Performing aerial dance is challenging under any circumstances, but Washington and Lee University's Repertory Dance Company confronted some special challenges when it performed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., last month.
Appearing before an audience of W&L alumni, members of the Corcoran and the general public, the W&L dancers had to choreograph their dance works with the historic Corcoran space in mind.
"Definitely, the Corcoran is one of the most unusual and beautiful places we have performed," said Jenefer Davies, artistic director and assistant professor of dance at W&L.
The six dancers performed in a rectangular open space in a two-story atrium that is about 40 feet high and surrounded by columns.
Aerial rope and harness is often performed against a wall to give the dancer a solid base from which to push away and fly through the air. The Corcoran was especially challenging since the dancers were not able to use its columns or moldings as a base because of their historic nature and vulnerability. Instead, under the direction of Davies, the dancers were challenged to work creatively and create visually stunning movement in new ways.
The dancers created their own choreography in collaboration with Davies and prepared by visiting the space, studying images of the interior and working with computer-aided design drawings so that the choreography reflected the style of architecture specific to the Corcoran. The resulting dance highlighted various aspects of the architecture through movement and brought attention to detail that may not be evident to the passing eye.
"It was really exciting to be in that space and use it in a new way, especially in front of alumni since I'm a new alumna" said Jennifer Ritter, who graduated last month with a major in religion and a minor in dance.
For the W&L alumni who attended, the program was an introduction to the dance program, which is now in its seventh year and is, according to Davies, one of only two programs in the United States to offer aerial technique classes.
The aerial dance at the Corcoran was the culmination of a partnership between the Corcoran and Washington and Lee that began at the suggestion of Suzanne Humphries, a 2007 graduate who studied dance while at W&L and subsequently graduated from the Corcoran College's M.A. program.
As part of the partnership, W&L dance students visited the Corcoran in April, and Corcoran students gave presentations on using space to create aerial installation art. The following week, the Corcoran students visited W&L and the dance students presented their work on using vertical space to create dance and showed them how to work with aerial ropes to see what it felt like to travel through space.
In addition to Ritter, the W&L dancers were Erin Sullivan '13, Dana Fredericks '12, Emily Danzig '16, Abigail McLaughlin '16 and Ashleigh Smith, box office coordinator at the Lenfest Center for the Arts.