Sketch comedy blends with sounds of No-ViCE bands

This past weekend, the Mug held a dual-genre event for audiences to laugh and jam out, in that order. No-ViCE and Special Events collaborated to host comedians and musical guests on Feb. 28 as a combined performance event.

As a member of No-ViCE and Special Events, Tatiana Esposito von Mueffling ’17 helped coordinate the comedy aspect of the night. She wrote in an emailed statement, “The double header was… really just an attempt to combine two different forms of entertainment and performance. The audiences for plays, concerts, improv shows, and so on can be self-selecting and insular so I wanted to deliberately broaden and overlap the crowds to expose people to things they might not go out of their way to see.”

Director of No-ViCE, Zack Wilkes ’17 noted his involvement in the process, lending the idea to Esposito von Mueffling, commenting, “It was actually mostly Tati’s idea to do a combined comedy/music show, so she handled the comedy portion of it and we worked together to pick bands for the show. I contacted and booked the bands…So the bands were Lost Boy ?, Mannequin Pussy, and The Spirit Of The Beehive. We actually didn’t do a “specific” sound for this one–instead there was a pretty good smattering of styles.”

He continued, “I’ve been booking bands through No-ViCE all year and The Spirit of the Beehive is probably my favorite band right now so getting them to come was pretty cool.”

Aside from working with Wilkes, Esposito von Mueffling also collaborated with the co-heads of Special Events to round out the preparation for the comedy-concert event. She said, “I am in the general bodies of both NoViCE and Special Events. NoViCE as a whole worked to put together the bands and the co-heads of Special Events, Reuben Moncada and Sarah King, allowed me to head up the comedy side of things.”

While Esposito von Mueffling worked on the comedy side, Wilkes was more involved with the bands and gave much thought to coordinating the energies of each set. “Lost Boy ? have the whole West Coast, Burger Records-esque psych/pop/rock thing going for them–their lead singer Davey Jones writes really bouncy jams that seemed to go well with the “upbeat” tone of My Privacy (not in the optimistic sense–more in the “let’s just keep on going and keep the energy up” sense).”

He continued, “Mannequin Pussy are “punk” of the highest order: just super loud guitars and screaming vocals, but they also have some pretty cool textural stuff going on. Truly passionate and visceral live show, too. The Spirit Of The Beehive are…painfully loud and abrasive at times, but they make amazing use of My Bloody Valentine guitar motifs to create these amazing textures. They also don’t pigeonhole themselves into the shoegaze aesthetic.”

Esposito von Mueffling wrote, “I’d been wanting to bring off-campus comedy groups to Vassar for a while so I reached out to a New York-based improv team called My Privacy, who I saw over winter break at the Upright Citizens Brigade.”

Co-head of Special Events, Sarah King ’16 also attested to Esposito von Mueffling’s involvement in and engagement with the event and how much she added to the organization of the event. King wrote in an emailed statement, “It was an idea to combine two very popular programs on campus into a fun night of variety and give people an evening of activities…I enjoyed the show and was very proud of how amazing Tati was at managing this event and coming up with a great idea that can be developed in the future!”

Two of the organizers, King and Esposito von Mueffling, commented on aspects that proved to be difficult when planning an event with both a comedy feature and a musical one.

King wrote, “It seemed to flow really well as comedy and music are a similar audience of people, most are usually interested in both. The hardest part was simply making the transition between the two acts not feel long.”

Esposito von Mueffling commented on a different side of the planning, which she worked on with Wilkes to create a harmonious transition between two different genres of art. She said in an emailed statement, “The only difficulty was figuring out what kind of music should follow comedy. We originally wanted something upbeat and dance-y but we ended up with heavier music.”

She continued, “In retrospect, I think most any music, except very slow and sad stuff, works with comedy. Comedy does not always stay in the realm of the upbeat or lighthearted. It can get dark and weird and goofy all at once. Same with music, which is why we could put them together in one show.”

A performer in the comedy portion and member of The Limit, a comedy group on campus, Peter Galer ‘16 wrote in an emailed statement, “The Limit was only involved in choosing and performing our own material. We focused on sketches and videos that were more non-traditional. For instance, we performed a sketch about two very sexual dancing bears that turn out to be human brother and sister.”

