Blue light softly illuminates the stage as dancers leap through the air, their silhouettes twirling across the stage. As the lights dim, the group seamlessly comes together to pose in a symmetric formation. This past weekend, Andover’s Theatre and Dance Department showed off a term’s worth of practice in the “Life Itself” dance performance, which was a repertoire show that brought together pieces from four different choreographers.
With titles such as “Ode to the Weekend” and “Activating Bravery” and “Evolution of Oshun,” each piece expressed some aspect of human life and experience. Dancer Alex Giarnese ’25 established that the pieces worked together in cohesion to convey nuanced themes that could apply to and empower all audience members.
“The themes fit the title very well, especially [those about] learning to find yourself… we were expressing how life works throughout our dancing, [conveying that] you have to be strong, confident, and you have to know yourself in order to live life to the fullest,” said Giarnese.
One of the performances, “Activating Bravery and Evolution of Oshun,” framed its premise around the Yoruba River goddess Oshun, who embodies fertility and power. Choreographer Chelsea Ward, Instructor in Dance, explained that the performance was designed to empower and spark a reflection or goal of evolution within the audience.
“I feel like [Oshun] is a representation of our highest selves, like the most brave, courageous, beautiful, abundant, fantastic, kind, magnificent powerful version of ourselves and that can exist and does exist within each of us. It’s just about us activating that [and evolving] for ourselves,” said Ward.
Another piece was inspired by the pandemic. The dance’s story started from the initial isolation and social distancing of quarantine, then transitioned to a more joyous and carefree mood with mask mandates being lifted, dancers talking to each other on stage, and lively partying. Dancer Jaylen Daley ’25 expressed that many deliberate choices were made in the choreographic and song selection process to establish more depth in their performance.
“[The dance represented] the anxiety or just the stress of being indoors and away from everybody during the pandemic. The transition with the popping of the balloons [was] a metaphor for bursting that bubble, [since] now we’re finally able to go outside… Mask Off, it was a house party, that’s why it was so hectic [and] dangerous… now we’re finally able to have fun,” said Daley.
During the rehearsal process, time constraints and scheduling were challenging factors. However, according to Ms. Ward, the choreographers and the dance department always prioritized students’ well-being and found ways to work around issues in flexible ways. For example, choreographer Sallie Ann Browne, Instructor in Dance, would incorporate solos and duets into rehearsals impromptu to accommodate a lack of performers. Additionally, Ward also commented that faculty and students worked hard to enhance the show while strongly taking wellness into consideration.
“I do feel like our department worked well to prioritize student health and well-being, and I really think that was also reflected in the show too, […] when you have that level of movement, that intention, you need health for that, you need to feel strong in yourself, you need to feel well, in balance, to create something from that space of abundance, so yeah, and I think we really achieved that,” said Ward.
However, technical difficulties in the production’s Saturday performance caused it to be called off entirely while the Board of Trustees was watching its premiere. Halfway through the third number, the music was somehow jammed and could not play past a certain point, indicative of a problem with the theater’s sound network. Many dancers, including Giarnese, felt upset by the fact one of the cumulative showcases of hard work and accomplishments was left incomplete.
“I personally was very frustrated that this happened… It was extremely disappointing that a whole group of people were not able to watch us perform, especially the board of trustees. It was also upsetting that we only got to perform our dances once. However, this could have happened to anyone, so I would never be upset with our staff; it was just a very unfortunate event,” wrote Giarnese in an email to The Phillipian.
Despite the fact that its first performance was cancelled, the Sunday show of “Life Itself” was able to run without much trouble. Ward conveyed that the resilience of the dancers, coordinators, and technicians helped make sure that the show could still deliver a resounding portrayal and expression of humanity.
“We just had the most gifted [and] brilliant dancers…They did a fantastic job. I was honestly proud of the whole show; I feel like it was such a labor of love, and in each of the pieces, you can really see each of our perspectives [on life], which is why we chose the title Life Itself,” said Ward.