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Harvey Wilhelm
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Tech, bio and movement merge in “Salt Marsh Suite”

This week from Thursday to Sunday, the Grinnell College Dance Ensemble/ACTivate will perform “Salt Marsh Suite,” an ode to the beauty of the natural environment. The production is directed by Assistant Professor Celeste Miller, theater and dance, with production design by Carol Burch-Brown and tap choreography by Ann Kilkelly, both guest artists and frequent co-collaborators with Miller.

“Salt Marsh Suite” uses a series of large, moveable screens to separate the Flanagan Theater into four sections, creating a completely different experience for audience members de- pending on where they sit. Through- out the piece are screens filled with projections of South Carolina marsh- life filmed by Burch-Brown.

“All of the materials and the sound and everything was collected from this one location, a little piece of marsh that’s not that big, but is just full of all kinds of cool stuff,” said Burch-Brown.

Throughout the different sections of “Salt Marsh Suite,” the projections on the screens will change to reflect the idea that is being portrayed through each movement.

The data projection components of the production drives forward the meaning of the suite but serves as an additional performer in the piece.

“It’s not like having an artistic idea and using technology to deliver it,” Burch-Brown said. “The technology is part of the actual piece itself at a deeper level.”

“Salt Marsh Suite” is comprised of an introduction focused on the tidal currents, and five subsequent suites: water, mud, crabs, birds and grasses. During each suite, the dancers em- body the movements of the represent- ed creature or part of nature.

“[Miller and I] didn’t want to imitate the crabs … There’s always a human or animal or fauna aura, and I think that that’s what brings it together,” said Kilkelly.

The utilization of natural elements through both visual and em- bodied movement conveys the creators’ love and respect for nature.

“Making a piece like this that has to do with how beautiful that environment is and how, when people connect through an environment through love, then they understand at a pro- found level how important is it to take care of it,” Burch-Brown said.

Before coming to Grinnell, “Salt Marsh Suite” was performed at numerous locations around the country.

“It’s been performed at Virginia Tech University, the Roanoke Muse- um of Art, the Smithsonian and Pied- mont Art Center, and, as we’ve per- formed it, I thought about how great it would be to bring it to Grinnell so that the cast would get to be dance ensemble,” said Miller.

The show also serves as a continuation of Miller’s curricular work.

“This show is really exciting be- cause it really culminates in a lot of work that has already happened. [Miller] had a seminar in the fall that was based on a MAP called ‘Embodied Experiences,’ which was really an exploration on how we dance with our environment and what that means and how that changes our awareness of the environment,” said Naomi Worob ’19, who was enrolled in the seminar.

The Grinnell production features some changes from the original performance. While the original production was made for around eight dancers, the Grinnell Dance Ensemble has twenty-one dancers, making it possible to have a more intricate performance at Grinnell.

“[Kilkelly] has a tap solo in the original work, and my tides piece is a solo, so we’ve taken both of those so- los and made them for a larger number of dancers,” Miller added.

The student performers expressed great excitement about the piece.

“[I]t’s really cool how it’s a slow- er and more meditative production, and it really makes you think about each individual movement before, and that’s something that I really appreciated,” said Lucid Thomas ’19.

“Salt Marsh Suite” will be per- formed twice a day on Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. in the Flanagan Theater.

Dancers embody birds in the fifth movement of “Salt Marsh Suite.” Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

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