Senior Dances Send off Seniors and Faculty

By Jocelyn Gardner ‘17
Mental Health Columnist & Webmaster

Annie Whitford’s (PZ ‘15) thesis piece, some(body)s. Photo courtesy of Ric Feifer.

Annie Whitford’s (PZ ‘15) thesis piece, some(body)s. Photo courtesy of Ric Feifer.

On April 17 and 18, 2015, families, friends, students and faculty gathered in Garrison Auditorium to see the hard work of students and faculty from Scripps, Pitzer, Pomona and Harvey Mudd in this year’s dance show.

According to the event’s page, “Scripps Dances is the Scripps College Dance Department’s annual spring concert of original danceworks choreographed by students and faculty.” The program featured students in all roles of production: choreography and concept, dance, sound, music, stage management, props and more.

At the last show, which took place on April 18 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., excitement built as the auditorium lights dimmed and the full audience applauded. The curtain rose to reveal a glowing, blue background and a stage set with cups, and the first dance began.

This is How She... was this opening dance, and an insert in the program revealed that the dance was secretly choreographed by Professor Suchi Branfman and the dancers as a parting gift to Professor Gail Abrams, who is retiring after 29 years of service to the Scripps College Dance Department at the end of this academic year. “Only last week, when interviews from alumnae [reflecting on her impact on their lives] were added to the sound score and the dancers appeared all dressed in Gail’s old dance costumes, was the plot revealed,” the program read.

Four dancers emulated the recognizable movements of their professor in their nontraditional dance, and the voiceovers featuring the alumnae played throughout the  performance.
The next dance was student-choreographed Re Bina, which featured a stage set as a lively club or restaurant with warm, neon lighting. The scene began with dancers dressed in fancy clothing acting as patrons and transitioned into an upbeat dance to a strong, percussive beat, then ended in a way similar to the beginning. This piece was choreographed by Pitzer junior Stella Hoft.

The next dance, This is home., was part of a senior thesis. The sound featured interviews in different languages of immigrants to the U.S. According to Scripps senior Michelle Nagler’s project statement, “This is home. is an exploratory abstract dance work that investigates the merging of dance with stories and themes of immigration … the piece unravels layers of complexity. Recurring movement motifs include the navigation of […] vulnerability, steering through the unknown, […] self-discovery, success or failure in communication, and the presence or absence of support and camaraderie.” The dance--which included very modern moves such as shouting, shaking, rolling and writhing-- was created to be abstract with no explicit message, leaving viewers to interpret the emotions conveyed in the varied movements of the dancers.

Me and My contrasted with the previous dances. Featuring a spotlight and a single dancer, Annie Whitford (PZ ’15), who also choreographed the dance, the dance made use of the way the light cast shadows of the dancer on the wall and left some areas in darkness. The dancer moved in and out of the shadow, up and down stage, completing a wide variety of movements similar to those in the previous dance. The shadow grew larger or smaller, darker and lighter, and was just as much a presence onstage as was Whitford herself.

Some(body)s was the performance aspect of a senior thesis about “resistance and acceptance within sites of institutionalization, dehumanization and confinement.” The somber mood and use of the contrast between individuals, pairs and groups of austerely-clad dancers, plus the tension in the music, created an intense atmosphere consistent with the themes described by Annie Whitford in her statement. The lighting and use of chairs and mats added to the aggressive yet fluid and synchronized dance, which ended with the dancers standing on said chairs facing away from the audience.

After a brief intermission, the lighthearted mood of Suit Up lifted the heavy mood set by Some(body)s with its mix of light colors, airy costumes and graceful movements. There was also a mix of dance movements miming a morning routine of applying makeup, changing, stretching and looking in the mirror. This dance was not merely about aesthetics, however; Scripps senior Christiana Ho poses the following questions in her thesis statement: “What is femininity? Is there innate femininity or is it always culturally proscribed? When does the performance begin and end? Who is the performance for?”

Box of Sand had a focus on the group dynamic, lighting and sound effects. The dancers were dressed in different costumes of neutral colors and stood in a close group, slowly moving. They touched each other, brushed off their clothing, picked, pulled and grabbed. The dance progressed with the independent yet coordinated movements of the dancers, who would sometimes be standing tall or writhing on the floor of the stage. The loud, unsettling music and darker lighting gave the piece a spooky feel. This piece was choreographed by Scripps professor Kirsten Johansen.

The next piece, Unaccompanied, was a short solo dance performed by Christiana Ho ‘17. Again, the spotlight and light colors of the dancer’s costume were quite different from the previous dance. The light took emphasis away from setting and color, placing the focus on the graceful movement which was coordinated with the feel of the music.

The show ended on a high note with Sorsonet Celebration, choreographed by Professor Phylise Smith of Scripps. This piece featured four musicians playing lively percussion onstage. This dance featured the largest group of dancers, who were dressed colorfully to reflect the origin of the dance (an initiation dance of the Baga people of Guinea, West Africa). The music consisted of only percussion, and the groups of people switched frequently as a sun, then moon, projected onto the stage’s backdrop grew brighter and dimmer. The show concluded to vigorous applause.

After the bows, a few dancers came back onstage and invited Gail Abrams onstage, thanking her in front of the entire audience for her 29 years at Scripps College. They also thanked the crew of the show and the other professors. A reception in the lobby of Boone Recital Hall in Garrison Theater followed the show.