DDE uses the art of dance as a powerful means of self-expression

by John Kim | 5/25/05 5:00am

After months of intense rehearsal -- often consisting of fifteen or more hours in the studio per week -- the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble is ready to present their latest show, "Movement and Music," tonight in Spaulding Auditorium at 7 p.m. The program, which will be free to the public, is officially a three-part senior project, in which members Marisa Clementi '05 and Mary Chris DeBelina '05 will present their independent studies in choreography, and Kristina Rodriguez '05 will unveil her senior thesis in music. The entire ensemble -- comprised of nine women and three men -- will aid the seniors in bringing their distinct visions to life.

The Dartmouth Dance Ensemble -- directed by Ford Evans, professor of dance -- is a modern dance company run by the Hopkins Center that encourages everyone in the Dartmouth community with an interest in dance to audition. Because of this open nature, the members end up hailing from a myriad of dance backgrounds. Some, like Clementi and Rodriguez, have been dancing their entire lives. However, Dan Olson '04, currently a graduate student at Thayer Engineering School, had never danced previously and joined the group during freshman year because "my friend from high school told me that it was a great way to meet girls." Whether joking or not, Olson found that he loved the experience and has been with the ensemble ever since.

A major attraction of the ensemble appears to be the camaraderie that blossoms between the dancers. Amy Kurtz '06 joined this term and said that she "loved how supportive the group is and how well everyone works together."

DeBelina agrees with the assessment. "There are no divas here, and everyone grows together equally. I've made some amazing friends in the ensemble who I will treasure forever," she said.

This unity serves the ensemble well as they plunge headlong into their art. In preparing for "Movement and Music," the dancers practiced their movements over and over again in order to live up to the elevated standards to which they held themselves. Critique sessions were comprehensive and candid, but the obvious affection between the group members kept any feelings from being hurt.

Clementi's piece, "Wanderlust," is in part inspired by the feelings aroused by the impending graduation of the Class of 2005. "With my choreography, I wanted to explore the idea of longing for something new while simultaneously being hesitant about leaving what's comfortable," she said. The Latin-tinged number has both modern dance and flamenco elements, the latter of which came as a result of the off-term that Clementi spent in Spain.

"At the risk of sounding clich, I really do feel that my work is a celebration of life," DeBelina reveals of her project, "Spring." To choreograph her dance, DeBelina actually monitored the movements of children and created a dance influenced by what she observed. "It's where I got the title from, since in a way, spring symbolizes life anew," she said.

DeBelina also enlisted the help of Oliver Caplan '04, now in the Masters program at the Boston Conservatory, to write the music.

Rodriguez is excited to see how her thesis, "Simple Symphony," plays onstage. In an attempt to provide a visual interpretation to musical notes, she has come up with a truly unique underlying concept. Backed by a string quintet, each of the five dancers involved will directly correspond to one of the five instruments being played.

Aside from choreographing the dance, Rodriguez will also be playing the violin as part of the quintet. When asked why a violinist would devote so much time to an alternate art form, Rodriguez responded, "Dance is a completely different way to express yourself, as you can bring your whole body into it as opposed to just your instrument."

Unlike SHEBA and Fusion, in which a majority of the Dartmouth student body knows "what they're about," the DDE must fight stereotypes that their art is somehow inaccessible. "There's this negative connotation to modern dance because people immediately think of that weird interpretive dance, you know? 'Now you're a tree. Be the tree.' It's unfortunate because that's not what we do at all," DeBelina said.

"I don't think people realize just how good the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble is," Clementi asserted. "It's not that we're underappreciated, per se, but I think there's a tendency to underestimate just how much of a serious commitment being a part of this ensemble entails."

The ensemble eagerly awaits the chance to share their enthusiasm with their fellow students. "It's not just a culminating experience of my academic career at Dartmouth; it's a culminating experience of everything that I've done in my life up to now," Rodriguez said.

Ultimately, try as one might, it is impossible to concisely define the purpose of the show in a single tagline. "Other groups are meant to entertain first and foremost, which is perfectly valid. But what we do is something that goes beyond that. This is our means of self-expression," DeBelina offered.

"You have to take from it what you will," Olson said. "If you could explain it in words, then you wouldn't need to dance it."