Dance Heginbotham premieres newest installment in '24 Caprices' project

The New York-based dance company joined Hop@Home for a conversation and virtual watch party of its new performances to Niccolò Paganini's Caprices #5 and #6.

by Elle Muller | 3/4/21 2:00am

Source: Hopkins Center for the Arts

On Feb. 22, contemporary dance company Dance Heginbotham and violinist Colin Jacobsen took to Hop@Home to share the world premiere of Caprices #5 and #6 — the two latest installments in the ensemble’s “24 Caprices” series. Throughout the pandemic, the project has sought to explore each entry of composer Niccolò Paganini's “24 Caprices for Solo Violin.” 

The Hopkins Center for the Arts’s virtual watch party featured a conversation and live audience questions with theater professor John Heginbotham — artistic director of the New-York based Dance Heginbotham — and other members of the company. The discussion was moderated by Rebecca Stenn, the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble’s choreographer in residence.

The virtual watch party opened with a video of a woman dancing with a jump rope and Jacobsen playing Caprice #1 on violin on a bridge, serving as a prelude to the conversation. 

During the virtual watch party, Heginbotham discussed the inspiration behind the “24 Caprices” project, which stemmed from an offer from the Guggenheim Museum to create a five-minute piece for their performing arts series “Works & Process.” Heginbotham said he approached the Caprices as a collage, with each Caprice being different in its own way and representing a self-contained mood.

Additionally, he noted that each Caprice has followed the evolution of the public health guidelines amid the pandemic over the past year, with the earlier ones featuring fewer performers or performances over Zoom. Heginbotham said that through the project, he hopes to convey an accurate representation of the pandemic and its influence on art. 

“I'm not sure I, and we, would have found our way into this project without the restrictions created by COVID-19,” Heginbotham said. 

Caprice #5, filmed in Shore Road Park in New York City, was an energetic piece featuring multiple performers dancing together in the park, all socially distanced and wearing masks. Throughout the performance, the camera weaved through the dancers in a way that highlighted their unique spacing.

Meanwhile, Caprice #6 featured a slow, melancholy dance in a drained pool filled with dirt and leaves. A dancer — designer, video editor and performer Maile Okamura — walked in a circle, using hand gestures and smaller movements. Boasting fewer camera and dance movements, the sixth Caprice demonstrated a heavier reliance on video elements to convey its story. At the end, the video was overlaid with waves on a shore. 

“Caprice #6 was created before Caprice #5 and was much more experimental,” Heginbotham said. “The movement for Caprice #6 preceded its attachment to music.”

Heginbotham emphasized that the masks were an intentional part of the costume design for both dances. He specifically noted his collaboration with Okamura throughout the Caprices.

“Okamura designed the costumes, including the masks,” Heginbotham said. “For all of the Caprices so far, if a mask is required, the mask is considered in the design.”

Heginbotham also spoke highly of his collaboration with Jacobsen in the performances.

“[Jacobsen] is someone with whom I've often and very happily collaborated,” he said. “[Jacobsen] has written music for Dance Heginbotham — he's included us in concerts featuring The Knights orchestra and the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, both of which he's a founding member.” 

During the conversation, Mykel Marai Nairne ’16, who joined the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble during her senior year and is currently a performer for Dance Heginbotham, spoke on the fast-paced nature of the “24 Caprices” series and the challenges she faced having not danced routinely during the pandemic.

“It’s a constant practice of patience to overcome the technical complications of rehearsing remotely ... especially when all of it is devoid of any physical connection to the other artists,” Nairne said. “While it’s a far cry from DH’s rehearsal processes pre-pandemic, I feel humbled to still have the opportunity to dance and experiment during this time, and to explore my changing body through [Heginbotham’s] work.”

Nairne enjoyed her time working on Caprice #5 in particular. It was the first time she had seen and worked with some of the other dancers since mid-March, when New York City first saw mass closures due to the pandemic. 

“I got to spend a gorgeous and unseasonably warm day dancing outside with friends,” she said. “It was a long shoot day, but none of us wanted to leave once it was over. After we completed our last take, we watched the sunset while sipping on celebratory drinks. It was truly one of the highlights of the COVID-year.”

Colin Goodbred ’21, a current member of Dartmouth Dance Ensemble, commented on his experience watching the Caprices and hearing from the creators. 

“I loved seeing Mykel Nairne’s piece that was set in the empty swimming pool,” Goodbred said. “It was such a captivating setting, and even cooler because Mykel danced on campus when she attended Dartmouth not too long ago.”

Goodbred added that he thought the live YouTube stream provided a good substitute for a live performance. 

“I’ve missed live performances, so this was such a special way to be able to watch performers and artists interact in real time,” Goodbred said. “It was inspiring to see how Dance Heginbotham and Colin Jacobsen had managed to continually evolve their artistic choices to reflect what was happening in the broader community.”

Heginbotham noted that he intends for the “24 Caprices” series to continue throughout the duration of the pandemic — a goal to which the long trajectory of Paganini’s work easily lends itself. 

“We're going to keep going until all 24 are complete,” he said. This may take a couple of years, but I trust we will get there. The project has room to evolve, but I want them to live online, on video, as a document of this period of time.”

Correction appended (March 5, 2021): A previous version of this article stated that Nairne was the dancer featured in Caprice #6. The article has been updated to reflect that Okamura was the dancer in this installment.