He continued, “My favorite part was having the opportunity to share Limit material to and audience that appreciates the abstract and unusual…I have heard great responses from other Vassar students about the show. They really appreciated the non-traditional conglomeration of atypical performers.”

With the difficulties worked out, the event was a success for both organizations and inspired both No-ViCE and Special Events to think about creating more shows and collaborations like this in the future. As the planners think about future events, they also noted things that could have been better this time around.

Wilkes related his opinion of the night in terms of the drawbacks. He said, “Overall, it did go pretty well but there was a mass exodus after the comedy portion and not that many people were there for the music, but all the bands were amazing so people missed out on an amazing show!… Hopefully more people show up next time, though.”

King also commented on the issues with attendance, but remained positive about the event as a whole, “Saturday nights are hard to fill, so the attendance could have been better but those who did go really enjoyed the event and it was encouraging to hear the good feedback.”

Esposito von Mueffling commented on the night, in terms of the performers as well as the audience and the organizers. She said, “Members of the bands said they appreciated being part of an event that showcased different kinds of performance and I hope the audience did, too.”

Galer also comented on the prospect of another show like this, “The performance went very well. The audience was very receptive our sketches. The Limit loved being able to perform some of our more unusual material again…I think it was a terrific idea and would love No-ViCE to throw something similar in the future.”

While definite plans for another multimedia night are not in motion yet, Wilkes remained optimistic that this will not be the last performance of it’s kind.

Commenting on his upbeat experience at the show, Wilkes said, “Spirit of the Beehive [was] the loudest band that’s played here this year so far and they just ripped. Also My Privacy are the funniest dudes I’ve seen in the Mug… All the bands ruled and all the comedy ruled and the whole thing just ruled.”made through the Vassar Box Office, Bardavon Box Office, and Ticketmaster.

Since its founding in 1869, the Bardavon Opera Theater has held performances from all artistic, musical and theatric eras in its almost 150 year history. The stage has held productions by major artists ranging from Mark Twain and Frank Sinatra, to Dizzy Gillespie and James Earl Jones. This March marks the 33rd Annual Bardavon Gala performances by Vassar students in the VRDT.

In 1980, VRDT was created so that the students of Vassar Dance Department, studying modern, jazz and ballet techniques had an opportunity to perform brand new repertoire. Student choreographers were also given opportunities to create works for their colleagues. Ray Cook was the first director of the company and was followed by Stephen Rooks, Paul D. Mosley, Maureen Mansfield Kaddar and John Meehan, the present Artistic Director.

Now, the VRDT recruits dancers through an audition that takes place every year on the first Saturday of the fall semester. All members of VRDT are required to attend the two-hour rehearsals on Mondays and Wednesdays. During these hours, dancers work on two of the faculty pieces and the company piece, a single dance performed by all the members of VRDT at the end of each stage performance.

Besides official rehearsals, members also need to work on the student pieces and smaller projects outside those hours. A VRDT dancer for three years, Nathaniel Wulff ‘15 commented on his experience in this group.

“I have basically lived in Kenyon since joining VRDT. On top of the mandatory two-hour rehearsals on Monday and Wednesday, I rehearse at least 5 hours a week for student and smaller pieces. VRDT members also have to attend at least one of the dance classes offered, and many students choose to take 2,” he wrote in an email statement.

Despite many challenges, most members stll find it a rewarding experience to dance at VRDT. Wulff, who joined the group his sophomore year, found a new relationship between his mind and body through three years of dancing. “The group is filled with talented dancers, and the hours spent rehearsing encourages a tight knit community, so depending on the group, finding your own place and personality within VRDT both as a person and a dancer can sometimes be a challenge…The experience has pretty dramatically shaped my understanding of anatomy and kinesthetics as a personal science, and by that, I mean, that I learned about these scientific concepts as they applied to my own body and as they connected to my own thoughts and sensory experiences,” he said.

Another dancer at VRDT, Kerri-Anne Bell ‘17 enjoys the group’s professional way of working. “I joined VRDT in my freshman year, that is, Fall 2013. I decided to join VRDT because I am a member of The Company Dance Theatre in Jamaica and when I began college I knew I wanted to continue dancing and the fact that VRDT is run very similarly to a professional company I saw it as a perfect fit…It’s great to be able to work with a faculty that has had such a reputable background in dance and also with a diverse set of students that share their varying experiences with dance prior to VRDT.”

