This weekend, Andover Dance Group will take audience members on a psychedelic jour- ney back to the seventies with their Spring term dance produc- tion “Physical Graffiti,” featuring an array of contemporary dances to the music of the iconic band, Led Zeppelin.
The desire to choreograph to Led Zeppelin’s music served as the inspiration for choreog- raphers Erin Strong and Judith Wombwell, Instructors in The- ater and Dance, who also titled the show “Physical Graffiti” after a Led Zepplin album. “It is so much about Led Zep-plin’s music that we’re dancing to, and not just having it be com- plementary in the background, but actually have [the music] be a big part of what we’re doing and expressing,” said Sumi Mat- sumoto ’11, captain of Andover Dance Group.
In addition to choreography by Strong and Wombwell, the show also incorporates routines by student choreographers Juliana Brandano ’12, Amber Quinones ’11 and Jenny Zhou ’11.
The show sets out on a different path than previous dance productions as Physical Graffiti does not follow a set plot or story line but rather takes the audience on a journey, immersing them in the legendary music of Led Zeppelin.
“We’re trying to embody the essence of Led Zepplin’s music,” said Strong, “Even though it’s rock music, and there’s not a rock style dance, rock music allowed us to say ‘we can do whatever we want with it,’ which in its essence is what modern dance is about.”
While the dances may be classified overall as modern dance or contemporary pieces, the production encompasses a wide range of styles, including hip hop and tap.
“I always think of the word psychedelic or retro. It’s very freelance dancing, and a very different style than what Andover Dance Group usually does,” said Zhou.
Matsumoto serves as Physical Graffiti’s central figure. At the start of the production, she falls asleep next to her record player, immersing herself and the audience in the music.
“If you wanted to listen to music [in the past], you sat down and experienced the music,” said Strong.
“That’s the idea with Sumi, she starts with this record player, and gets brought into a dream, with what the music is harkening into her, what images are coming into her subconscious that the music makes you think about,” she continued.
Within this dream sequence, dancers embody Led Zeppelin’s music through strong, energetic movements, while their gestures explode with the rhythm.
Dramatic lighting and interjections of intense yellow beams both illuminate and mask dancers in glows and shadows.
In “Black Dog,” which features selections of choreography by Zhou, Hector Kilgoe ’11 captures the essence of the music when he essentially becomes a rock star, powerfully flinging female dancers over his head.
A shimmering white cloth serves as a central motif to the piece “No Quarter,” where it ripples and encases dancers and their mystical movements within, literally and figuratively placing the dancers in Matsumoto’s dreams.
On the black cloths suspended above the stage, light projections also amplify the magnitude of the dream, casting an array of lights and shadows swirling around the dancers.
“I came up with an idea of a graphic, so it’s a projection that’s actually going to be happening live, with Cassie Coravos [’11’s] drawing. It’s really exciting,” said Wombwell.
In a pivotal number, “Kashmir,” the entire group comes together with spirited movement. As they move with hard steps and dynamic struts across the stage, orienting themselves in and out of circles, they showcase Quinones’s expressive hip hop routine.
Towards the end of the song, all of the dancers form a large circle, with Graham Johns ’14, Kilgoe, Matsumoto and Taichi Yokoyama ’12 in the center, dancing in unison with taps and thumps against the ground that intensify the rhythms of the music.
“The steps combined with the formations create an interesting aspect that is pretty difficult, and looks and comes across as more so interesting and more so effortless [than they] may seem,” said Johns.
At the culmination of “Kashmir,” Matsumoto is lifted into the air and balances gracefully in the arms of Johns, Kilgoe and Yokoyama, symbolizing the end point of the dream.
“[The dances] are a lot more breathy and urban earthy kind of moves, and it’s incorporating a lot of the psychedelic disco nature of the seventies,” said Supriya Jain ’12.
To better embody the feeling and environment of Led Zeppelin, dancers will be donning funky tie dye t-shirts and jeans.
“We’re hopefully dancing in our jeans, so it’s going to seem a lot more street and informal, a lot more casual and fun, and not just like the performers are up on stage in costumes and the audience are sitting,” said Matsumoto.
Physical Graffiti almost becomes a direct interaction between audience and dancers through its unusual stage set up.
“We’re working with a downstage section and a platform behind it that’s about a foot and a half raised, so you have these different levels and you can really use that in a way to design two separate ideas within the same dance, which is really cool,” said Matsumoto.
Throughout the production, dancers move with powerful motions between the two levels of the stage.
“It’s hard to be on stage and be off, and make sure you’re okay with the blocking. It’s really exciting and we make a really good use of the space, but it’s a just a really different set up,” said Jain.
“We’re so close to the audience so I would hope the audience reacts and responds with us. It will be nice to have that connection not just in distance, but also a real emotional connection,” Jain continued.
After showing for two weekends at Phillips Academy, Physical Graffiti is set to go on tour with this term’s Theater 520 production, Hot Grog, at The Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“The Fringe Festival is about cutting edge material and we wanted something that would be cutting edge, draw a big audience, and be one cohesive dance and [Phyiscal Graffiti] is exactly the type of thing that will create excitement at the Fringe festival,” said Strong.
“I’ve never seen [the dancers] so engaged in it and so excited about a show before, it’s really every single one of them and it’s quite amazing,” she continued.
With such energy and incorporation of the legendary music by Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti is definitely a production relatable to everyone and is sure to end this year’s theater and dance program on a high and impressive note.