Faculty Dance Concert features six works

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Saturday evening, February 5th, the Department of Music and Dance presented The Faculty Dance Concert in the Pearson-Hall Theatre in the Lang Performing Arts Center. The concert featured six works, many of which were collaborative efforts by music and dance faculty.

The performance opened with a piece entitled “Hay una raíz amarga,” a hybrid flamenco composition, based on the rhythms of the Siguiriyas and Farruca styles. Siguiriyas, the most tragic flamenco form, stems from the Andalucia region of southern Spain, while Farruca, normally a light, male dance, is from the Galacia region of north-western Spain. This piece, choreographed by Julia López, was adapted and danced by Dolores Luis Gmitter, accompanied by guitarist John Penn. The performance began with Penn, dressed in black, hunching over his guitar backstage, in the shadows. Gmitter, announced by the proud percussion of her high-heels, danced onstage in a confident red dress, confronting the audience with bitter passion, throwing her frilled dress’s ends around her body with defiant elegance. The music came in waves, sometimes lyrical, sometimes building in energy, the guitarist’s angry slapping mirroring the severe crescendo of Gmitter’s virtuosic stomping. Gmitter, a faculty member since 1996, is a member of the Flamenco Olé Dance Company. She also teaches at the Arts League in Philadelphia and at Bryn Mawr College.

Next, in a work titled “The T-Tables (work in progress): Tragedy—Trembling—Tempatation— Time—Toes—Truth—Tranquility,” bass John Alston and dancer Sally Hess collaborated in a hilarious display of vocal and physical acrobatics. The music, written by music faculty member Joel Friedman, was composed for bass-voice solo, and Alston’s virtuoso facial and auditory interpretations of Friedman’s use of free-syllabic, non-diatonic play and jazz-influenced fragments were both impressive and light-hearted. Hess’s contortionist choreography, exaggerated to the point of satire, perfectly paralleled Alston’s performance of Friedman’s work. Hess’s dancing wound itself around almost-motionless Alston, sometimes using him as a prop. Alston, director of the Chorus, the Chamber Choir, and the Jazz Ensemble, has taught at Swarthmore since 1990. He is also the founder of the Chester Boys Choir. Hess has presented her one-woman shows worldwide and is a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor.

The following work, “Union/Dissolution, a Meditation on Violent Death” was conceived and performed by Pallabi Chakrovorty and Ulla Neuerburg-Denzer. Accompanied by musicians Ralph Denzer and Dan Scholnik, on tapas, guitar, and sometimes-muted trumpet, the work was structed around a text adapted from the medieval Indian poet Kabir, Peter Weiss’s 1965 play “Marat/Sade,” 13th century Persian poet Iraqi’s Lama’at, and 20th century Polish poet Anna Swir. Dramatic Middle-Eastern and Indian music, sometimes swelling to breaking point, guitar-amp feedback and piercing trumped filling the hall, was paired with strongly-worded poetry, reflections on the inhuman nature of execution, specifically decapitation, while writhing dancers, incapable of coping, moved across the floor with tragic incomprehension. The two creators held the foreground, while a chorus of silhouettes mimed in the background, underlining the piece’s communal themes, epitomized by the recurring line, “One skin, one bone.” Chakravorty is an Assistant Professor in the department of Music and Dance. She teaches both Kathak technique and dance anthropology. Neuerburg-Denzer has been creating and teaching theater for the past twenty-five years. A co-founder of Richard Schechner’s East Coast Artist, she has toured both in the states and internationally.

After the applause had subsided, the lights dimmed and then brightened again as the first few chords of a live gospel performance sounded over an empty stage. A booming voice called out praise to God. Then, an apparently crazed audience member, stood up, ecstatic, clapping madly and cheering with all her might. Obviously propelled by the music’s energy, she was oblivious to the rest of those waiting for the beginning of the performance, who were at first startled but then began laughing at her excessive zeal, obviously meant as caricature. This over-zealous fan was Jeannine Osayande, who then ran onto the stage, where she performed an African dance-inspired piece. The music was taken from Fred Hammond’s “The Sprit of David: When the sprit of the lord,” “Anaconda,” from Oneness: Damian with the London Symphony Orchestra, and also included voice-overs from the writings of Dale Carnegie. In this piece, titled Their Eyes Were Watching God, the dancer seemed one member of an invisible audience, dancing with sublime rapture. The movements were imbued with a complete and transcendent joy that was nearly violent. Osayande, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts and Bryn Mawr College and guest artist at Swarthmore college, is a performer, educator, and choreographer of African and Brazilian dance.

The subsequent piece, Quake, was created and performed by Roko Kawai, Toshi Makihara, and Leah Stein. Kawai blurred the line between music and dance, as an onstage drummer, whose role was never clearly choreographic or musical. He came onstage flailing short wooden sticks, which he later turned in to musical blocks. Later, he played concave, bell-like instruments and a snare drum, on which he struck and rolled metal brushes. Makihara and Stein were acrobatic rag-dolls, falling around the stage to Kawai’s constant experimentations withpercussion. Like lanky marionettes, controlled by unseen strings, the two women never stopped moving, pulled around by a merciless puppeteer. Stein, a critically acclaimed choreographer, is artistic director of the Leah Stein Dance Company. She was a 1999 winner in Choreography of the in the Arts.

In the penultimate performance, Draupadi in the Desert (excerpt from Quasimodo in the Outback), choreographed by Kim Arrow, Arrow and Aryani Manring danced to a mix of Mysore Waking and Axis’s Playing in Tongues. Kim, all in white, moved nimbly about the stage, rolling and falling as though he were being continually struck. Meanwhile, to stage right, Manring, suspended by a long cloth attached offstage, moved sideways and slowly unwrapped herself, as though falling and turning in slow-motion though endless space. As soon as she was free, the music and the piece ended. While the dance was brief, it gave the impression of a slower, sprawling time in a different dimension. Arrow, on the Swarthmore dance faculty since 1991, has been the director of Ponto Facto, a “pick-up” dance company, for two decades. He has received choreographic recognition from the American College Dance Festival and the Festival International de la Danse de Paris, among others.

If Arrows piece had been expansively minimalist, the last piece was characterized by a contracting multiplicity. Six dancers, Rachel Condello, Amaryah Ferry, Jack Tabor, Charles Tyson, Lisa Welsh, and Stephen Welsh, in black and white costumes, danced to Moby and Acoustek. Their movements, performed in unison and arranged in patterns, were industrial and geometric, seeming to expand exponentially like fractals but yet at the same time remain bound by their own atomic energy, pulling into a center. The complexity of their interrelations was mind-numbing, alluding to a spasmodic, electronic narrowing. A large, bright mechanized palm served as a backdrop, fingers towards the ceiling, and rotated a half turn at the piece’s end. Stephen Welsh, a member of the dance faculty, teaching Modern II and III, Composition, and Repertory, received his MFA in dance from Temple University. His pick-up company performs regularly throughout the Philadelphia area. He has received two PIAS Grants, a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, a PCA Grant, and a 5-County Cultural Arts Fund Grant.

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