Phillipian Arts Previews… Appalachian Spring And Other Dances

This weekend, the Andover Dance Group will spin a story through movement and color in the Fall term dance production, “Appalachian Spring and Other Dances,” directed by Judith Wombwell, Instructor in Theatre and Dance. Student musicians led by Christopher Walter, Instrctor in Music, set the tone for this masterpiece of modern dance. The show departs from tradition with an original take on the ballet first choreographed by Martha Graham in the 1940s to a commissioned orchestral suite by Aaron Copland. Using the same music, Wombwell created a new storyline of union and parting more relatable to the Andover community than the original plot. Three pieces prelude “Appalachian Spring,” offering a sampling of different moods and musical styles. Pastel lights and haunting marimba music played by Kelly Stathis ’12 create an eerie calm dreamscape for the first piece, “Haze.” Noel Um ’12 and Madeleine Kim ’12 emerge in mottled flowing dresses and dance in unison, often balancing en pointe. The two dancers sit as Rochelle Wilbun ’13 and Graham Johns ’14 take the stage and dance as a duo, then the four dance together as piano chords take over. The dancers create an atmosphere of magic and mystery that captivates the viewer. Next Carolyn Whittingham ’11 and Carolyn Harmeling ’11 perform In “Negative Space,” a somber piece set to Brahms. The dancers come together and separate, often creating interesting shapes in the space between them. Maddie Tucker ’11 plays a poignant cello solo. Lightening the mood, Sophie Gould ’11, Juliana Brandano ’12, Jenny Zhou ’11 and Amber Quinones ’11 perform a humorous number filled with exagerated expression. The piece, set to “La Valse” by Ravel tells the humorous story of four women competing for the spotlight, sometimes going so far as to push and shove. Each dancer displays a distinct style of movement during her time to shine. Paul Noh ’12 and David Lim ’12 match the exuberance of the dancers with a fast-paced piano part for four hands. “Seeing the work that I put into the music part match up with the dance is really exciting. It’s really cool how it all goes together,” said Noh. When the curtains open next, the stage has transformed into a softly lit spring scene for the main performance, “Appalachian Spring.” Curly metal trees stand at either side of the stage. In back, slanted platforms rise to a point in the middle, creating layers of dimension. Almost like a play, the piece focuses on characters and their relationships. Georgia Pelletier ’11 plays ‘Her,’ the female lead who falls in love with ‘Him’ (Hector Kilgoe ’11). The two decide to marry and ‘Her’ must leave her family and friends. One friend (Sumi Matsumoto ’10) becomes particularly angry, but by the end of the dance she accepts her friend’s decision and celebrates at the wedding scene. In the opening, five dancers dressed in petal-colored silk, the friends of ‘Her,’ form a circle, which they gradually open upward like a flower blooming. ‘Her’ appears and dances with her friends as violins play lightly. Suddenly the music becomes more upbeat and ‘Him’ leaps onto the stage. The lovers dance as the rest of the dancers come on stage. The dance is filled with lively interactions between all of the members of the community- family, friends and neighbors. In one scene, two long, shimmering fabric ribbons encircle the whole cast. ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ attach them to a bar that carries them dramatically to the ceiling. Wombwell carefully considered color and shape to help convey themes. The soft shades of the dancers’ costumes reflect springtime and nature. ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ wear bolder red to stand out. The stage design contains bud shapes, one formed by the ribbons from the ceiling and one by the rounded platform projecting from the stage in front of the orchestra. Rapid changes in mood engage the viewer in the story. After some celebratory scenes, ominous chords announce approaching conflict. Dancing becomes faster and more agitated. ‘Her’ struggles to settle the tension over her leaving. The harmonious tone is restored with a tune many audience members will reckognize as the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.” The dance culminates in a joyful wedding scene. ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ tie a knot in the fabric ribbons encircling the stage to represent their union. “The entire dance is like a ritual. Our marriage is more symbolic than anything,” said Pelletier. “It’s all really relatable. There’s one scene where I leave my family because I’m supposed to go off and get married, and Ms. Wombwell kept saying, ‘Oh this should come easy to you, its just like you going to boarding school.’ ” Jenny Zhou ’11 said, “Ms. Wombwell did a fantastic job really making this so pertinent a topic to us as Andover students. We are in so many ways a big family, and every year when the class of seniors graduates, it feels like such an integral part of the community is leaving us.” “It’s difficult, but as my role as a friend in the dance, I think in the end, the community lives on, with the memory of those who have left,” she continued. Though the dancers make creating a cohesive community onstage look easy, months of rigorous individual preparation as well as group work went into the production. Brianna Barros ’12 said, “We had a lot of individual rehearsals, which is funny because when you look at a piece like this, you think they probably all rehearsed together. Then we all slowly pieced it together, like a puzzle.” Zhou said, “Moving the platforms is always funny, because Ms. Wombwell tells us we have to look pretty when we are doing it, but really you are just hoping they don’t fall into the pit!” To portray the story, dancers had to become actors, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for more personal expression. Kilgoe said, “I guess it’s about expression in relation to other characters. It’s about having a light expression at certain points and maybe a smug smirk at other points. I guess ‘becoming’ my character is really about setting the mood for the performance rather than becoming someone new.” Barros said, “It helps to look at your costume before, and Ms. Wombwell showed us a lot of what the stage layout would be, so you could see yourself as one person in the entire picture and then work from there.” Walter, who conducted the musicians in the pit for “Appalachian Spring,” said, “I suggested the piece originally because it’s both wonderful music on its own, but also justly famous as a ballet.” “Copland’s original version called for just 13 players…I felt that we had the talent this year to have students play all the parts. Every one of the players is crucial.” He added that the piece, with its frequent changes of mood and tempo, is very challenging. “It’s been a joy to work on it with such a great group of student musicians,” Walter said. The quality of dancers brought Wombwell’s vision to life. She said, “These guys are the best. They really are. Each year I’m surprised at how much stronger the group grows. We will always have a few standout dancers, but the cohesion of the group is especially impressive.” The combination of virtuosic performers and skillful dancers is sure to make the performance a memorable finale to fall term.