From Thursday, March 31 through Sunday, April 2, nearly 100 students from Montclair State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance and guest artists will perform Danceworks 2016 at the intimate and state-of-the-art Alexander Kasser Theater on campus. The dance concert features the majestic “Panorama,” choreographed by Martha Graham in 1935; “Colleen Ann,” created by the 2013 Doris Duke Artist Award Recipient Pat Graney; and works from resident choreographers Nancey Lushington, Christian von Howard and Earl Mosley. Danceworks is part of the Peak Performances series, which presents music, theater and dance from around the world as well as student work.
Danceworks 2016 is a showcase for the department’s talented young dancers – some of whom are preparing to launch professional performance careers. Don’t miss your chance to see these young, rising stars in action.
The headline work on the Danceworks 2016 concert is “Panorama,” choreographed by the legendary Martha Graham in 1935. First performed at Bennington College in Vermont, “Panorama” was created as a rallying cry for social activism and included a mobile from her friend and brilliant artist, Alexander Calder. The piece was rarely seen after this premiere and was reconstructed from a film in 1992. You can see a video clip of the work here (just scroll down to “Panorama”).
I’m constantly amazed about the way dance works disappear and reappear from the world – even those by famous and important artists. Dance is such a personal, social artform that must be passed from person to person, artist to artist. Yes, there exists a kind of written dance notation, but it is insufficient to relate the full force of works. We are more fortunate now that we are in an era of ubiquitous videography, which makes it easier to preserve dance works. Ironically, though, “Panorama” was able to be reconstructed because of a film, though that is rare for this era.
Graham herself was reluctant to revive this early piece because she considered it dated. (Martha Graham was born in 1894 and died in 1991. The prime of her choreographic career was from the late 1930s through the end of the 1950s.)
Graham created several activist pieces that aimed to stir the viewer’s social conscience. These works were intended to shed light on the Great Depression and its repercussions, the struggles of African-Americans and other groups facing social injustice and poverty. Graham and her contemporaries were also aware of the burgeoning fascist movement and home and abroad, and felt that art could help combat those issues.
Another work to keep your eye on in this performance is “Colleen Ann,” choreographed by the Seattle-based artist Pat Graney, who won the 2013 Doris Duke Artist Award. Colleen Ann was originally commissioned in 1986 by the French/American Dance Exchange and explores the use of music combined with American Sign Language.
And if you love Irish step dance, you’ll get help from this work in overcoming your post-Saint Patrick’s Day withdrawal, since it features Irish dancing and contemporary Celtic music. Graney mined her family history for this work, which features post-modernist Irish step-dancing and tells the story of Graney’s Irish ancestors in sign language in a story of accident and loss.
But wait…there’s more
In addition to these works by outside choreographers, this performance also features original works created by faculty members Nancy Lushington, Earl Mosley, Christian von Howard and Maxine Steinman. There will also be a dance film created by MSU assistant professor of theatre and dance Kathleen Kelley. The dancers have taken part in film sessions around the MSU campus and elsewhere, and those pieces have been edited into a dance film that will premiere at Danceworks.
To me, that sounds pretty fascinating – part art film, part dance piece. You may be wondering: “what’s the point in watching dance on film at a performance?” But sometimes these works can be really interesting – beyond just the choreography. Through the directorial choices of the camera work, the performance is curated in a way for the audience. The director can guide your experience, pointing out moments you might otherwise miss on the mainstage.
Speaking of things being pointed out so you don’t miss them… go see Danceworks 2016 at Montclair State University this week. With four performances on the docket, you have plenty of opportunity to see these talented rising dancers, experience some historic choreography, and say you were there for world-premiere performances. Not bad for one evening (or afternoon, depending on when you go)!
Danceworks 2016 will be performed on Thursday, March 31 and Friday, April 1 at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday, April 2 and 3 at 2:00 p.m. After the April 1 performance, the Danceworks team invites you to stay for a special reception with artists, technicians and members of the dance company.
The performances take place at Montclair State University’s Alexander Kasser Theater, located at 1 Normal Avenue in Montclair, NJ 07043. All tickets are $15 and may be purchased online or at the door. Montclair State University undergraduate students with valid ID receive free tickets. For more information on the performance, call (973) 655-5112 or visit www.peakperfs.org. To learn more about the MSU Department of Theatre and Dance, visit www.montclair.edu/arts/theatre-and-dance.