Dance department troupes host engaging open house

The dance department’s open house on Saturday, held in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance during Family Days, featured short performances by several campus dance groups and was well-attended by both students and their family members. The intimate and personal gathering showed off what the dance department has to offer and allowed a glimpse into their world of informal rehearsal that many never get to experience.

The Zambezi Marimba Band kicked off the event in the CenterStage lobby, playing several selections from recent concerts in addition to some new pieces still in the works. Though not a dance troupe in the strictest of terms, there is a certain unavoidable movement associated with playing the marimba, a large, wooden instrument that forces the body to sway to simply produce any sound at all. The most striking aspect of  Zambezi’s performance is the infectious look of pure joy on the players’ faces: Watching them make music is more like catching a glimpse of good friends at practice than watching a carefully and finely-tuned performance, although no doubt many hours of preparation go into creating this impression.

After this performance, each of the department’s four groups – Kusika, CoDa, Sankofa and INISH – presented pieces in the upstairs dance studio. Kusika, a group that performs traditional African dances from Ghana, Senegal and Zimbabwe, first demonstrated a typical warm-up. The affair was exceptionally calm and looked almost like yoga in the slowness and fluidity of the dancers’ motions. Next, CoDa showcased a unique style of warm-up: Drawing inspiration from both classical ballet as well as more modern techniques, the group began its warm-up in two distinct halves, each performing different tasks, and gradually merged together. The dancers made use of the whole studio space, leaping and prancing across the entire length of the room in exceptional displays of grace.

In a sudden and refreshing shift, Sankofa, the College’s step team, appeared next. As opposed to showing a more traditional warm-up, the group’s leaders taught a short routine to the rest of the group as the audience watched. It was an interesting insight into how the steppers learn choreography and what exactly goes on in practice once the warm-up is over. Finally, INISH, which specializes in traditional Irish dance, performed a typical warm-up accompanied by live music.

Afterward, each group showcased a full-length dance. Kusika danced a fast-paced, energetic routine that can only be described as controlled chaos: The dancers began in several different groups, each performing different steps but eventually merging together into a circle, moving around one another with staggering speed and balance. The dancers were wholly interdependent on one another; the moves built off of each other, and without the precision of each participant, the entire dance could be thrown off. Though it may have appeared random at first, the underlying order was evident.

CoDa performed two pieces, the first a duet and the second featuring the entire company. The duet, featuring a first-year and a senior, was an extremely playful and even funny piece set to Etta James’ “At Last.” A combination of fluid and sudden movements made the dance interesting to watch and added an air of the unexpected. It was a perfect reflection of the informal atmosphere of the entire open house, with smiles and giggles exchanged by the dancers in the midst of precise and well-executed movements. The second dance from CoDa was set to a piece by Stravinsky, and featured some of the more classical elements alongside the modern. Once again, the company began the dance in two groups and gradually melded together.

Sankofa’s performance marked a radical change in the performance’s tone. The men performed first, dancing to original choreography by a Sankofa alum based on Indian drumming. The Sankofa women were extremely vocal during the performance, calling out words of encouragement to both individuals and to the group as a whole. The calls created music of their own, complimenting the sounds made by the stomps and slaps ever present in step-dancing. Afterward, the women performed before the group moved into dancing together.

Finally, INISH performed a Scottish precursor to square dancing, which involved intricate patterns as the dancers weaved their arms together. Following this dance, they changed into traditional heavy tap shoes and performed a more typical Irish dance, tapping along to the rhythm with their arms at their sides.

After these performances, the department offered two workshops to the attendees, one in Irish dance and the other in African drumming. Designed for beginners, these workshops were both engaging and simple, with even some very small children participating. The open house showed just how many incredible opportunities there are to get involved with dance here at the College. If you find yourself wondering if dance is for you, take a chance. Try out for a company, or even just attend a performance. You may surprise yourself.