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ISSUE 121 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/7/2008

The Rhythm Project dancers generate new beats

By Ellen Weaver
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 7, 2008

As dancers jumped and turned to the beat of the words "bulbous," "bouffant," "macadamia" and "goulashes," the audience in Dittmann Studio 1 on Friday and Saturday night realized that they were not watching an average dance performance.

The Rhythm Project, a show examining and experimenting with the rhythms of dance ran from Feb. 29 through March 1. With a combination of improvised and choreographed dance, solos by Christine Coleman '08 and Cara Stevens '10, live music and experimental lighting designs, dancers, choreographers and musicians kept audience members engaged while exploring various traditions of dance and "Cultures of Action," the theme for this year.

The Rhythm Project dancers, a small group made of members of Companydance, choreographer and artistic director Sherry Saterstrom and various guests, collaborated to create the show with "a strong focus on rhythm in dance, especially the percussive beats and rhythms," Saterstrom said.

From the first introduction, Saterstrom welcomed the audience and then insisted that they dance along to the music for a warm-up. The Rhythm Project dancers then led cheers -- complete with pom-poms -- and followed with a hip-hop dance. The show was filled with many high-energy performances that enlivened audience members.

The group of dancers developed and rehearsed the show throughout first semester and February. "Even the improvisations take a lot of preparation," said Lianna Cotant '10, a Rhythm Project dancer.

Saterstrom explained that improvisational dance has a large influence in modern, jazz and tap dancing. "I am interested in a new direction this form has been exploring, and that is compositional improvisation," Saterstrom said. "In this form, the dancers work in the rehearsal process to build a deep and wide range of moving skills and to become adept at organizing movement in space in the moment."

The time spent rehearsing not only builds skills but also fortifies the relationships between a community of dancers who trust each other and who are daring in their creative energies. Then, when it comes time to step in front of an audience, the dancers have a good base for generating a dance as a group in the moment.

"You have to know the dancers really well to anticipate their moves," Cotant said. "Then you can do duets and when you can get all the dancers to do something together, it's really cool." Saterstrom hopes that with using improvised and choreographed dance, the two elements "will play well against each other."

Musicians added another way to experiment with rhythm, using a keyboard to create various percussive effects and different beats. "The live music was all improvised," Cotant said, "with different musicians both nights."

Other pieces in the show included a traditional tap dance trio that involved drumming. There was also a unique tap dance that used flip flops to focus on the rhythms of everyday life.

Two guest artists from Northfield joined the performance and helped to "bring different rhythmic viewpoints to the show," Saterstrom said.

The Northfield break-dancing group The Lost Boyz Crew performed head spins and flips that amazed audience members. As it stated in The Rhythm Project program, the goal of their group is "to erase the negative connotations associated with hip-hop, and break dancing especially, and trying to revive the positive aspects that it was born with."

Sarah Jacobs, a graduate of Carleton College and an instructor with the Perpich Center's ACE Dance program, teaches throughout the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota area. Jacobs choreographed a pantomime to The Vestibules sketch "Bulbous Bouffant" using the rhythm and beat of the words as music.

The finale was a skit including a medley of breakup songs and with many of the dancers crying to different beats, an aspect "which was also improvised," Cotant said. Audience members were encouraged to join in singing "I Will Survive" and participate in dancing to a showing of "The Evolution of Dance," which covered many of the other cultures and aspects of dance absent from the performance.

As the audience left, there were smiles all around. The participants were all short of breath, and it was easy to see that Saterstrom was correct to hope that "the show does a good job of pulling people into the dance experience."

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