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ISSUE 121 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/5/2007

Dance faculty previews work

By Tim Rehborg
Opinion Editor


Friday, October 5, 2007

During last Friday's "First Glimpse" dance performance, the St. Olaf dance faculty presented a morsel of their choreographic plans for the year. Each showcased a small portion of the work they are doing, the product of only two or three rehearsals; as department chair Janice Roberts stated, "the chance for you to get to know us a little better."

The beginning of a dance is often murky, a mystery to both choreographer and dancers. Maybe we begin with a huge concept, a specific idea or a subtle undulation of the arm. From there grows another movement, a sound score, a Philip Glass song, an improvised session with dancers and then the revision of a concept.

This weekend's performance was held in Dittman Center for the Arts' Studio One in an informal setting. The showing began with a dance from the Transylvanian region of Romania, performed by Veselica International Dance Ensemble (Artistic Director Anne von Bibra). The rest of the showing consisted of modern dance works by Anthony Roberts and Janice Roberts, an improvisatory glimpse from Sherry Saterstrom and a solo showcased by Heather Klopchin, who is on sabbatical this year.

Klopchin's piece was by far the most polished performance. A professor of dance history and ballet in the department, she is on sabbatical this year, choreographing solo works and performing with dance companies in the Twin Cities metro area, including Matthew Janczewski's ARENA dances.

Klopchin showed a completed solo, set to the tune of George Gershwin's melancholy "Second Prelude," which was a powerful display of her sweeping gestures and intimate relationship with the floor. Tentatively titled "a failing/falling," the work is part of her sabbatical project, which she identifies as a "series of solos, choreographed by different people, which will evolve into an evening-length solo performance."

Klopchin's challenge with this particular work was embracing slow movement; a difficulty met successfully, particularly in the first part of the work. Taking cues from the music, the solo was meditative, focusing inwards, while Klopchin impressed the audience with her sweeping gestures, highlighting her long limbs and graceful extension. Her breath pulsed through her stretching body, her movement showcased in simple sweat pants and a baggy t-shirt allowing a level of intimacy unavailable in a concert venue.

Beginning the concert, Veselica's performance of two dances from a Romanian village suite was both engaging and theatrical. Dressed in full traditional costume and ornamented by traditionally-patterned belts and aprons, the five couples took to the stage in a processional dance called De-a-Lungul, or "along the line."

"This dance, performed by the young couples of the village, is essentially the procession that would happen from a Sunday dinner to the village green," choreographer von Bibra explained.

Emerging in a line of couples, the dancers stepped on stage, eventually moving to form a line facing the audience. The dance exhibited traditional dance movement from the area: hops, heel clicks and turns. Several of the performers had excellent communication with the audience, using their faces in ways that engaged the audience and made the performance a delight to experience.

In a slightly different context, Anthony Roberts showed the beginnings of his modern dance work, tentatively titled "Peace Piece." The choreographer introduced the piece with bigger plans in mind. "This piece will hopefully be a part of a larger collaboration with artists Matt Gimsey and Wendell Arneson, set to collide with the Nobel Peace Prize Forum next year."

The work is beginning with the very personal interpretations of conflict and resolution. The ten dancers showed a gestural pattern, keeping their stationary places onstage; a series of pedestrian movements such as crossed arms, punching fists and swooping heads. Put in close proximity, these motions gathered intensity and emotion, as the dancers crossed personal boundaries and eventually came to unison motion.

Choreographer Janice Roberts shared an unusual perspective on the choreographic process. Unable to move during her first rehearsal, she helped her dancers come up with their own movement without showing phrases.

The concept for her piece is flocking, "Not like birds, but rather the way in which we use the space on the stage" she explained. She split the five dancers into a trio and a duet and had them design floor patterns for the other group, with different colors representing various movement quality. The consequent showing was an interesting and conscious exploration of the space available on the stage.

First Glimpse finished with a slap, as Sherry Saterstrom's Rhythm Project showed a piece of their exploration of the sound of flip-flops. The five dancers, all wearing brightly colored flip-flops and accompanied by a solo drum, performed spontaneously with the sound made by their sandals, beating out different and complex rhythms. A largely improvisatory group, their movement and concept are simultaneously highly individual and group-oriented entities.





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