Cultivated: A Dance Show With Many Styles but One Goodbye

During this past weekend’s production of Cultivated, audience members embarked on a journey through dance styles. With a mix of teacher and student choreography, the show brought together contemporary, modern, ballet, and Chinese dance styles, resulting in a truly unique final product. This variety of pieces demonstrated the breadth of the Andover dance department and allowed dancers from all corners to participate. One of the performers in the show, Alex Giarnese ’25, speaks to how the title “Cultivated” encapsulated the show’s essence.

“The theme of the dance show was chosen as Cultivated because it really features a range of styles and a range of different types of expressions and different ways of expressing dance. For example, we had traditional chinese dance, we had classical ballet, we had more modern, and we had a little bit of jazz, modern, and contemporary with Mia Pao[’24]’s 902. You really got a little bit of everything which I thought was really awesome and I think that’s why it was called cultivated because we were really fostering a space for all types of dancers to grow and perform,” said Giarnese.

As Giarnese mentioned, one of the key parts of the show was the 902 directed by Pao. Through this independent project she was tasked with creating 8-10 minutes of original choreography and setting it on a group of dancers. Given control over the choreography, song choices, music, and costumes, she began formulating her creative vision at the beginning of spring term. Pao shares her process of embarking on this project.

“My idea was really based on the songs because I picked the songs first. Specifically ‘False Confidence’ by Noah Kahan was the first song that I picked and the lyrics are about being insecure and putting up a front that doesn’t represent your authentic self and kind of being stuck in an unhealthy mindset, and I based the theme off of that,” said Pao.

While Pao’s dances were centered around the idea of identity, there were similar themes present in two other pieces within the show; a solo and a duet. Choreographed by Judith Wombwell, “Beauty,” performed by Eliza Francis ’26, and the duet, “Shed,” performed by Adele Ciociola ’25 and Jacqueline Gordon ’25 dealt with ideas of self-acceptance and loss. Audience member Michael Ma ’24 shared how these pieces were very emotionally driven.

“Ms. [Judith] Wombwell, [Instructor in Theatre and Dance]’s pieces I thought were really touching. It was made all the more deep by the fact that this is her last year and I thought it was just so creative with the use of the cloth and the visuals of the projections. I also thought Adele and Jac just did such a wonderful job interpreting the choreography and creating a really hard-hitting and creative piece that I’d never seen before,” said Ma.

The final dance of the “Cultivated” show was a Horton piece choreographed by Kareem Lewis, Instructor in Theatre and Dance. The choice to make this piece uplifting rather than serious, acts as another tribute to Ms. Wombwell. Giarnese shares how the dance represented the positivity that she has brought to the dance community in her past 30 years at Andover.

“With the group piece we were really going for a more upbeat full circle moment because it was the closing piece of Ms. Wombwell’s last show in the dance department and so I think Mr. Lewis was really trying to convey happiness and joy which was something that Ms. Wombwell really committed herself to. I think Mr. Lewis was trying to do that through our piece to make our closing a very full circle moment,” said Giarnese.

Following the dances, a video in honor of Wombwell was projected onto the backdrop. Featuring both past and present dancers, the video really captured Wombwell’s lasting impact on the dance department. Giarnese shared how this video impacted him personally. 

“Overall, my favorite moment of the show was definitely on Saturday night when we got to show Ms. Wombwell the video of all the dancers telling her how much they love her and how much they appreciate her and how much they are going to miss her. I think that was a really beautiful tribute to Ms. Wombwell and it just really showed how much the dance department truly cares about her and is truly going to miss her essence and her presence in the dance department,” said Giarnese.