Arts & Culture / Dance / Mosaic / April 20, 2011

History, legend themes for Choreographer’s Workshop

Mermaids. Pompeii. The Manhattan Project.

These are just a few of the themes that will appear onstage starting Thursday night as part of Connective Tissue, the dance concert that serves as the showcase for the nine choreographers enrolled in Choreographer’s Workshop. A capstone for the dance minor, students enroll for two trimesters and choreograph one or more pieces to be performed spring term.

Jennifer Smith, Associate Professor of Dance and instructor of the class, saw the course as more than a traditional choreographical experience.

“The intensity level is much greater,” she said. “We’re really working on building our analytical skills in how we view movement … how we connect to what we’re trying to say as artists.”

For Smith, the class served as a vehicle for students to explore the concept of dance itself.

“A larger goal of this concert is not to just look at the product but at the process,” Smith said. “Sometimes you just have to try something and see if it works.”

Junior Rachel Lyman, who incorporated video elements into her final dance, took full advantage of the process and saw it heavily affect her style.

“I had to change my style, change how I was seeing the dance,” Lyman said. “Being able to pretty much experiment with anything I wanted … has been great. That’s what this class is for. It’s for experimenting, for trying different things.”

In order to accomplish such an exploration, Smith had dancers write an artist’s statement in which each dancer addressed what they valued in their work. She also placed heavy emphasis on critique and feedback.

“[Dancers] think very kinetically,” Smith said. “As an artist, it’s important … that we can communicate not just kinesthetically, but orally and verbally.”

The experience helped junior Emma Poland create a dance that was different from her previous experiences with choreography.

“We’ve had so much longer with the piece,” said Poland. “Compared to Terpsichore, we’ve had a lot of time to fudge with … the concepts.”

Choreographer’s Workshop also allowed dancers to experience what it would be like putting together a show after graduating from Knox. The concert takes place in Studio Theater, which more closely resembles a theater a small dance company might rent out; writing artist statements served the dual purpose of learning to write for a press release.

Dancers were also responsible for their pieces even beyond the choreography. Each choreographer worked with a lighting designer to create the lighting for their piece and spent time choosing costumes and scenery.

“It was exciting for me to open that up to the students and for them to realize that this is a part of the whole overall process,” Smith said.

Poland felt these elements contributed to making a show that was different from what the Knox community was used to.

“We have this whole world of costumes and lighting and ways to play with the space that you don’t really get in Terpsichore,” Poland said. “We have a lot more opportunities to make the dance unique.”

Smith saw uniqueness in the concert that went beyond the aesthetic.

“Audiences are going to see a connection behind all of the work,” she said. “There is a sense of meaning to all of these meanings.”

Connective Tissue will run Thursday to Saturday in the Studio Theater at 7:30 p.m. A pre-show dance begins at 7:10 p.m. in the lobby.

Emma Poland

Poland chose to work with a quintet of dancers for her piece, which explores concepts of trust and aloneness.

“It’s more modern and abstract than some of the other pieces in the show,” she said.

To communicate these themes, Poland intentionally avoided what she termed “pretty” movement.

“My piece has a lot of hitting and throwing people onto the floor,” Poland said. “I wanted to get the ugly side of trust.”

Although Poland has choreographed before, the experience of CW offered her something new.

“This was a challenge for me, to find something I really liked and expand upon it and make it a full piece,” she said.

Overall, Poland thoroughly enjoyed the project.

“After a rehearsal and we do a run through—it’s really cathartic,” she said. “I always feel really good about where I am.”

Emily Berkson

Junior Emily Berkson left the confines of Studio Theater and instead choreographed a piece that was site-specific for the Ford Center for the Fine Arts.

“I’ve never choreographed anything site-specific before,” she said. “A lot of it is figuring out logistics … exploring the space and seeing how I can manipulate it.”

Unlike several of the other pieces, Berkson’s has no lighting design and no music, relying entirely on the dancers to portray the flowing movements Berkson sought.

Berkson was excited at the opportunity to explore a different type of choreography.

“I think people are really exploring things,” she said. “It takes a lot of guts to do that on stage.”

Rachel Lyman

Inspiration struck for junior Rachel Lyman after she visited the ruins of Pompeii. Intrigued by the idea of an entire town destroyed even while the world kept going, she incorporated the theme into her dance.

“My piece has to do with the interference of what you think is safe,” she said. “Things happen all the time that disrupts something that you thought was stable.”

Lyman’s piece will be presented twice in two different formats: as a video and as a live performance in the hallway outside the theater.

“It’s showing how you can present one piece in two different ways,” Lyman said. “With a video, you manipulate it and show them only the things you want them to see.”

Lyman shot and edited the video herself, despite having no prior experience.

“It’s been challenging, but a lot of fun,” she said.

Jamie White

Junior Jamie White choreographed not one, but two pieces. This, combined with the decision to start one piece almost completely over four weeks before the show, left him short on time.

“The choreographic process is a lot different when you’re under a complete time crunch,” White said. “I was forced to create movement on the spot.”

One of White’s pieces is based on the Manhattan Project. The other is based loosely on “The Little Mermaid,” a movie White saw for the first time just hours before he auditioned dancers.

“That piece is about innocence and also about the use of legs, the power of being able to stand on your own two feet,” he said.

White’s choreography was also heavily influenced by his lighting design. One dance alone uses over 40 light cues.

“The lighting definitely drives the piece,” White said.

Katy Sutcliffe

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