Sandswept desert scenes and improvisational dance created an awe-inspiring atmosphere in Tang Theater last Friday and Saturday during Andover Dance Group’s performance of Earthworks, a longtime project by dance instructor Judith Wombwell. Inspiration for the show came from natural phenomena in the Western United States, where Wombwell traveled in 2000 on a Kenan Grant to create improvisational dances. Sights she visited included Death Valley, Monument Valley, the Petrified Forest and the Bristlecone Pine Forest. Wombwell choreographed the first performance of Earthworks in the winter of 2001. “I’ve been thinking about it ever since,” said Wombwell. “Now with computers and projections, I came to realize that it would be wonderful to create a full projection atmosphere, to try to create the desert landscape here on stage.” This year’s revival of Earthworks used a similar style of movement to the original but included multimedia backdrops of the sights that inspired Wombwell. It was set to the music “Grand Piniola,” composed by John Adams. The rumbling of water announced the start of the show’s prelude, a dance set to a video montage of a brook with no other music but the natural noises. The movement of the two dancers onstage, a combination of slow turns and sudden leaps, captured the life and constantly changing energy of the water. The background transitioned into desert images and screens dropped to the stage like columns of sand. Dancers emerged wearing ombré orange leotards and ran gracefully in and out of the screens. As the music progressed, the imagery changed to stunning rock formations and twisting branches. Dancers in other colored leotards appeared in phases. The uninhibited style of dance embraced form and motion that exists in nature but aimed at capturing emotion rather than purely imitating. Describing the effect of the movement, Wombwell said, “It’s not so much visual as what I feel like when I’m in those places.” “Grand Piniola” evolved constantly, switching to a new theme as soon as the one before seemed to be reaching a climax. Wombwell said, “I’ve always been drawn to this piece of music because it begins so oddly and then arrives at a melody, like almost a folk tune in the middle of it.” During the melodic section, all of the dancers shared the stage at once in a formal pyramid formation. As suddenly as they gained this order, the dancers dispersed once more into groups performing different motions. The postlude to the dance was a video of the movements Wombwell had improvised while in the desert landscapes. “[Improvisation is] like an exploration. It’s really amazing when you let yourself do it. You’re discovering all of this movement that if you tried to think of, you would never think of. It’s just coming out of you,” said Wombwell. Wombwell did not have trouble translating landscapes into movement. “Even things that are big, like the monuments, they’re there because they were eroded somehow, so I guess I was thinking about movement all along. Movement is shapes connected, so in that way I never really got a sense of stillness,” said Wombwell. The dancers enjoyed diving into an uncommon form of dance and learning the impressive piece of music, but they had to overcome initial obstacles. “It’s really confusing to count to the music. It’s in sixes, then it transfers into eights fours and then twelves, so the way we interpret it is really in counting groups of sixes. You have to memorize what numbers you go out on,” said Georgia Pelletier ’11. Jen Chew ’10 said, “I’m used to taking on a certain character or a roll, and this was more of a visual representation of something, so I had to approach it a different way, seeing this more as artwork than as a personal story.” The culmination of a term full of rehearsals and a busy tech week made all of the dancers proud and excited. “The music is so grand and the movement is so grand, it gives you the shivers when you are standing backstage watching it,” said Supriya Jain ’12. The audience left Tang Theater impressed and inspired. Pia Aehnlich ’10 said, “I thought it was amazing, the unity between the music and the dance and the pictures. I’ve never seen anything like that before, so it was pretty cool.” Patrick Brady ’11 said, “I was very excited by the large group numbers and the swelling of the dance, and the points where we thought we were going to reach a climax and then we didn’t and they just left the stage. They run on stage, run off stage and just leave. It left me craving a huge finale. I think I’d have to go to the brook itself and to the deserts themselves to really get that ending.” Wombwell says she hopes that one day she can take dancers on a trip like the one she made in 2001. “In my dream world, ten years from now if I do Earthworks again, it will be out in the desert with students dancing and videotaping,” she said. Even if the next performance of Earthworks is not for another decade, the spectacular show will surely be worth the wait.