With the end of the semester fast approaching, so is the Fall Dance Concert. The concert is traditionally faculty-run, but features several student choreographers. This fall, the Theatre and Dance Department invited Melanie Kern ’14, Laura Levinson ’14 and Hector Bautista ’15 to compose pieces. Although all three had concepts, themes and bits of choreography for their dances ahead of time, they often prompted their dancers to participate in the creation process.
Levinson and her dancers, for example, wanted their piece to broadly revolve around the ritual of healing. “We started out generating a lot of authentic and improvisational movement in the space,” Levinson said over coffee, “and we ended up with a lot of imagery around comfort and self-soothing.”
Some of the improvisational movement revolved around objects dancers would bring in to represent what “comfort” and “healing” meant to them. After one dancer brought in a fuzzy purple blanket for everyone to play with, Levinson was inspired to incorporate fabric into the piece. A swath of material from the Costume Department is now a central part of the dance, which is titled “Comforts.”
Similarly, Kern found that her dancers were the best source of inspiration for her choreography. “I knew that I wanted the piece to be about intimacy, and beyond that I was very interested in authentic movement,” she said. Often her approach was to give the dancers general parameters, a certain number of counts, and ask them to improvise. From there, she and the dancers pulled out movements that they liked and worked them together. To get to that point, however, they spent their initial rehearsal time getting comfortable with each other. Kern directed them in contact improv games to build community and intimacy between the dancers.
“Sometimes we played for hours and it wouldn’t amount to directly generating material for the piece,” said Anna Johnson ’14, one of the dancers in Kern’s piece, “but that was part of the process to get comfortable with one another, to know our own context in this, and to work and work and work until we found the right thing.”
Bautista looked to Mayan and other Native American stories for inspiration. He said that the focus on “the relationship between humans and nature, the creation of the world and community” was fundamental in his creative process. To compliment those themes, he selected two songs that incorporate sounds of nature—running water, falling leaves—to accompany the dancers. The two songs, “Chiapas” and “Oaxaca,” are both named for Mexican states which are “famous for their natural richness and ancient ruins.” “Chiapas” is also sung in Tzotzil, a Mayan dialect in the region.
Kern, on the other hand, chose New Classical-style music to accompany her movements. “I find that lyrics and strong beats can dictate the movement and feeling, and that takes agency away from me as a choreographer,” she said. Instead, she searched for music that fit more with the feeling of her piece, without distracting from the movement. She selected “Work Slow Life,” composed by Jason Treuting and performed by So Percussion for its “kinetic feeling,” followed by “Nepomuk’s Dances,” composed by Marcelo Zarvos and performed by ETHEL for a more “meditative” feel.
Levinson’s musical process was again different. She knew exactly what she wanted—a song by Cirque du Soleil that she had danced to in middle school—but ended up only being able to find an orchestral cover on iTunes. Though initially disappointed, she found that the cover still went very well with the piece and is happy with her choice.
Kern credited Macalester’s focus on modern dance with what she sees herself and her fellow choreographers and dancers creating. “Most bigger schools which have dedicated dance programs, you take a jazz track or a ballet track,” she said, “but at smaller places at Macalester, the programs are really modern-focused, which generates really interesting material and an interesting community.”
The Fall Dance Concert will take place the weekend of Nov. 22, with showtimes at 7:30 P.M. Friday Nov. 22 and Saturday Nov. 23, as well as a 2:00 P.M. matinee on Saturday. To pick up free student rush tickets, visit the Box Office the night of the performance you wish to attend.