Students, Faculty Showcase Original Choreography in Scripps Dances

Dance is an art rooted in exploration and originality. At Scripps Dances, the annual spring concert of the Scripps
College Dance Department, performers and choreographers showcased their unique talents through words,
music and movement.

Students and faculty
presented original choreographed dance pieces in Scripps’ Garrison Theater April 17 and 18. The performance was considered by many to be among the spring calendar’s
highlights, as it featured the projects of three graduating seniors: Christiana Ho SC ’15, Annie Whitford PZ ’15 and Michelle Nagler SC ’15. 

Professor of dance Gail Lee Abrams has helped produce the concert for
twenty-nine years, and was particularly attached to this performance because it was
her last. Abrams will retire next year.   

“We have it down to a fine science by now,” she said. “Everyone was reliable
and did their jobs. Choreographers were wonderful to work with. It was really a
delightful experience from start to finish.”

The choreographers have been hard at work for some time now, and a few began planning the event in fall 2014. As each dance centered around individual work, the themes explored in each choreographer’s piece varied. 

Ho explored femininity and its portrayal in contemporary dance. Whitford went for a more abstract take,
translating ideas of institutionalization, dehumanization and confinement into
movement onstage. Nagler, a double major in dance and foreign languages,
incorporated interdisciplinary ideas into her piece, like the relationships
between Spanish- and French-speaking immigrants and feelings of disorientation
in a new setting.

“As choreographers, we are responsible for all elements
regarding our piece, which means having an overall concept and being
able to communicate that [to the production crew],” Ho said. “There are a lot of people
involved in producing the show, and I am only one very small part of that.”  

The performance itself was a
tightly choreographed collaboration between the dancers and the production
staff, including lighting designers, sound board operators, a stage manager and others who helped with costumes and props. Though they received help from many people, the choreographers were primarily responsible for getting all the
elements necessary for their performance.

Eileen Cooley, a renowned lighting designer in Los Angeles, was
hired to produce the lighting for the show. She was able to come to Claremont a week before
the performance to collaborate with choreographers on special effects and clarify aesthetic concerns and ideas.

A number of students in other class years also participated in the event. In Stella Hoff PZ ’16’s performance Re Bina, meaning “we dance” in the African dialect of Setswana, she highlighted the intersectionality between music and dance. Phylise Smith, a lecturer in dance at
Scripps, performed an initiation dance called Sorsonet, which is from the Baga culture in Guinea, West Africa.

Such freedom of interpretation and creation is one of the benefits of the Scripps Dance Department’s choreography track. 

“Technique
is important, but it should be in service of the expression, not an end in and
of itself,” Abrams said. “We encourage the student choreographers to hone in on
and clarify their intention, or what they want to explore. The audience may
take something else from it based on their own experience, and that’s the
beauty of the gesture—everyone sees it differently. We appreciate the unique
gifts that each dancer brings to their choreography and movement.”

In that sense, contemporary dance has challenged the traditional view of dance as a uniform work of art, offering dancers the chance to connect
movement with other aspects of life. To participants, the show represents that opportunity. 

“I
am so incredibly thankful to have been a part of this year’s show,” Ho said.
“We had an amazing group of artists who worked really hard this semester, and
this was the first time where I’ve felt that all performances were equally
strong.”

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