Putting on the moves

Kimra McPherson

A flock of almost 40 dancers. Nearly 50 different costumes. Seven choreographers. Dance styles ranging from ballet to jump-rhythm jazz to modern.

With this variety, eclectic may be the only way to describe Danceworks 2001, this year’s installment of the annual show produced by Northwestern’s dance faculty.

From the show’s tight, pulsing opening number to the fourth piece, featuring music ranging from Vivaldi to punk, to a more traditional ballet work performed in the second act, Danceworks showcases a wide variety of dancers and forms.

“I think what stands out is the range,” said Susan Lee, the artistic director of this year’s show and director of the dance program at NU. “It’s a real challenge because most (professional) companies only have to do one kind of dance or one form.”

According to Lee, Danceworks began to provide NU faculty with an opportunity to choreograph for students, since most other dance shows on campus incorporate only student choreography. She said that while students have the opportunity to see professional dancers perform works by their professors, they can best draw a connection between classroom learning and the outside dance world by performing these works.

“It’s an amazing experience to have these artists put work on your body and have you be an integral part of the development of that piece,” Lee said.

The partnership between faculty and students creates a collaboration “that could only happen in a university environment, where you have an artist faculty working with incredibly talented performers in a wide range of styles,” Lee said.

In addition to dance faculty, alumni often return to choreograph, giving them the opportunity to “bring their skills back to the community,” Lee said. This year, Melody Morris, an NU alumna who graduated last year as a dance major, created a piece for nine dancers that has the feel of a blind chase scene in a cartoon.

Choreographers began to conceptualize pieces as early as this fall, Lee said, and the show was cast before Winter Break. Intense rehearsals began at the beginning of Winter Quarter, and according to Speech sophomore Meghann Wilkinson, the rehearsal process has been exciting and valuable.

“The choreographers have just been fun people,” she said. “It’s interesting because when you audition, you don’t know what (kind of work) you’re going to end up in.” This year, her second in Danceworks, Wilkinson performs both a jazz piece “about being mad at the cold” and a long piece choreographed like a postmodern fairy tale.

The piece, one of the show’s most notable segments, plays out in a 20-minute epic at the end of the first act. Choreographed by dance professor Lisa Wymore, the piece begins with five barely recognizable forms moving on a low-lit stage. As the lights come up, the figures are revealed to be dancers dressed in prom dresses struggling beneath large fur coats. Once they have shrugged off the coats, the dancers find a large storybook and step up to a microphone, taking turns reading stories.

At first it seems like a traditional fairy tale, but the story grows darker and the music switches from soft classical to roaring punk. The dancers seem to struggle against a force throughout the piece, occasionally grasping at the pile of fur coats or attempting to break free. But at the end, the five girls together read the fairy-tale finale, “and she lived happily ever after.”

Katie Reitmeyer, who also performs in the fairy tale, said the emphasis on modern dance sets Danceworks apart from other shows on campus.

“This isn’t a whole show of modern dance, but there’s a lot in here,” said Reitmeyer, a Speech sophomore. “It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s not what you’d expect. It’s so unlike anything else done on campus.”

Lee said audiences seem to love the variety showcased in the performance because it educates as well as entertains them.

“They begin to discover whole new forms and genres that they haven’t been exposed to before,” she said. nyou