Columbia and Barnard students who have been rehearsing repertoire by dance icons Andrea Miller, Twyla Tharp, and Robert LaFosse will perform for their peers at Miller Theatre this weekend.
With two premieres, three works from the 21st century, and three original variations based off of Martha Graham’s iconic solo, “Lamentation,” the program not only pays homage to dance’s past but also pushes toward its future.
The dance department’s showcase gives aspiring dancers the opportunity to learn from acclaimed choreographers and try out diverse styles of movement. The variety of aesthetics, from ballet to improvisation, provides a venue for undergraduates to immerse themselves in new methods that challenge and enhance their knowledge of the language of dance.
The new ballet, “Concerto for Mr. B,” by LaFosse, a Barnard lecturer and instructor, is an ode to George Balanchine. Bach’s “Concerto for Oboe, Violin, and Strings in D minor” accompanies 11 dancers in an allusion to Balanchine’s own “Concerto Barocco,” which was also first crafted for students. Because LaFosse spent much of his career as a principal with the New York City Ballet, he is familiar with Balanchine’s vocabulary and is using it to honor the choreographer’s legacy.
“This piece is basically everything I know, everything I learned, from dancing and watching Mr. Balanchine’s choreography,” LaFosse said.
Andrea Miller, a Guggenheim fellow and founder of Gallim Dance, is staging a premiere in the Gaga technique, adding a new voice to the mix. Within her piece, she includes set choreography and improvisation games so that the dynamic is constantly changing and evolving.
“It’s really been a very cool and invaluable opportunity to learn this style of dance and movement that otherwise we would not get an opportunity to learn,” Dan Pahl, CC ’14, said.
Repetiteurs Rika Okamoto and Alexander Brady have set Barnard alumna Twyla Tharp’s “A Treefrog in Stonehenge” for its New York City debut. Tharp created “A Treefrog in Stonehenge” by using Okamoto and Brady as stand-ins for all of the parts and marking specific movements on a grid to keep track of where each dancer should be in space at a given moment. The score by David Kahne was composed with Tharp’s notations in mind and only after the motions were fully conceived. While Tharp has visited rehearsals several times, Okamoto and Brady have been primarily responsible for bringing her vision to Barnard.
“What’s nice about working with students is … their enthusiasm and their commitment,” Brady said. “They’re just ready to go, and when they’re in the room, they’re there 100 percent.”
Four students who participated in Barnard’s Ensemble Dance Repertory course have put their own spins on Martha Graham’s “Lamentation,” and three of them will demonstrate their variations at each performance. The emotionally and physically trying solo demands maturity, and the performers were chosen from the composition class because of their strength and depth.
“It is highly unusual for us to feature student works, … so you can imagine that the level of these dancers’ work has to be very, very high in order to have been placed on the program,” Katie Glasner, co-chair of the dance department said.
Barnard/Columbia Dances at Miller is the ambitious culmination of hours practicing and perfecting complicated repertory, and it grants students a setting to share their passions with their colleagues at Columbia.
“It’s just a very exciting lineup, and I think it’s cool that we have the opportunity to perform them [the works] and that students have the opportunity to see their peers performing professional choreographers’ work,” said Pahl.
“Performing is an incredibly powerful but fragile experience because you put everything into it in terms of the rehearsal process, and then you present what you’ve been working on as a reflection of not only an artist’s work, but, in this case, the college’s work, the department’s work,” Glasner said. “What we value is going to be on the stage at Miller Theatre on Friday and Saturday.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Robert LaFosse’s piece as “Hold the Air.” It is actually called “Concerto for Mr. B.” Additionally, Rika Okamoto and Alexander Brady are repetiteurs, not repitores as they were identified in an earlier version of this article. Spectator regrets the errors.