Tributes and Cell Phones: Andover Dance Group Bridges Past and Present

Cast in a dim light, five dancers slowly walked across the stage in Steinbach Theatre, meticulously pointing their toes and rolling through their feet with each step. Suddenly, a sharp ringtone pierced the music, which had been playing softly. Janice Cheon ’16, one of the dancers, answered the call enthusiastically, saying, “Hey, Herbie! How are you?”

Cheon’s greeting began “Cell Phone,” a dance number in the Andover Dance Group (ADG) show this past weekend. The show featured several group pieces choreographed by Judith Wombwell, Chair in Theatre and Dance and Director of Andover Dance Group, as well as four solo dances, two of which were student-choreographed.

Set to Radiohead’s “Sit Down. Stand Up,” “Cell Phone” confronted the role of technology in society and in social dynamics. The piece featured Anna Chang-Chien ’16, Cheon, Kailey Kirkwood ’16, Erica Nork ’16 and Alice Tang ’18. The dancers’ cell phone numbers were included on the program, so right before the dance began, Wombwell asked the audience to turn on their phones and welcomed them to call the performers and talk to them aloud during the performance. As a result, many of the dancers were talking on their cellphone while performing the choreography. One dancer ordered a pizza, another was speaking to her mother who called her from the audience and a third was taking a selfie.

Wombwell wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I first choreographed this dance several years ago – before smartphones certainly – well before I carried a cell phone. The idea was that I would create a dance that had the traditional structure of a dance – aesthetically pleasing, exciting, demonstrating the dancers abilities – but the calls would break down that structure so that the dance as choreographed is never seen.”

Another dance in the show was “Bridge,” choreographed by Wombwell and set to “Soe-pa” by Ingram Marshall. The piece featured Isabelle Bicks ’18, Alexa Goulas ’18 and Suning Wang ’18, all clad in simple black dresses. The dancers methodically opened and closed the windows of Steinbach Theatre during the dance, creating an eerie atmosphere that was further accentuated by the dark costumes and dark lighting.

The focal point of “Bridge” was a narrow bridge elevated on wheels that stood in the center of stage. Throughout the dance, the performers interacted with the bridge, dancing on it and jumping on and off it. They extended hands to one another as they walked across the bridge.

Bicks said, “We’ve been using the bridge since the first rehearsal, so we’ve kind of been practicing and maneuvering with it. When the show came, I felt kind of ready, but the bridge itself is actually pretty shaky, so that’s kind of nerve wracking. When you get up there and you have to stand on one leg or something and all of a sudden, it starts to shake–that can be a little scary.”

Later, Cheon took to the stage again to dance a solo entitled “Glass Etude,” set to “Etude No. 1” by Philip Glass and choreographed by Alexander Putko, a choreographer from Cheon’s home state of New Jersey. She moved backwards across the room in a series of tiny yet precise steps, all while staring fiercely into the audience. In one portion of the piece, she contorted her whole torso in a half spin before reversing the spin and landing back on the floor.

Cheon said, “[Putko] and I picked the music together, and he started choreographing [for] me, which was a really nice experience just because I am also a choreographer myself. But [also] to have someone choreograph a dance especially for me with my personality in mind… [this] was the first time that that happened, so it was pretty momentous and also memorable.”

The show ended with all 17 members of ADG performing “Anantya” choreographed to “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt. Dedicated to Wombwell’s mother who passed away in August, the piece explored themes of the passing of time and reflection. Throughout the dance, the performers leaned on one another, pushed and pulled each other softly and let themselves fall into each other. These fluid movements matched the melancholy tone of the song.

Nork, Co-Captain of ADG, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Like all great choreography, [‘Anantya’] went above and beyond its intended theme and created individual meanings for all its dancers. For me, the piece was about empathy, and the importance of listening to and understanding those around me. But I’m sure that every dancer has their own version of what the dance means to them.”