She also pointed out that her favorite part about VRDT is that students are given the opportunity to choreograph their own pieces, which allows them to explore their creative ability and have complete control over the production.

The annual performances tradition started three years after the group was founded. In 1983, the Annual VRDT Gala Performances were first held at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie. Director of VRDT and Chair of Dance Department John Meehan explained how the tradition began.

“The first Director of Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre, Ray Cook, could not find a suitable space for VRDT to perform on campus, so he arranged for the company to appear at the Bardavon Opera House 33 years ago. Since then the college has renovated the old indoor pool facility in Kenyon to create the beautiful Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater, however the tradition continues at the Bardavon. Originally there was just one performance, but now we hold 2 shows there. Last year we played to over 1200 people.” Meehan stated in an email statement.

Running for 90 minutes, the performances this year will include both existing pieces and faculty and student choreography, and the whole company will be performing.

“This year we will perform excerpts from two existing works; George Balanchine’s ballet masterpiece “Divertimento No. 15” and Doug Varone’s modern classic “Chapters from a Broken Novel.”  Steve Rooks, our resident choreographer has created the dramatic work Mosul and Kathy Wildberger, Assistant Director of VRDT has made the poetic Shimmer. Finally Abby Saxon, our jazz instructor has choreographed the upbeat and fun work, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’.” Nine Student choreographers, Ally Hamilton ‘15, Katy Walter ‘15, Nate Wulff ’15, Alaina Wilson ‘16, Carmen Kloer ‘17, Oriana Catton ‘17, Kerri Anne Bell ‘17, Zerlina Panush ‘17, Ana Sheehan ‘17, have also made works.” Meehan explained.

Specifically, Meehan also noted that the ballet piece “Divertimento No. 15” would be worth expectation. “We have never had as many talented ballet dancers in VRDT before and consequently “Divertimento No. 15” will feature 16 dancers performing very challenging choreography,” he commented.

Moreover, “Chapters of a Broken Novel” is a work Meehan has always been hoping to bring to VRDT. “Doug Varone is a wonderful choreographer and I had him on my list to invite at some point…This year was the year that world out for this invitation,” he explained. He also described the piece as “compelling to watch.”

Some of the dancers shared their experiences performing these works. Bell stated, “As a dancer my favorite piece to perform is ‘Big Feelings’ by Carmen Kloer ‘17. It’s about identity, how we perceive ourselves, how others see us and how we really are. It’s an emotionally driven piece that has a cast of 11 dancers and to say the least, the piece is absolutely beautiful and is a tremendous pleasure to perform. Carmen is a beautiful soul and goes above and beyond to work with each dancer to ensure their comfort with the choreography and emotion behind the piece.”

Another dancer who will be performing in “Divertimento No. 15,” “Mosul,” and two student pieces, Katherine Taylor ‘15 found it challenging to play a modern work. “I’ve always been a bunhead, so being cast in a more modern based solo in Steve Rooks’ Mosul has pushed me artistically. Classical ballet teaches you to internalize feelings, and learning to express myself emotionally onstage has been challenging, but also very rewarding,” Taylor wrote in an email statement.

Dancing since she was three years old, Taylor think this may be her last chance to dance on stage and expressed her expectations for this gala performance. “Since I’m graduating in May, and not pursuing a career in dance, I think this may be one of my last performances. In light of that, and I think I can speak for all the seniors in VRDT when I say this, I hope I can remember to simply enjoy every second on that stage.”

Wulff added, “My goal with most performances is to dance my fullest, to immerse myself in the performance so that I lose my ego and merge myself and my body. To me, that allows me to have a greater sense of my movement and to dance generously, so that I can invite the audience into the performance. The talking in the mind kind of quiets down, the analysis starts happening in the nerves of your body rather than the voice of your head.”

Also, Bell emphasized the advantages of performing at the Bardavon. “It’s always nice to perform at different theatres. More members of the Poughkeepsie community tend to attend this performance so it’s also refreshing to perform for a different audience.”

Eventually, Meehan hopes the performance will not only be enjoyable to the audience, but also leave them with a sense of excitement and pride.

He concluded, “I am hoping that as usual a large cross section of the folks on the Vassar campus will attend the performances, enjoy the show and will leave with a feeling of excitement and pride that such talented dancers and choreographers are part of their community.”

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