’t know if I’m going to take a modern class after he leaves,” Lee said.

While King’s fellowship only lasted for two academic years, he was interested in extending his time at Swarthmore. On the Faculty Diversity & Excellence page of the Swarthmore website, a description of the fellowship states, “… many CFD candidates are qualified for tenure track searches,” and King applied for a tenure track position that opened up during his time at the college: one to replace Professor Sharon Friedler, who has been Director of the Dance Program since 1985.

Associate Professor Olivia Sabee was hired to fill Friedler’s position in the department, not King. According to Associate Professor of Music Barbara Milewski, who was chair of the department during the Spring 2015 search process, King was ultimately not selected for the position because his experiences were not closely aligned enough with the curricular needs of the department.

“ … [we] felt strongly that Olivia Sabee, who we hired, would provide the department with expertise that would maintain a robust, comprehensive dance curriculum. We were searching for an exceptional dance scholar [and] practitioner and we felt Professor Sabee’s training and experience matched our criteria as closely as possible,” Milewski said.

King said that members of the search committee explicitly told him that he was not being considered for the position because he held an M.F.A. instead of a Ph.D.

        “I applied. They told me I was not being considered for the position because they wanted someone with a Ph.D. … When I applied [for the tenure-track position], they sent me an email saying they wanted to meet with me, and I went to the office and [the search committee] said ‘Out of professional courtesy, you are not being considered for these reasons,’” King said.

King felt that his qualifications did not match up with the qualifications the department was looking for, and this explained why he was not selected for the tenure-track position.

“I understand, especially at an institution like this, [that] most of the hires are Ph.D.s because, in terms of core curriculum, it’s not practice-based. With my M.F.A., it may be limiting, but at the same time, I believe that within my M.F.A. there are lots of theory classes that could be taught … but I do believe, culturally, Swarthmore is definitely Ph.D. driven, and I get that,” King said. While he appreciates the academic nature of the department and of Swarthmore academics in general, and feels that the environment has made him a better teacher, King expressed that the department could be doing much more for its students.

“…[the department] has to shift how people view [their] craft. I wanted that very much to happen… because it’s not just about shuckin’ and jiving and twerking. I struggled really hard to make sure people grabbed something and held on to something so that when I leave, they can go, ‘Okay, he gave me something,’ or, ‘He shared something with me,” King said.

Even though it is almost certain that King will not be teaching at Swarthmore during the 2016-17 academic year, several of his students have attempted to convince the college that he should stay.

Amelia Estrada ’17, an honors dance major, spearheaded an effort to keep Gregory oncampus during the Fall 2015 semester, after the selection process for Friedler’s replacement had occurred. Estrada said she spoke with Daniel Underhill Professor of Music and Chair Thomas Whitman ’82 about King’s ability to remain at the college and also wrote him a letter explaining her rationale. In the letter, Estrada said that King adds a higher level of practice to the department, an element that she feels had been severely lacking in the dance department prior to his arrival. She also cited King’s presence as the primary reason she decided to pursue a major in Dance.

“More than anything, [King] awakened my passion for studying dance both in the studio and the classroom. Losing Gregory would be a grave detriment to the department and to Swarthmore College,” she wrote.

Estrada said that Whitman told her the size of the Department of Music and Dance limited the amount of funds that could be allocated for new hires. According to Whitman, reported Estrada, if funds were available for a new faculty member in any area of the college, they would go to a new Computer Science hire before a new Dance hire, because of student-faculty ratio concerns. Estrada also expressed concern that the department’s desire for a faculty member with a particular degree influenced the hiring decision.

“In the world of dance … an M.F.A. is considered a terminal degree just as much as a Ph.D. is, but there’s no Ph.D. in choreography, at least in this country … so people with M.F.A.s at schools with larger dance departments do get full-time tenured faculty positions because at schools with larger arts programs, it’s a little more recognized. But unfortunately, there’s a lot of pressure at [small schools] to hire Ph.D.s,” she said.

Whitman said that he was very grateful for Estrada’s letter, but was powerless to change the decision not to keep King at Swarthmore.

“I can’t wave my hands and create a new budget line for a dance faculty member. I don’t have that authority. Nobody has that authority,” he said. Whitman could not offer any information about any position openings for a modern dance professor within the department of music and dance and had no knowledge of King applying for a tenure-track position since he assumed the role of chair in July of 2015.

As it stands, King is considering offers from other institutions, and his students at Swarthmore will miss his presence on campus.

“We really wish that [King] could stay, and it’s definitely disappointing,” Estrada said.

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