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ISSUE 121 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/29/2008

Johnson choreographs Companydance

By Tim Rehborg
Opinion Editor

Friday, February 29, 2008

This semester, two choreographers visited the St. Olaf campus to set dances on members of St. Olaf Companydance. Keith Johnson, a choreographer from Long Beach, Ca. and Brad Garner, who teaches at Minnesota State University-Mankato have spent time on campus working with St. Olaf dancers.

This was Johnson's second visit to Northfield this year. His company, based in Long Beach, did a residency with the dance department during October. Johnson returned, sans his dancers, to place a work on a group of seven dancers. The piece, titled "At last it's clear&" was first set on an Arizona company of seven women. Johnson originally created the piece in a week-long residency in Arizona, collaborating with a local DJ and composer.

Johnson's residency at St. Olaf involved an intense period of rehearsals for the seven dancers. They rehearsed several hours each day, learning large amounts of material. Johnson's movement is wide and sweeping, as well as highly energetic. One of Johnson's favorite methods for moving through space happens to be running, which made rehearsals aerobically invigorating.

The residency was a true learning experience.Dancer Elise Sande-Kerback '09 recounted: "I was really surprised to see how quickly I was able to pick up the movement and absorb all this material. I was using every part of my body, a really full, well-rounded experience."

Johnson's attitude in rehearsal also made an impression on the dancers. "His honesty and blunt personality made him fun to work with -- his sense of humor made the long rehearsals less grueling," Sarah Steichen '08 said.

Whereas Johnson's residency lasted only one week, choreographer Brad Garner spent the week of February commuting from Mankato, Minn. to Northfield twice a week. Garner is a familiar face, as he performed with Johnson's company at St. Olaf during first semester. As opposed to setting a previously-created piece, as Johnson opted, Garner has been setting a new work on the dancers. His movement is pedestrian in nature, unaffected and concerned with the movement of everyday life.

Garner's concern lies not with the physical line created by the dancer, but rather with the emotions his dancers are able to pull out of movement. "I want you to feel the movement; I don't care about the shapes as much as the story you are feeling and telling with your body," Garner instructed his dancers in rehearsal.

Much of the movement in the piece is actually created by the dancers: "He gives us material, and then we tweak it and make it our own, and then suddenly it becomes part of the piece," said Megan McDonald '08, a member of the cast. "It is really interesting. I've never worked with someone who is so open to students' material. It's amazing how things just come together in his process."

"He creates movement that compliments the dancer's skills," Jake Schlichting '09 agreed.

With the actual residencies over, the dancers will continue to rehearse the pieces without the choreographers. To help with this process, each piece has a rehearsal director who oversees rehearsals for the remainder of the semester. "I look forward to playing a part with the development of this piece, honing Brad's choreography, enhancing focus, qualitative aspects and different energies for the performance," said rehearsal director Taylor Carvey '09.

Both pieces will be performed in the Companydance Spring Concert in May. However, an informal showing of the works will take place this Saturday, March 1st, 2 p.m. in Dittman Studio 1, as a preview to the works as they are in progress.

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