Dartmouth Dance Ensemble to showcase new choreography

by Elise Higgins | 5/26/17 12:00am

This Friday and Saturday, the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble will showcase the choreography that it has been rehearsing all year in its spring performance, “Steps and Sounds.” While the ensemble offered a sneak preview of this weekend’s show in its winter works-in-progress performance, this weekend will be the first time that the public can view the culmination of a year of choreography and rehearsals.

The Dartmouth Dance Ensemble, directed by John Heginbotham, is the sole professionally-run dance ensemble on campus. While students must audition to be in the group, the ensemble welcomes a variety of participants ranging from students to community members.

Rebecca Stenn, the choreographer-in-residence, said that this diversity of dancers is what makes the ensemble so special.

“It’s really cool that we have this very disparate group that joins together to make something really cohesive,” Stenn said.

Kevin Shee, a graduate student pursuing a postdoctorate at Dartmouth, added that he also enjoys the mix of students in the ensemble.

“Every person brings something new to the table,” Shee said.

Heginbotham added that there has been an increasing number of graduate students participating in the ensemble during his past five years as director. He also said that there are actually many ex-professional or professional dancers studying at Dartmouth, particularly in the Geisel School of Medicine. For example, Philip Montana Med’18 is one of the choreographers for the spring performance.

Shee said he was interested in joining the ensemble as a graduate student because it is professionally run.

“It’s kind of the closest thing to a professional experience that I’ve been able to get here at Dartmouth, so I’ve been really involved,” Shee said.

Shee added that he has been dancing since he was 5 and was involved in the ballet company at Harvard University while he was an undergraduate there.

“I both love [dance], and it’s something to get me through the hard grueling years,” Shee said.

Many undergraduate students also search out a more professional type of dance ensemble. Jovanay Carter ’19 said she joined the ensemble because she participated in a dance independent study through the theater department in the fall. Carter said that Dartmouth does not offer many dance classes, so an independent study that included her participation in the ensemble was a great way to pursue her minor. Although she joined the ensemble because of her studies, Carter added that she will most likely to continue to participate in the coming years.

This weekend’s performance will showcase seven pieces by four different choreographers. Heginbotham and Stenn have both worked with students to choreograph pieces. In addition, Montana and professional choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie have created pieces.

Stenn said that when creating choreography for her dances, she is very inspired by the music. She described her approach to choreography as improvisational; she does not always know what she wants to do when she walks into the room but rather takes in the people and the energy and goes from there.

“Each person really brings to the room something different, something interesting, something from their background that they can share that just kind of weaves into a really exciting creative energy,” Stenn said.

Shee added that Stenn really brought out the personal styles of the dancers in her piece.

“I think that’s the style that [Stenn] really likes,” Shee said. “What do dancers create themselves, and how can I organize this in a way that makes sense?”

Shee also said that the choreographers all have different styles, describing Stenn’s movements as unpredictable but organically. Heginbotham moves in a very original manner with many movement parts, Carter added.

Carter said that Moultrie’s choreography was very fun. She will be featured in three of Moultrie’s numbers: “The Grand Get Down,” “12 Dances for 11 People” and “As One.”

Shee noted that Montana’s work, which is a third edition of choreography he has created in the past, involves lots of partner work and has a lyrical style with flowing movements.

Another exciting aspect of the ensemble’s spring performance is that five of the pieces will be performed with live music. Heginbotham said the overarching theme of the show is “collaboration.” This will be translated through the numbers featuring professional musicians including pianist Elizabeth Borowsky and accordionist Nathan Koci as well as a performance with the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble. In addition, a group of eight singers, some of whom are students, will be singing a cappella during a piece called “Verum.”

“We were very interested this year to try to bring together other talented people on campus, not just dance, so we really wanted to have this be a collaboration with a lot of musicians,” Stenn said.

Shee said that working with live musicians is a whole different experience for dancers, and although he is excited, he is somewhat nervous as well.

“I would say it’s more exciting for the audience, and it’s a little more nerve-wracking for the dancers because it’s hard to anticipate what your cues are going to sound like,” Shee said.

Stenn is looking forward to this spring performance, noting this is a very exciting time for the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble.

“People in [the ensemble] are interested in taking risks and growing as performers and artists,” Stenn said.

The Dartmouth Dance Ensemble will showcase its spring performance May 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. in the Moore Theater.