Social Justice-Themed Scripps Dances Awes Viewers

The Scripps Dances in Garrison Theater on April 22 showcase student talent and choreography. Here, Emma Browse SC '18, Mia Farago-Iwamasa SC '17, Cleo Forman PO '20, Taylor Haas SC '18, Anya Krause SC '18 and Maggie Patella SC '18 perform Together, choreographed by Jennifer Shelley SC '18. Courtesy of David Torralva.

An enthusiastic audience gathered in Scripps College's Garrison Theater for the final performance of Scripps Dances on April 22. The annual spring concert featured dances choreographed by students, faculty, and guest artists in a variety of styles often presented in unexpected and innovative combinations. Several of the pieces explored themes relating to social justice.

The program began with “Meta,” choreographed and performed by Cynthia Irobunda SC ’18. To begin a concert with a solo is no easy feat, but Irobunda pulled off a technically impressive performance that smoothly blended contemporary choreography with hip-hop to the accompaniment of James Blake’s “Points.” Expressive arm movements and unique emotional intensity made Irobunda's performance interesting to watch.

Maile Blume’s SC'17 “Here” “used text and movement to explore the challenge of locating oneself in this particular institution [Scripps],” according to the program notes. “How do we use our limited capacities to exist/resist/and care for each other in this place?” the program notes asked. 

“Try It On Make It Fit,” Sharon Keenan’s SC'17 thesis performance, began with one black dancer watching six dancers of lighter skin from the periphery of the stage. They dance to spoken word accompaniment about racial self-hatred, written and performed by Zemia Edmonson PO ’20. Eventually, the onlooker performs a solo, then joins the other dancers, having affirmed her own identity.

Both Scripps dance majors’ thesis performances employed spoken word alongside movement, giving voice to an art form that is traditionally visual and musical.

“Try It On Make It Fit” is, according to the program notes, the “second installment of a larger project examining the creation, implementation, and breaking of cyclical systems of oppression.”

For its artistic vision, Keenan’s piece was one of the highlights of the show. However, it was not the only dance to engage with themes of social justice. “Sustain” was choreographed by Scripps Professor Suchi Branfman, Eden Amital SC ’17, and incarcerated men at the California Rehabilitation Center, a medium security state prison.

Performed by five students, the piece “asks how we sustain ourselves, whether inside or outside the prison walls,” according to the program notes. Like “Try It On Make It Fit,” “Sustain” used spoken word accompaniment in addition to music. Residents of the California Rehabilitation Center wrote the text, which dwelled on family.

The first half of the program ended with an energetic performance of “Koredujuga/Komodenu,” choreographed by Professor Phylise Smith, who studied with master drummers and dancers in Guinea last December, where she learned Koredjuga, a traditional dance of the Malinke’ ethnic group. Live drumming accompanied a series of impressive solos that elicited cheers from the audience.

Representing the more classical end of the choreographic spectrum were “Together,” by Jennifer Sheasley SC ’18, and “In and Out,” choreographed and performed by Madelyn Shaughnessy, a senior dance minor at Pitzer.

Sheasley grew up as a competitive gymnast, and is interested in “combining styles [of dance] that don’t often appear together.” Indeed, “Together” united ballet, modern dance, and acrobatics into a breathtaking whole.

The piece began with a series of five tableaux, illuminated one at a time across the stage diagonally. The acrobatics were, for the most part, well executed, although they sometimes came across as frivolous.

Eileen Cooley has worked as a lighting designer at Scripps dance concerts for 31 years. She received her Master’s Degree in Choreography from UCLA and “uses that as the foundation for her work as a lighting designer,” according to the program notes. She brought her genius to bear on Shaughnessy’s “In and Out.” The curtain rose on Shaughnessy with her back to the audience, backlit from stage left, so that her silhouette and that of the barre on which she leaned gleamed ethereally against the dark backdrop.

Shaughnessy’s decision to incorporate the barre into her choreography was inspired. The barre is usually relegated to the studio for rehearsal purposes only. Shaughnessy managed to turn the barre into a striking if inanimate dance partner.

The program also featured Professor Ronnie Brosterman’s “Time Refracted,” Scripps senior Rae Fredericks’ “I Have to Apologize, and “Warriors of Light,” choreographed by visiting hip hop artists Jackie Lobez and Leigh Foaad.