Entering its 31st anniversary, the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre’s (VRDT) annual Bardavon Gala will feature, as in years past, a mix of performances of works by Vassar’s highly regarded faculty, renowned guest choreographers, and students. There are two performances, one on Saturday March 2nd at 8 PM and one on Sunday March 3rd at 3 PM.
In recent years, VRDT has not only performed pieces by well-known guest choreographers, such as Edwaard Liang, Larry Keigwin, Donald McKayle, and Miriam Mahdaviani, but has actually begun to work with these choreographers directly. Choreographers work with students on one of their original pieces, and the piece is then showcased at the Bardavon Gala.
Students will perform original pieces by Assistant Director of VRDT and Senior Lecturer in Drama Katherine Wildberger, Resident Choreographer and Chair of Dance Stephen Rooks, Faculty Choreographer and Adjunct Instructor in Dance Abby Saxon, and Professor of Dance and Director of VRDT John Meehan. The company will reprise Guest Choreographer Zvi Gotheiner’s piece “Chairs” and premier a new piece by Guest Choreographer Brian Reeder, titled “Nurse.” Nine student-choreographed pieces will be performed as well.
But what sets this year’s gala apart from past years is that one of the guest choreographers, Brian Reeder, has taken on a larger role, and is serving as Guest Director of the company while Meehan is on sabbatical leave.
Reeder has been a part of three prestigious dance companies, including the New York City Ballet, the William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, and the American Ballet Theatre. He began working as a choreographer in 2002, and his works have been performed in numerous prominent venues across the country, such as the American Ballet Theatre, the Washington Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the Sacramento Ballet to name a few. He has choreographed at many regional dance schools, academies, and prestigious universities, such as Brown University, Emory University, and the Columbia Ballet Collaborative.
Wildberger spoke to Reeder’s impressive background. “Brian Reeder has certainly brought fresh and vital energy to our company,” wrote Wildberger in an emailed statement. “His piece ‘Nurse’ is innovative and provocative, and demonstrates the cutting edge choreography [he] has been a part of in his brilliant career.”
“Nurse” depicts a darker psychological circumstance, and deals with themes of domination and rebellion. The nurse represents control, and the patients, played by the ensemble, are drowned in prescriptions and fighting against that system of power.
Reeder feels that he often takes an unconventional approach in his work. “The goal for any creation of mine is to use the process of building steps and ideas in a way that does not take me down the road most often traveled,” Reeder explained in an emailed statement. “Meaning, I like to test and stretch myself out of my comfort zone and challenge the dancers to get out of their safety box as well.”
By choosing untraditional subjects, Reeder hopes to get the dancers off of their safety nets and put the audience on the edge of their seats as well. “I picked an odd subject to turn into a little dance drama,” he explained. “Think a mini Reader’s Digest version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” He asserts that people will likely have a strong reaction to the piece, and might even feel a little bit uneasy. “It is meant to creep you out or make you laugh uncomfortably a little. I tend to show my dark humor in my dance works,” he added.
Reeder’s eccentric approach to choreography has allowed students to explore a different side to their art-form. “Working with Brian has been really interesting,” said Matt Ortile ’14, a VRDT dancer since his freshman year. “In class, he is a great teacher. He is able to demonstrate what he wants us to perform, both in the studio and on stage.”
Specifically, Ortile feels that Reeder has helped the company to conceptualize themselves not just as dancers, but as actors too. “He is helpful in reminding us that our performance is not just about the dancing or the choreography, but also about the character work and the intent,” said Ortile. “In ‘Nurse’ there is definitely a huge acting or drama component, and Brian is very helpful in explaining what he expects from us not just as dancers, but as performers.”
Reeder also spoke to the caliber of VRDT, and noted the uniqueness of working with a college company rather than professional dancers. “The academia world is very different from the professional dance world I am more used to,” he explained. “These dancers, all thirty-three of them, are essentially students first and foremost, and we want to give them the experience of being in a professional company atmosphere and understand what would be expected of them. I have come to realize just how much more is going on in their daily existence at Vassar, but it is through their passion for dance that they stay committed to the mission of this student company and keep it going proud and strong.”
Reeder urges all of the Vassar community to make the trip over to the historic Bardavon and see what VRDT has in store. “I highly recommend that one and all come out to support your fellow college mates, see what makes them shine so bright and what makes this dance company one to be reckoned with.”