This year's December Dance Concert is particularly notable as it marks the stage debut of Bowdoin's repertory ballet program. Charlotte Griffin, assistant professor of theater and dance, was brought to Bowdoin in 2010 to expand the dance department's offerings.
It quickly became clear to Griffin that students desired a ballet course. She began by offering a combination of ballet technique and theory before offering Bowdoin's first repertory ballet class this semester, culminating in the performance of "Illuminate" in the December Dance Show.
Mary Ridley '12, a member of Dance 222, expressed her excitement at the opportunity to perform a ballet piece through Bowdoin's dance department. The department has historically offered contemporary dance courses.
"I really like Charlotte's style," said Ridley, "it's challenging, but feels good when you start to get it."
Sophomore Iris McComb, also a member of Dance 222, appreciated the performance's combination of classical ballet and modern dance—both styles she has a background in.
Ridley and McComb agreed that Griffins' piece was intended to be "regal." This effect was achieved by draping black costumes and the elegant live accompaniment.
The piece opens with a single spotlight on Ben Noyes, a Portland-based cellist. The dance is in three sections, accompanied by J.S. Bach's Suite for Cello No. 2 in D Minor.
"They have very different feels," said Ridley of the three parts. "The middle one is the most stately and sophisticated, the other two are more upbeat and energetic."
"There's a stately quality to it," Griffin agreed, explaining that she was interested in exploring the Baroque roots of classical ballet, a court-based tradition. Thus, the stage presence of the piece differs from that of contemporary dance.
"The presence for this piece is heightened but natural, we're going for something that has a sense of richness and stateliness, maybe even a little luxurious, but at the same time open and generous," Griffin said.
Because of the classical nature of "Illuminate," the audience's reception of the program's next piece was all the more comical.
Senior Lecturer in Dance Paul Sarvis had Pickard laughing from the first pantomime of "A Series of Needlessly Dramatic Events (part 2)." Amid showcasing their modern technique, Sarvis' Beginning Modern Dance class grunted, crawled, galloped, and fainted their way through a true crowd-pleaser.
The combination of modern dance and theatrics worked well for the group of beginning dancers; there was plenty of room for personal expression, such as a particularly poignant "Damn it!" amid the section involving grunting.
The show once again changed tacks when Dance 312 performed "In Our Own Hands," choreographed by Daphne McCoy, adjunct lecturer in dance. The multimedia piece featured four dancers, behind which the same quote intermittently appeared: "I place my hand in your hand so we can do together what we cannot do apart."
Driven by the quote, dancers alternated between their own spotlight or together in short-lived partnerships. The choreographed dissection of the text breathed life into an otherwise simple quote.
The music was mechanical and static before becoming richer as the dancers engaged with one another in an impressive series of partnering, such that the intended message of the quote was finally realized.
Part of the expansion that brought Griffin to Brunswick also brought Postdoctoral Fellow Nyama McCarthy-Brown to teach Afro-Contemporary dance. In choreographing "Revolution," a dance in three sections, McCarthy-Brown hoped that the performers would "draw upon their personal experiences," reflecting on "the things they want to change in the world."
The first section of "Revolution" is set to "Exodus" by Bob Marley.
It is "trying to evoke an everyday person trying to go from that state to a state of being inspired to want to act," McCarthy-Brown explained.
The second section is spoken word, an updated version of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by poet Gil Scott-Heron, who died earlier this year. The students adapted the poem to include timely references such as "the revolution won't be tweeted."
The conclusion of the piece, or the "revolution" portion as McCarthy-Brown called it, gripped the audience through concise, aggressive, upbeat dancing and background techno.
Of course, it wasn't just the physical aspects of the piece that were so moving. Dancers paused after "Exodus" to watch the screen behind them fill with images of the March on Washington, Occupy Wall Street, and the imploring eyes of starving children.
"I think we live in a time where people are so content with the life that they have...it's comfortable and convenient, and many people don't want to be inconvenienced by fighting for something," said McCarthy-Brown, adding "when you look around, there are people who need our help."
"The inner spark of spirit, that is why we do anything expressive," Griffin concluded.
The show will be performed tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Pickard Theater. Tickets are required and are available at the Information Desk in Smith Union.