Senior Lecturer in Dance Gwyneth Jones began the semester on an exciting note as a dance consultant for the play “What Happened?: The Michaels Abroad,” which opened at Frederick Loewe Theater at Hunter College on September 9.
“What Happened?: The Michaels Abroad” is a sequel to “The Michaels,” which follows Rose Michaels, a choreographer with ovarian cancer, as she converses with her daughters, niece and ex-husband. In the sequel “The Michaels Abroad,” Michaels’ daughter is in a dance residency in France, and her attempts to come home to see her sick mother are put on hold due to COVID-19. Eventually, Rose Michaels passes away from COVID-19 rather than ovarian cancer.
Both plays are hyper-realistic, centering around intimate family conversations, but dance also plays a major role. The choreography is a restaging of the work of choreographer Dan Wagoner. Jones’ connection to Dan Wagoner was one of the reasons Jones was brought onboard the project as a choreographic consultant.
“Dan Wagoner is someone that I danced with in the 1980s and the playwright, Richard Nelson, always really admired Dan Wagoner’s work,” Jones said. “He wanted to use that work because he loved it and thought that it would set the right tone … Especially in the new play, it’s a dance that’s really fun to watch—it’s very lively and some of it’s really silly.”
Although much of Wagoner’s choreography was originally created for his dance company, Jones said that she enjoyed adapting it to fit a different medium.
“It’s really rewarding to see that dance kind of repurposed inside a play, because it’s not the way it would have been done originally,” Jones said. “Plays work very differently from dance concerts, so it’s kind of amazing to see those things come together.”
Despite the rewarding nature of this work, Jones emphasized the difficulty of translating Wagoner’s choreography into the form necessary for the play.
“It was very hard to relearn stuff,” she said. “Some of it I had danced before but other things I had never danced—I knew them and seen them and loved them, but I hadn’t danced them. So to get that all back took a long time.”
As part of the process of remembering and adapting Wagoner’s choreography, Jones worked closely with two Bowdoin students over the summer—Charlotte Doughty ’23 and Isabel Petropoulos ’23.
“It was kind of trial and error with us to see what worked and what didn’t work—what we liked, what we didn’t like—just feeling it in our bodies,” Doughty said.
Jones emphasized that working with other dancers was extremely useful as she relearned the choreography.
“It really helped me to think that through by having these bodies in the space, and they were lovely to just volunteer and do it,” Jones said.
Jones also enjoyed the opportunity to revisit a dance she learned and performed when she was younger and pass it on to a new generation.
“I think one of the best parts for me was reconnecting with this dance that I’ve always loved since I was a teenager and was lucky to get the chance to do myself,” Jones said. “And now, I’m going back into that world and teaching it to young dancers, so that was really lovely and rewarding.”
In the coming semester, Jones will continue her work with Dan Wagoner’s choreography as she works with a quartet of dance students including Petropoulos and Doughty, as well as Emma Dewey ’22 and Lou Sydel ’22.