Program dances past the quarter-century mark

RACHEL WOLFF

Program dances past the quarter-century mark

‘Fifth rib’ choreographer leaving NU after this quarter. By RACHEL WOLFF

Lisa Wymore’s “Tip of the fifth rib” begins with eight of the piece’s nine dancers sitting on the floor, facing upstage, swaying together from right to left in silence. They roll on the floor and gesture in flowing motions. Soloist Asimina Chremos — a celebrated Chicago independent dancer/choreographer — dances through and around the others’ fluid movements; her steps are athletic and controlled, but possess an ethereal quality. Wymore joins Chremos onstage; their bodies morph and move together in ways evocative of contact improvisation.

The piece is set to an original score by Wymore’s Smith Family Performance Group collaborator, Sheldon B. Smith. The music embodies the “rib” theme, layering xylophonic, skeletal-like sounds with refreshing refrains suggestive of a deep breath.

Wymore, an adjunct lecturer in the dance department, is one of five Northwestern dance faculty members with professional works in Friday’s concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the NU dance program. Other performances include Billy Siegenfeld and his internationally acclaimed company Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, Joseph Mills and his duet company Mills/works, Terri Jo Garner Englund and her company TJ & Company Dance Theatre, and Lara Teeter performing a segment from the classic Broadway “Singin’ in the Rain.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to see their teachers dancing and doing the work they do,” says Mills, who is taking over as director of the dance program when founding director Susan Lee vacates the position this year. “It would be great to have faculty present their work on a regular basis.”

The seven pieces going up in the 25th Anniversary Celebration explore movement in every which way, highlighting the very different styles and techniques that NU’s dance faculty brings to the program. Wymore’s “Tip of the fifth rib” is a large, flowing group piece celebrating the beauty of the female form in motion — quite different from Mills’ solo “Circle Walker” — a thrilling piece Mills performs on an 8-foot moving sculpture. Mills weaves in and out of the gracefully rotating sculpture, combining dance, gymnastics and visual arts.

Siegenfeld’s Jump Rhythm style and technique takes dance in yet another direction. His high-energy, rhythm-based contemporary jazz technique combines tap, singing, acting, classic jazz and a deep connection to explosive and dynamic jazz, blues and funk music.

Like many dancers, Wymore and Mills have worked with both growing and professional dancers.

“Working with the dance students here has really allowed me to expand my own movement vocabulary,” says Wymore, who will be leaving NU this year to teach dance at UC Berkeley. “Teaching has helped me develop new ways of movement and choreography. I have five alumni in my piece — they feed off of each other, there’s a continuation in training.”

Mills has also used his work with students in NU’s dance programs to solidify his technique and movement philosophy. “Working so closely with students here helps me clarify my own dance values and discover what’s really important when I’m forced to convey it to others,” Mills says.

Although dance has been embraced at NU since the 1900s, the current encarnation of the program started in 1979. It was founded by famous NU alum Garry Marshall — well-known for his work on classic TV shows like “Happy Days” and “Murphy Brown” and films such as “Pretty Woman,” “The Princess Diaries,” and, most recently, “Raising Helen” starring Kate Hudson. Marshall founded the dance program in honor of his mother, Marjorie Ward Marshall, a dance instructor. The building on campus is even named in her honor.

At the 25th Anniversary Celebration, founding director of the dance program and dance professor Susan Lee will give a photo presentation on the program’s history.

“The dance program is really strong right now,” Wymore says. “There are lots of majors and lots of energy. We’re in that next phase of growth and development.”

Under Mills’ direction the program will experience a redesigned freshman year curriculum and an influx in collaborations with cultural groups on campus.

“The major and the program have grown to a secure place,” says Mills. “Now, we’re looking outward to the university community to make connections between dance and theater, gender studies, sociology, music and visual arts.”