When I found out that the dates for the Terpsichore Dance Collective’s formal fall show had been changed, I was mad within seconds: How could this have happened, given how far in advance Terp exec (of which I am a member) reserved Harbach Theatre? How could this have happened with only a month left till showtime? I could vividly recall sitting on CFA’s front patio in May with our newly-elected board during our first-ever meeting, deciding which dates to shoot for when our Co-Production Managers met with Craig Choma, the person whose responsibility it largely is to schedule the space. I could remember mounting excitement at the prospect of not only my first show as a member of Terp exec, but my last-ever formal show as a senior. Thus, I opened my email, saw that the show had been moved, and was instantly angry (because I instantly assumed) that the Theatre department had pulled one over on us.
So when I ran into one of the Co-Production Managers later that afternoon, our eyes met and I opened with an exasperated “Oh my god.”
She was quick to put me right, saying that Craig had done absolutely nothing wrong, and that the entire situation came about through a miscommunication between the Dance, Theatre and Music departments. That, in fact, in the absence of a master-calendar for Harbach, Craig does a stellar job of scheduling a sought-after space on a campus filled to bursting with the performing arts. That, as usual, the dancers were assuming ill-will where none was present.
I walked away from the conversation still frustrated with the situation, because, frankly, it’s tricky to reschedule an event as large as Terp’s fall show is set to be. We’ve navigated dancer conflicts (including my own), had to renegotiate things like setting up and tearing down the dance flooring and collaborating with our musical accompanists to make sure they’re still available. All of it has been, thankfully, doable. But it all still leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth: Why was my automatic assumption that the Theatre department must have been at fault? Why was my automatic assumption mal intent?
Because I’ve worked mostly in the Dance department. From the moment I stepped into Harbach for the first dress rehearsal of my first formal Terp show, rumors were rampant that the Theatre department harbored intense dislike for the dancers. Nobody could truly point a finger to say, “Here, in this moment the Theatre department demonstrated their hatred for us,” yet among our cast, names were dropped and stories were told demonizing the very group responsible for granting us a stage on which to perform. Over the course of my years at Knox, though names are now left out, the understanding remains that dancers and theatre kids are doomed to a Shakespearean feud and that only the daring few will ever attempt to bridge the gap by being (gasp!) multi-interested.
As a dancer, I can say that we engage in a certain amount of ambivalence about our space: The Auxiliary Gym is a second home to me and anyone who wrongfully insults it will taste my wrath, yet it’s my absolute favorite topic of complaint for its creaking ceilings and finicky interior climate. As a dancer, I can attest to a communal bitterness about the fact that we have neither an academic major nor a performance venue of our own, though the former is being worked on by our faculty. And, as a dancer, though most of us are loathe to admit it, I can acknowledge a degree of jealousy aimed at the Theatre department, with their superior budgets, their black box, their costumes and, especially, Harbach.
But, as a dancer, and a dancer with friends who act and direct and stage manage and design, I can also see that we have a lot to learn from each other that, because of a perceived schism between two profoundly similar departments, we’re not learning. How helpful it would be to Terp if more than just our Production Managers knew how to operate the lights and sounds. How helpful it would be to dancers who want to work for or run companies to have a firm grasp on the duties of stage versus house managers. There are, of course, members of the
Dance department and of Terp who do know these things, but I feel comfortable counting myself within the majority of us who do not.
On the flip side, how helpful it would be for more actors to take Jen Smith’s Theory and Improvisation class, to learn Laban from a dancer’s perspective, to interact with other bodies on a stage using only movement to communicate. How helpful it would be for more light designers to work on shows with different requirements than those with which they are familiar. Why don’t we all, as performers, as movers, as storytellers, collaboratively learn from one another?
Maybe we’re afraid of what we don’t know. Maybe we privilege our chosen disciplines in a way that makes it difficult to acknowledge the value of interdisciplinary work. Maybe, as dancers, we’re fiercely attached to and protective of our little department and its unique needs. But whatever the root of the conflict, it’s as imperative that we keep getting to perform on Harbach’s stage as it is for the theatre kids to hang our lights for us. It’s as imperative that Studio Theatre’s productions keep bringing audiences to their knees as it is for the dancers to be among those audiences. Only good can come of reaching across the divide and putting the past, fictional or not, in the past.