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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Dancers sighted all over campus

From Thursday to Tuesday, a group of dancers moved across campus, surprising, pleasing, and confusing both passers-by and intentional observers. The fluid execution of the dancers’ modern choreography, coupled with the unconventional venues–they performed pretty much anywhere on campus–challenged prevailing ideas about the nature of a dance performance.
The Grinnell College Dance Troupe, a dance company with seven student dancers, focused on this challenge in their semester-long project “Sightings.” As a weeklong series of short dances, “Sightings” was comprised of three different pieces, “Transparent Dwellings,” “Seeing Through Walls,” and “We Waited All Winter” that took place in various locations around the College campus.
Shawn Womack, Theatre, explained that as a site-specific project, “Sightings” took dance out of traditional stage settings and put it into familiar places. The dances were choreographed specifically for the selected spaces in an effort to explore and re-examine the campus through dance.
“I think institutionally, sometimes, dance is perceived [as] compartmentalized,” Womack said. “It’s understood to do certain things in particular ways. By taking it off the stage and into our everyday world we begin to see many more possibilities of what dance and choreography can do.”
The first performance, “Transparent Dwellings,” choreographed by Kathleen Hurley, Lecturer in Theatre, was a mobile piece that began in the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts and ended inside the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center (JRC). Dancers ran both forwards and backwards, leapt in the air, slammed doors, and more as spectators trailed behind to watch the performance.
“We were really just trying to pay attention to the different elements of architecture and play off of those in a way that makes a dance,” said Eleanor Nelson ’10, a member of the Troupe.
Another piece, “Seeing Through Walls,” choreographed by Womack, was a meditative piece that took place in the elbow of the Noyce Science Center. The elbow’s glass windows and crisscrossing white beams created an interesting visual effect for the audience, who watched the piece from the courtyard, the hallway, and various windows. Choreographically, the work consisted of dancers in white jumpsuits who slithered, balanced, and knelt on the windows’ metal beams.
“I was surprised to see people dancing in the windows, then I saw that they were actually coordinated in their movements,” said Joe Sinnwell ’12, who caught the performance while studying in the elbow. “I liked the location; it’s an interesting spot to do a dance performance. I’ve always wanted to do that, like climb all over those windows.”
Nelson explained that part of the goal of the piece was to work with and then change the area that the students danced in.
“We spent a lot of time exploring the space,” Nelson said. “We concentrated on movements that made ourselves feel at home in the space and then movements that agitated the space.”
Dance Troupe performed their last piece, “We Waited All Winter,” choreographed by Sandra Mathern-Smith, Associate Professor of Dance at Denison University, on the south side of the JRC. This final piece was accompanied by a video compilation of the Dance Troupe’s rehearsals, edited by Daniel Agostino ’13. The film component was projected on white screens stretched across the open spaces behind the live dancers.
“We’re dancing with ourselves in a way,” Nelson said.
Meanwhile, students, faculty, and staff gathered around to watch, mesmerized by the dancers’ curious movements.
“We didn’t want the video to completely capture the attention of the audience,” Agostino said. “I tried to play with a lot of colors and played with time. I had to think of the video as this negative space behind the dancers.”
Because the video component included clips from the pieces in “Sightings,” the final performance had the effect of bringing together all of the dances in the series into one cohesive show. The combination also reflected the function of the JRC as a central location on campus.
The week’s performances signaled the end of the site-specific project for Dance Troupe, though the dancers have been performing, in a way, throughout the entire semester. The troupe practiced in public spaces during rehearsals, such as the JRC, Alumni Recitation Hall, and Noyce, in order to explore the buildings’ architecture and campus spaces, as well as to prepare for the final work.
“[Site-specific dance] blurs a number of lines,” Womack said. “It blurs the line between performance and rehearsal, it blurs the line between performer and viewer, everyday activities and theatrical activities, when they brush up against each other in that way. It challenges a lot of boundaries.”

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