Dartmouth Dance Ensemble performs works-in-progress

by Madeline Killen | 3/6/16 6:01pm

Walking into the Hop Garage on Sunday afternoon, one would see a simple set-up of chairs arranged to promote an intimate viewing of a Dartmouth Dance Ensemble performance.

The ensemble presented a preview of three works-in-progress that will be showcased during the spring term. Two of the pieces featured choreography from director John Heginbotham and co-director Rebecca Stenn. Brooklyn-based Heginbotham previously worked with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and Connecticut-based Stenn was previously with MOMIX. Dartmouth dance instructor Mina Lawton both performed and choreographed the third piece, specifying that her piece was largely incomplete. The ensemble performed five brief segments with which Lawton has been experimenting.

The first piece that the group showcased on Sunday, which Heginbotham choreographed, featured two female graduate students who demonstrated incredible control over their extremities. The dancing was clipped, but clearly highly intentional.

In the question and answer session at the end of the preview, the dancers noted that this piece was the only one in which the facial expressions were choreographed. The dancers blinked to the beat of the odd, minimalist and otherworldly-sounding music, which brought to mind both alien movies and drum circles. I will not be adding it to my study playlist any time soon, but it worked well with the choreography, which at some points made me think of bugs being electrocuted, but gracefully so.

The second piece was Mina Lawton’s, which she said she has been working on with another dancer who was not in attendance. The segments that she demonstrated largely featured her back and profile. After the performance, she commented that this was because the woman with whom she has been choreographing the piece has a beautiful back and profile.

Lawton said that they were exploring ways to display the back and the face in profile without the effect appearing too stiff or too obvious.

The third and final work-in-progress, and my favorite piece, was a series of five segments that Stenn choreographed to songs by the English indie rock band alt-J. All five segments featured one of two pairs of dancers: either Lawton and Guy in Black, or Guy and Girl in Flattering Groutfits. For some reason, Guy and Girl in Groutfits had one segment without music, which seemed unfair to me. After the show, Stenn said that the lack of music is “a way of highlighting what came before and after.”

“Silence is music to me in a way,” Stenn said.

What “came before and after” were segments featuring Lawton and Guy in Black, which were highlighted not only by the lack of music in the Groutfit pair’s segment, but also the beauty and chemistry of Lawton and Guy in Black’s segments. They were smiling and laughing throughout their entire ballet-influenced segments.

At one point, I leaned over to my roommate and said, “I want them to get married.” During the question and answer segment, someone asked if their facial expressions were choreographed, and they admitted that they had not been. Stenn specified that for some pieces, the choreographer prefers that the dancers’ genuine feelings while performing the piece show in their faces.

The unity of form and style demonstrated by the ensemble in this preview bodes well for their full showcase in the spring. The choreography was precise, even in the working pieces, and the dancers seemed to honestly enjoy themselves.

The dancers featured were all graduate students or community members, and the performers noted that very few undergraduate students are involved in the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble this year.

The ensemble practices on weekends due to the contraints of the varying schedules of its members; one performer said that they rarely have time to practice together.

The ensemble members have a variety of dance backgrounds — some studied dance as undergraduates, some have danced as a creative outlet for their entire lives, and some have worked professionally as dancers in the past.

The ensemble is open to all, but does require dancers to audition for a spot in the group.

The Dartmouth Dance Ensemble will perform a full show in the Moore Auditorium on May 27 and 28.