Photos courtesy of Chris Lang
From left: Allana Scudder (UMass) in “African/Caribbean Suite” choreographed by Marilyn Sylla; Moira Crawshaw ’21 in a ballet piece choreographed by Zoe Hernot ’12; a shot of performers in Hernot’s piece; a second shot of Sylla’s “African/Caribbean Suite.”
BY EMMA CHAFFEE ’22
Five female choreographers, 39 dance students and two sold out shows: from Nov. 8-10, Mount Holyoke’s Kendall Sports and Dance Complex hosted this year’s Fall Faculty Dance Concert. “I am really happy about the way it came out and I am so proud of each and every one of those dancers,” said Shakia Johnson, a visiting Artist in Dance and one of the faculty choreographers. “Their commitment and dedication was through the roof.”
The night began with a pre-show tribute to Dance Lecturer Marilyn Sylla, celebrating her time teaching in the Five College Consortium. Sylla’s piece, “African/Caribbean Suite,” marked the last of her 24 years with the Mount Holyoke Dance Department. “This work features movements from dances of freedom, empowerment, healing and rites of passage,” Sylla wrote in the program. “Dancers, you are Fabulous! Valley Women Drummers you Rock! Much love to all. Ashe.” This final piece came to a close with flowers for Sylla and a standing ovation from the audience. In return, Sylla blew kisses and held up a peace sign as the curtains closed.
This annual concert features students from all of the Five Colleges and marks the start of the performance season for the Mount Holyoke Dance Department. Students begin rehearsals in September with faculty, alumnae or visiting choreographers and then rehearse weekly in preparation for the performance. This year, the show featured a wide range of dance styles, including West African, modern, hip-hop, contemporary ballet and house dance.
Johnson choreographed “Our House,” the house number which closed out the show. According to Sienna Jessurun ’20, one of Johnson’s dancers, house dancing is a style of social dance involving floor work and constant movement of the upper body. Jessurun said she thinks it’s important to perform different styles of hip-hop at Mount Holyoke, so the audience can understand more about the dance form and where it comes from.
“This style came from the dance scene in Chicago and New York, [and is] done in clubs and other places for social dance,” Jessurun said. “It is important to showcase a multitude of styles in a performance setting, and I think the MHC faculty concert was successful in doing this. [...] Shakia’s piece had a message of inclusion, which is very important to share with an audience right now.”
“[The students] trusted my artistic vision,” Johnson said. “It shifted many times in rehearsals, but once I saw something that moved me or was powerful, I kept it.” Johnson praised her dancers’ dedication to the piece, and both Jessurun and Johnson said that they felt the dancers were able to really connect with the audience. “My favorite part is when the dancers are all on stage and doing different movements. It was really powerful and read well to the audience,” Johnson said. “The music was captivating and made you want to nod your head or tap your foot.”
Dance students spent hours this semester working on these pieces alongside their respective choreographers. Evelyn Kirby ’21 performed in Barbie Diewald’s modern piece “Just the Beams,” and said that she found her work on the piece to be both physically and intellectually challenging. “Barbie would ask us to do things like, ‘dance like we will be dancing when we’re 25,’ or ‘dance like this is our favorite dance — or thing — we’ve ever done,’” Kirby said. “She expected the best dancing of our lives, which is fair and valuable and demonstrated how much potential she saw in us — but it was definitely challenging.”
Jessurun also said that rehearsals were rigorous, but worthwhile. She danced in two pieces, the first of which was “New Second Line,” by professional choreographer Camille Brown, restaged by professional dancer Mayte Natalio. “Camille’s piece challenged my stamina and my ability to learn complex choreography very quickly. We learned the entire piece in one weekend of rehearsals in the beginning of the semester and we’ve been rehearsing for three hours every Friday to clean the piece,” Jessurun said. “We really took the time to understand the story of the piece and the importance of performing it.”
“I just love them all so much, we laughed all the time — it was so fun,” said Kirby of her fellow dancers. On Friday night, Regina Carey ’20 said she felt this joy from the audience as well as the dancers. “The audience’s engagement with the piece was very enthusiastic and excited and that made it even more fun to watch,” Carey said. “Even though I have no background in dance, it was a really enjoyable experience.”