Dartmouth Dance Ensemble delights in spring showcase

by Elise Higgins | 5/30/16 5:01pm

The Dartmouth Dance Ensemble's performance played with light and costumes.

The Dartmouth Dance Ensemble incorporated flashing lights, flying leaves and dynamic movements into its performances this past Friday and Saturday in the Moore Theater. The show featured five pieces with different choreographers and styles of dance.

John Heginbotham, guest director of the ensemble, choreographed two pieces, both of which incorporated quick, sharp movement that correlated with the rhythm of the fast paced music. Heginbotham said that the music inspired him to create the different movements, particularly for his first piece. He felt the second piece provided the show with a more upbeat dance to balance out the flow.

In contrast, Philip Montana Med’18, a professional dancer and current student at the Geisel School of Medicine, choreographed a slower, more thoughtful piece. The dancers at first avoided a pile of leaves on stage but eventually began to interact with it. Much of their movement corresponded with the drama of the moving leaves. The dancers worked in pairs, reacting to each other’s movements on stage.

The piece was a continuation of a solo Montana choreographed last year with both dances dealing with distances or loss. This year, he was inspired by the idea of being present when someone else isn’t, either emotionally or physically.

The idea of having fun in the moment, but realizing the mess you have made when you step back, led to his use of the leaves.

Mina Lawton, a ballet teacher at Dartmouth, also choreographed for the show. Her piece began with three dances wearing masks. Their movements were fluid, yet appeared choppy because of strobe lights. Following the trio, one of the members removed her baggy clothing and mask and performed a solo.

Lawton was inspired by how a memory is altered every time it is reaccessed. The flashing lights represented how a memory is lost just as some of the choreography was lost in the darkness. The solo piece explored identity — how we present ourselves to the world and how others can manipulate that identity.

Rebecca Stenn, the choreographer-in-residence for the ensemble also created a piece for the show. Stenn found inspiration in music and how the body reacts to it. When creating pieces, Stenn likes to see how the dancers’ bodies want to move with the music, and based on that she will shape the movements into actual choreography.

As the choreographer-in-residence, Stenn comes up to Dartmouth occasionally and instructs the dancers. She began working here because of her close relationship with Heginbotham. The two were classmates together at the Juilliard School, and Heginbotham even performed in the first show for Stenn’s professional company, the Rebecca Stenn Company, founded in 1996. Over the years the two remained close, and Heginbotham reached out to Stenn about working at Dartmouth.

“When he started working here I think he realized he wanted to bring in someone else to sort of help support this really blossoming, growing environment of the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble,” Stenn said.

Stenn said that she loves working with the ensemble because its membership is comprised of undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, staff and community members.

Lawton also appreciates the Ensemble membership’s diversity in class years, but she chose three undergraduates for her dance because of their youth and dynamic. In addition, all three performers in her trio, Michael Aaberg ’18, Mykel Nairne ’16 and Katelyn Schultz ’16, attended Lawton’s ballet classes. Lawton was excited to work with them because the three have strong dance backgrounds.

Nairne joined the Ensemble this past fall after Lawton’s encouragement. She was previously a member of Sugarplum, a student-run dance group. Sugarplum’s style differs from the Ensemble’s, Nairne said, describing Sugarplum’s as more jazzy, and the Ensemble’s style as more modern. Nairne, who wants to pursue dance professionally, thought that learning the style of the Ensemble would be beneficial to her future career.

Student-run dance groups and college-run dance groups are organized differently, Nairne said. While the student-run groups tend to be more casual, the Ensemble puts together full productions on stage with lighting and costumes.

Montana designed the costumes for many of the pieces performed last weekend. He developed a background in costume design after learning as a dancer that providing your own costume is cost-effective and logical.

“I think it’s easier when you’re a dancer because you understand how a costume should move,” Montana said.

In addition to the professional staging for the show, Nairne also appreciated the opportunity to be able to work with professional dancers even if it can be challenging at times.

“It’s different from a student group in that way because I had older people that could mentor me and sort of push me to do better,” Nairne said.

This past weekend marked the Ensemble’s yearly culminating show. Nairne enjoyed having the opportunity to work on the choreography throughout the year.

“That’s been amazing having that time because the D-Plan is so crazy,” Nairne said. “That’s one of the only times I’ve been able to work on something for a full eight or nine months.”

The time spent on the choreography truly ingrained the movements in the bodies of the dancers, Nairne said. For example, Lawton decided to add extra elements to her trio such as masks, which made it difficult to see, yet the choreography was so ingrained in the bodies of the dancers that they were able to accomplish it.

“I think that was really special to have that opportunity to keep on working through the same material and finding new things within it,” Nairne said.

Heginbotham enjoys working with dancers from all different backgrounds because they all are enthusiastic and willing to learn and be challenged.

“I want them to have fun, and I want them to get something out of it that’s going to be valuable to them,” Heginbotham said.