The lights fade. Two musicians walk on stage in bluish purple light and take a seat stage left; one plays guitar, the other viola de gamba. Then two women walk on stage and stand next to each other. There is a brief silence that is interrupted by what sounds like a young child in the audience. Then the piece begins. One of the women, a mezzo-soprano, begins to sing a song by Henry Purcell while the other dances.
So began the Faculty and Friends Dance Concert, an annual performance sponsored by the college Department of Music and Dance. The concert was held on Saturday, Feb. 11 in the Lang Performing Arts (LPAC) center with no cost of admission. According to the director of the dance program Professor Sharon Friedler, all members of the dance faculty can participate in the show if they have time to do so. “Generally, five to seven of our 10 dance faculty perform or choreograph each year. Our only guidelines are that each work abide by a time limit so that as many faculty members as would like to can contribute dances,” Friedler said in an email.
There were seven different sets of performances, with dance styles ranging from modern, to ballet, to flamenco, to African dance. The names of the pieces, listed in the order that they were performed, were “Night and Day”, “Rooper”, “Hull,” “Coppelia Wedding (Pas de Deux),” “Entre Amigas,” “Le Voyage” and “Paths.” Some performances also made use of multi-media components, such as music, poetry, video and images projected onto the background screen.
Associate Professor of Dance Sally Hess said that music is especially integral to any dance. “George Balanchine, the foundational Russian (and then American) ballet choreographer of the 20th century, said that ‘music is the floor of dance,’” Hess said in an email. “Though many dances and dance forms take place on all kinds of surfaces, concrete, cultural and metaphorical, there is always an immediate physical relationship between the two, even when the accompaniment is street traffic or silence.”
Moments of the concert included the lowering of a boat-like contraption from the ceiling in a piece entitled “Hull” and the juxtaposition between the movement of kangaroos and a man in a film called “Rooper” that has been viewed in dance film festivals internationally. In the flamenco dance titled “Entre Amigas,” photographs, paintings and drawings of women were projected onto the screen as a backdrop to the dance, while the ballet “Coppelia Wedding” portrayed, as one might expect from its name, a wedding. “Le Voyage” was a film, with added voice over comments, about the development of a ballet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The comments were provided by Jennifer Chipman-Bloom, who teaches a dance class on advanced pointe, a style of ballet, at Swarthmore. Chipman-Bloom performed in this ballet when she was 16 years old.
Rachel Fresques ’14 performed in the piece “Coppelia Wedding” in Saturday’s concert. “I was asked to perform in the concert by the Swarthmore ballet teacher, Jon Sherman. I’ve been taking ballet with him every semester since freshman fall as well as demonstrating for the ballet II class so he knows me pretty well. Jon asked if he could ‘present’ me as the ballet component of the show, and as a representation of his work,” Fresques said in an email. Fresques noted that her favorite part of the experience was being able to do more ballet than she typically does. “The best part for me was just learning a new variation and having the chance to get a little bit better,” she said.
The final performance of the evening was called “Paths” and was choreographed and conceptualized by Chuck Davis. The program describes Davis as “one of the foremost teachers and choreographers of traditional African dance in America.” The piece combined spoken word poetry, African Dance and a video in which Davis was interviewed. The dancers in the piece were Stafford C. Berry and C. Kemal Nance ’92. Nance not only attended Swarthmore, but has also taught dance courses at Swarthmore for 19 years. According to the campus calendar on Swarthmore’s website, the piece “was commissioned in honor of Chuck Davis’s contributions to the field of African and African-American dance.”
Friedler wanted to emphasize the importance of collaborating within different forms of art. “There there were collaborations between dancers and musicians, dancers and spoken word artists, and dancers and a sculptor, as well as dancers working in the video medium,” Friedler said, referring to the different ways in which various artistic mediums were combined during this concert. Jennie Gauthier ’15, was impressed by the relationship between film and dance in the concert. She said that it “really opened my eyes to see that there were many different types of performances, many different types of dance. … As it goes on you start to see ‘Wow, this is something really creative.’”
Friedler also hopes that students were impacted by the performances they saw. “We hope that students will see a reflection of the program’s mission to create a diverse community that provides multiple perspectives on and styles of dance and dance making. We also hope that students will benefit from the opportunity to see the result of some of their teachers creative processes,” Friedler said.
An upcoming dance concert happening tomorrow, Feb. 17, will feature performances by Rennie Harris and Company, and starts at 8:00 p.m. in the Lang Performing Arts Center. The annual Spring Student Dance Concert will take place on April 27-28.