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ISSUE 118 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/12/2004

Forming support 'Club'

By Lauren Radomski
Staff Writer

Friday, November 12, 2004

Last weekend, Companydances performance of Swing a Club: Facing cancer intimately and powerfully portrayed the trials of a man losing his brother to cancer. Through the use of dance, visual art, text and music, Swing a Club explored the themes of struggle, support and letting go.

Swing a Club is based on the personal experience of creator, director, and dancer, Artist in Residence in dance Anthony Roberts. The production, which chronicles Roberts brothers battle with cancer, debuted at St. Olaf last April, and returned this fall due to what Roberts called a passionate audience response.

The performance took place in Dittmanns Wagner/Bundgaard Studio One, a relatively small, intimate location, perfect for the personal message the work conveyed.

Swing a Club began with a section entitled For Tom, referring to Roberts now-deceased brother. Images of Tom from childhood to adulthood were projected on two strips of sheer material that hung from the ceiling. Words and phrases such as tumor or how big? were scrawled on a few of the slides.

Three different For Tom sections occurred throughout the production; they reminded the audience to think of Tom  not just as another cancer victim, but as a unique person, deeply loved and missed by friends and family.

Also in the piece were conversations between the main character (Roberts) and his therapist (Artist in Residence in theater Dona Werner Freeman). The focal points of these conversations were Roberts initial frustrations with Toms doctors, his strained relationship with his sister-in-law and his difficulty in returning to everyday life after his brothers diagnosis. These dialogues were interspersed with the dance pieces, serving both to narrate and to provide further insight into the hardships suffered by Roberts family.

The dance movements featured student members of Companydance, as well as Roberts, his wife, associate professor of dance Janice Roberts, and Assistant Professor of dance Heather Klopchin. Each dance movement tended to follow the theme of the acted therapy sessions that preceded it.

In another dance section of the performance, Support, dancers visually reflected how family and friends work to comfort and strengthen one another in a time of loss. Most of the movement was performed in pairs, with dancers carrying, lifting and falling into the arms of one another. As one person started to fall or slump, another was always there to provide support.

The music in Swing a Club was composed by Roberts and was an important part of the productions interdisciplinary approach. According to Roberts, the music was not what one might expect from a dance piece on this topic.

Given the intimate nature of the subject matter, the sound score is surprisingly unsentimental, replete with varied rhythms and dynamics, teeming with multifaceted echoes, deep and cavernous, which are unexpectedly interrupted by sounds of a harsh, jagged nature, Roberts said.

The music also served a symbolic function. At one point in the performance, the stage was completely black; suddenly, a mix of jumbled, unrecognizable words could be heard, followed by 13 ticks of a clock. Roberts explained that [the number 13] was selected because my brother was just thirteen months my senior.

Perhaps one of the most moving parts of the performance occurred near the end, in a dance movement entitled Last Day. For most of the production, the stage had remained clear of any props. However, Last Day incorporated three rectangular boxes into its set, each of which seemed to represent a bed. Three dancers lay on each box, as if near death, while three other dancers held the hands of the bedridden performers.

As the stage lights dimmed, light shone up from the centers of the boxes, illuminating the three pairs of dancers as they spent their final moments together.

After the performance, a discussion provided audience members with the opportunity to ask questions about cancer and to share their own stories about the illness. Outside of the studio, a video project called St. Olaf Cancer Chronicles: Stories of Loss, Hope and Love featured the stories of 27 members of the St. Olaf community who have been affected by cancer in some way. Near the video projectors were pieces of cancer-themed art created by St. Olaf students.

Plans for a traveling tour of Swing a Club are currently underway. The production will travel to Arizona in March of 2005, with possible trips to Vermont and Tennessee in 2006.

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