Dance Open: Beyond Words

Technical light shows and elaborate clothing enhanced the power and passion of the pirouetting, leaping and spinning dancers that took to the stage during the Phillips Academy Dance Open. The annual event, held last Friday and Saturday nights in Tang Theater, was a breathtaking testament to the quality of student creativity in the arts. Unlike the other two major dance presentations during the year, the Dance Open is unique in that it is completely student-run. The theme of the event, “Beyond Words,” alluded to world-famous vocalist Bobby McFerrin’s recent album. Mikaela Sanders ’08, this year’s student director, chose to base the Dance Open on the album. Sanders wrote a brief introduction to the Dance Open in the program: “To me, ‘Beyond Words’ is not only a spectacular album, but also an ideal philosophy for dance, since dance is about expressing universal emotions without resorting to verbal explanation.” The Dance Open included 17 student-choreographed pieces, ranging from tap and jazz to modern and ballet. Additionally, Sanders choreographed four interludes, which were interspersed throughout. All three established dance groups (Blue Strut, Hypnotiq, SLAM) and independent dancers performed self-choreographed pieces, giving the Dance Open a depth and richness unequaled in many other venues. Faculty mentor and Instructor in Dance Erin Strong said, “The Dance Open’s focus is the students’ creative voices. It is about their work, their ideas, their voices. I am simply here to help them express those ideas and voices in an effective, clear manner.” She added, “I love that this show is about the students and their personal styles of dance, whether it be a traditional form or a form they create themselves. It is truly open to all, and that is perhaps the show’s biggest appeal and strongest asset.” This year, ethnic music and a variety of genres proved to be integral aspects of upholding the theme and relating to McFerrin’s album. Ironically, the myriad dance styles united the event and the mingling of more “classic” modes and unexpected dances kept the Dance Open fresh and interesting. The performances included a native Korean choreography, a portrayal of dolls dancing to Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” and an Arabian Waltz, among many others. Sanders said, “In this year’s Dance Open, we had a wide variety of dance styles, including jazz, tap, step, hip-hop, ballet and modern dance. Also, every single choreographer had their own artistic vision, which was clear because all of the dances were so different from each other. I think that every choreographer accomplished what they set out to do with their dance—the pieces were all so polished and they left the audience with a strong awareness of what each dance was about.” The general consensus of the audience illustrated the success of the event. Alice Conant ’09 said “My favorite performances were probably Lollipop or SLAM. I loved the satire and wit of Lollipop, and SLAM’s funky work-out theme gave the night so much energy! Overall, it was a very enjoyable night.” Maura Tousignant ’08 was involved with several pieces in the Dance Open. The driving forces of dance fusion and ethnic influences behind her dances emulated the theme of the night. Tousignant said, “I chose Tamacun for my solo because I wanted to incorporate Latin influences into a modern piece. ‘Oh Timbaland’ was a good choice for Hypnotiq because we [the co-heads] wanted to experiment with our choreography: the unique sound of the song fit with our ideas.” Aside from the usual appearances by established groups and dancers, the Dance Open was an excellent venue to showcase new talent. For example, one of the more unpredictable performances was choreographed by Evan Hawk ’08 and Ben Laccetti ’08 to Mika’s “Lollipop.” The dance was a playful, “sweet and spicy” rendition of jealousy in love. Laccetti said, “Well, Evan and I have done a lot of weird stuff over the years. From our shenanigans at Abbot Cabaret to our dance battles in Ryley, we decided we needed one last hoorah. So, we turned to Mika.” The second dance of the night also put an interesting spin on the term “classic.” Katie Fanikos ’10 and Kristina Rex ’10 choreographed a tap routine to “Get Ur Freak On” by Missy Elliott—a rather unconventional choice. Rex said, “We wanted a song that was really fun and one that would be easy to accompany different types of dance—jazz, tap and hip-hop.” Fanikos added, “Being choreographers, we had to take some risks—it was like the task of giving a great performance was in our hands. It was up to us to make our performance and dance the best it could be, and this is definitely a feeling I’ve never had before.” Strong said, “I like to add my two cents in here and there to help push the students to try new things, see dance in a new light and overall develop as articulate artists. I consider this process as an avenue for the choreographers to find their unique creative voice. I see all dance as a universal form of expression. What I hope the students achieve through the Dance Open process is an understanding of how to effectively use this universal form to communicate their ideas.” She continued, “This year’s show was a marvelous success. Their endless dedication to their work resulted in a diverse, engaging and overall enjoyable show. I am so proud of the growth they have made as artists.”