Faculty Dance Concert

“A child said, What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands, / How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.” These lines are just a snapshot from Walt Whitman?s poem, ?A child said, What is the grass?? However, they successfully encompass the imagination and naiveté of ?Grass,? a modern dance work performed on Thursday evening in Steinbach Theatre. Judith Wombwell, Instructor in Theater and Dance, choreographed this piece for seven dancers from Deadfall Dance, a professional dance group organized by Wombwell. The stage opened up on seven dancers clad in white outfits, which would later be juxtaposed with a series of ambiguous dark shadows. Somber music and tranquil, fluid movements quickly turned into a tender balance of solos and group work. One interesting section included the use of assorted cardboard boxes. The dancers moved, arranged and utilized them as a source for hiding and escape. Stephen Wicks, Instructor in Art, recited Whitman’s poem for the audience. The poem wound through each of the seven “sections” in “Grass,” infusing the themes from the poem into the dance itself. Wombwell said, “All of the symbols from the dance came directly from the poem,” yet the audience could interpret those themes however they liked. The dancers each said a few spoken words during the piece, emphasizing the concepts behind the dance. For this piece, Wombwell stepped out of her comfort zone and into a realm where lyrical dance meets tangible emotion. The audience could feel the vibrating tension of stillness as well as the rapid fluctuation of movement during the dance. The performance seemed like a tangible experience in which the viewer could enjoy and marvel at the artist’s perspective. It carried the audience into another world where they could quietly observe the complex intricacies of the figures and their movements. Elizabeth Goldsmith ’11 said, “I definitely saw the themes of exploring and discovering, seeking and finding and teaching and learning. I found that the layered metaphors and imagery added to the overall performance.” Contrast, dependence and coexistence were some other predominant themes in the piece. There was a lot of partnering work that emphasized the relationships between the dancers; push and pull, stop and go, need and want, fast and slow, light and dark, and collision of tenderness and passion were a few points of contrast in “Grass.” Distinct segments incorporated little details such as sharp inhales, furious arms and exaggerated movement to keep a hint of the vulnerable naïveté and wistful longing. Madeleine Kim ’12 said, “I didn’t know what to expect going into ‘Grass’, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I could see that Ms. Wombwell made a change in her choice of movements, and that made it all the more interesting.” As effortless as “Grass” looked, this breach of normalcy was not an easy feat for Wombwell. She spent six months creating this piece and working with her Deadfall dancers. Wombwell did everything from organizing a dancer retreat to drawing post-modern concepts from Merce Cunningham, a modern dance choreographer. She also worked with improvisation dance techniques and formed the soundscape- or natural, environmental background audio- for “Grass.” For the small audience in Steinbach Theatre on Thursday, Wombwell’s hard work paid off in a subtle explosion of gesticulation and emotion.