Winds Keep Dancer on Their Toes

"Dancers' Viewpointe" features collaboration with the Harvard Wind Ensemble

The Harvard Office for the Arts’ Dance Program’s annual show, “Dancers’ Viewpointe,” is the first large-scale coordination of music and dance in the program’s history. The show, which opened April 4 and runs through April 12 in the New College Theatre, was the first dance performance in the newly renovated space, which was large enought to accommodate the entire Harvard Wind Ensemble. The scope of this project highlights the dance program’s evolution over the past few years.

Elizabeth Bergmann, the Dance Program’s director and the founder of the “Dancers’ Viewpointe” tradition back in 2001, choreographed the third piece of the performance to Kurt Weill’s and Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera.” The music for the piece was performed by The Harvard Wind Ensemble, which was able to accompany the dancers due to the New College Theatre’s large orchestral pit.

Bergmann found this first collaboration with a large-scale live musical group a success, although it wasn’t without difficulties.

She feels that live music offers a more dynamic experience than recorded music. “It’s very vibrant,” Bergmann says. “All the sounds are bouncing off the walls. It creates a very different experience for the audience, as well as for the dancers. It’s been a very good experience.”

But Bergmann adds, “It’s also hairy.”

Live music is less reliable than recorded. It brings with it more risk of variation, an added concern that, Bergmann says, puts the dancers “on their toes.”

Mark Olson, director and conductor of The Harvard Wind Ensemble, saw similar difficulties and benefits in the collaboration, which was first proposed by Bergmann.

“[The dancers] are following me,” Olson explained, “but I’m also following them.” The collaboration, with its call for increased consistency, made for “an exciting new opportunity,” in Olson’s words.

The orchestra pit isn’t the only perk of performing in the New College Theatre. Larissa D. Koch ’08-’09, last year’s recipient of the Suzanne Farrell Dance Prize and the choreographer of the first of the performance’s four dances, says that the new performance venue gave the dance program, which had previously been confined to its one performance space at the Dance Center even more space.

Koch’s piece, “fallen,falling,” opens the show. “I was having an e.e. cummings moment,” she says of the title. The piece, which was performed in its first incarnation two years ago, is performed to a song by famed king of the tango Astor Piazzolla. Koch tried to pair the song with choreography that’s not explicitly tango-based, but that rather “evokes the weight” that she felt in the song.

The show also includes a dance to the music of country singer Loretta Lynn by celebrated choreographer Trey McIntyre. Dramatic Arts visiting lecturer Ruth Andrien worked with the Harvard dancers in preparing Paul Taylor’s famous piece “Aureole,” which was seen as shocking after its 1962 debut because of the dissonance between modern dance and George Frideric Handel’s 18th century music. For Koch, “Aureole” fit what she feels to be the show’s unarticulated theme of mixing forms of dance with slightly incongruous forms of music.

“What’s really interesting is that each piece of music doesn’t specifically correlate to the type of language,” Koch said. “The dance style doesn’t necessarily reflect the music.”

Andrien saw a slightly different theme running through the pieces in the performance. For her, the show was a reference to modern dance’s history, an homage that she finds to be characteristic of the Dance Program’s thoughtful approach to modern dance. “This institution is understanding that it’s very important to know your history,” Andrien says, “and not just to know it; to dance it.”

This new performance is the latest in a steady series of steps forward that dance here at Harvard has taken. Under Bergmann’s guidance, the program has steadily expanded. Claudia F. Schreier ’08, who dances in “fallen,falling,” felt that she would have to put dancing behind her when she chose to go to Harvard over dance school. But, she says, the Harvard Dance Program has made exceptional progress over the last four years alone.

“Most dancers,” Schreier says, “never expected to get anything like this. Had I chosen to go onto dance in one capacity or another, it never would have gotten anywhere close to this.”