The Columns

Dance Students Take Flight on Side of Wilson Hall

— by on May 29th, 2009

In a dazzling display of aerial artistry, Washington and Lee University students swooped, spun and flipped off the side of Wilson Hall at the Lenfest Center for the Arts Friday afternoon, introducing a crowd of about 300 campus and community members to an entirely new kind of performance.

The first-ever aerial dance concert, culminating a six-week spring term course, featured 13 students with varying degrees of dance background who represented a variety of different majors.

Friday’s performance will be repeated on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The event is free and open the public.

Although they came at the class and the performance from decidedly different directions, there was no denying that all the performers shared in the combination of creativity and daring.

The course was led and the performance directed by Jenefer Davies, assistant professor of dance, who said she believes this is the first time aerial dance has been performed by students on a college campus. In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week, Davies also said that although the students make it look easy, that is an illusion and that it is in fact “mind-blowingly hard.” Davies choreographed the first dance herself, but all the other dances were choreographed by students. Each performance was different.

The first dancers of the afternoon were dressed in brightly colored yellow, purple and red crinoline-type layered skirts. Each dancer had a 40-foot long piece of fabric that moved with them and extended down to the ground, adding texture to their dance. “It’s about the juxtaposition between the soft feminine side of women and their strong and powerful side,” explained Davies, who choreographed the piece to the song “Brand New Key” by Rasputina. The dancers were Elissa Hanson’09, a politics major in politics, Dana Fredericks ’12, a major in chemistry and engineering, and Mary Beth Edwards ’09, a French major.

The next group of dancers performed in white silk pants with wide bottoms that moved in the air, and had long ties attached to their waists. The dance was choreographed by Sophie Xiong ’10, an East Asian languages major, to the Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” “Joni Mitchell never divulged what exactly “Blue” was about,” said Xiong. “So I created my dance out of a vague nothing, the not-necessarily-sad but empty feeling one gets on Sunday nights when the week is about to start again, and you feel tired but rich.” The dancers were A’rese Emokpae ’10, a major in studio art, Galina Yudovich ’09, an English major and Victoria Dickerson ’12.

Isaiah Goodman ’09, captain of the W&L basketball team and a business major, performed a dance he choreographed himself. Wearing his basketball uniform, Goodman bounced a basketball against the wall in a series of movements that was a combination of dance and sports. “I wanted to involve basketball in my piece because I knew I would have fun doing it, but the dance also demonstrates the hard work needed for both dance and basketball,” said Goodman. The dance was performed to “Second Coming” by Juelz Santanta and “Freestyle” by Africa Bambataa.

A trio of dancers then performed a love song choreographed by Kenneth Hopkins ’10, a business major, to the song “So High” by John Legend. “It is a love song about a man that has fallen completely in love and wants to show his new love everything,” said Hopkins. Adding a new twist, Hopkins surprised the audience by changing his rigging partway through the performance to dance backwards facing the audience. Joining Hopkins on the wall were Emily Wallace ’09, an art history major, and Hanson.

One of the most powerful and energetic dances was performed by David Doobin ’11, a pre-med major, and Fredericks, to the music “Battlefield” by Cirque Du Soleil. Doobin said his choreography was inspired by “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and he used plenty of horizontal movement to make full use of the space the wall provided. “We wanted to use hand-to-hand combat and broad, sweeping battle effects and martial arts elements,” he said, “to explore conflict and the inevitable consequences.”

A dance with a cabaret feel came next, with the dancers wearing long frilly skirts in different colors. Choreographed by Wallace to the music “Spotlight (Into Twilight)” by Mute Math, it combined sharp hand movements with graceful flips, jumps and runs. Wallace said the smaller hand movements were designed to contrast with the more grandiose, sustained movements. “Aerial dance is a progressive form of performance art and is the dance of the future. So I wanted to maintain a futuristic effect in both the movements and the costumes,” said Wallace. The dancers were Margaret Ward ’09, a business major, Edwards and Xiong.

The aerial dance performance was rounded out by a lighthearted improvised dance at the end featuring the music “Brandinburg” by Black Violin. Dancers were Fredericks, Hanson, Xiong, Doobin, Wallace, Dickerson and Edwards.

The aerial dance project was made possible by a $7,000 Mellon Grant from the Associated Colleges of the South.