It is a universal truth that anybody can dance. To become a good dancer, however, can take years of classes and concentration, performing countless pirouettes and arabesques and assemblés. And here at Vassar, we have a fair share of great dancers. In fact, we have a whole company. The Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT) will be performing at the Bardavon, displaying their wide array of talented dancers and choreographers.
This weekend, VRDT will be presenting its 34th Annual Bardavon Gala performances at the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie. These performances include pieces choreographed by both faculty and students.
VRDT, currently directed by resident choreographer Steve Rooks, gives students the opportunity to further study the art of dance and provides numerous performance opportunities. Every fall, the repertory holds auditions that will determine the pool of dancers they will use for the year. The dancers come from different backgrounds, which gives each one their own flair. It differs from HYPE and FlyPeople by creating a liaison between the Dance Department and Vassar students, which allows for everybody to learn and help each other develop their skills in an academic and professional environment.
According to Assistant to the Director of VRDT Emily Martin ’18, “VRDT works with the same repertoire throughout the whole year. So, when we begin to prepare for the Bardavon in January, we’ve already performed the pieces we are preparing to present. Thus, the rehearsals are less about developing choreography and more about perfecting that choreography that we learned back in the fall. Of course, some changes are made, however rehearsals for Bardavon consist more of ‘cleaning’ pieces.”
This year’s gala will feature 12 student-choreographed pieces in addition to the faculty-choreographed dances. The styles range all over the place, containing mixtures of modern, jazz and ballet, to name a few. While there isn’t an overall theme to the dances, each individual piece does draw on its own images. Within these dances is a full scope of diverse topics, from alienation to 1950s housewives.
Martin elaborated on these performances, “VRDT is a modern dance-based company. Each year the company is divided in two and half of the company works with one modern dance professor and the other half works with the other modern dance professor. This is the one participation requirement of the company. Members can also choose to audition for the ballet repertory of the year.” She continued, “In addition to ballet and faculty choreographed pieces, we have student-choreographed pieces. It is in this area that the style of dance widens. We usually have a couple ballet-based pieces, some contemporary dance pieces and then pieces that could be considered more modern.”
Many upperclassmen eventually choreographing pieces of their own that meld together many styles of dance. Many professors also create pieces in the styles that they teach.
Elaborating on how her new dancers approached an unfamiliar style of dance, choreographer and Adjunct Dance Instructor Abby Saxon explained, “My dancers had to acquire a very specific jazz style, which involves body isolations, difficult coordination, as well as a way of connecting movements and body parts that is quite different from contemporary dance or hip hop. For some of them this was new, and it took a while to really feel this way of moving as natural, yet they all mastered it. They are clearly having fun; they are charming, humorous and skillful too!”
Despite the choreographers planning out their pieces, input from the dancers also shaped the final product. Just as every writer has a particular style in which they write, each dancer has a unique technique to their craft as well, which makes a performance truly their own. Through collaboration between the choreographer and the dancers, a piece can become something completely different from what either imagined.
Describing the collaborative effort her piece “Ribbit” took, student choreographer Kelsey Greenway ’16 said, “In the making of this piece, I gave the dancers prompts, which they used to create a solo. The prompts ranged from, ‘draw a squiggly line,’ to ‘cradle a small animal,’ and ‘scare something.’ These movement phrases became the foundation of the piece, and made it personal to each of the dancers. I think that is why these 12 heterogeneous women could look like one entity on stage.”
“Everything inspires me to make a dance: music, the dancers and their qualities, a red-tailed hawk, my dog Koda, foxes and about any bird that flies.” Assistant Director of VRDT Kathy Wildberger said about the creative energy that dance evokes and produces. “Rehearsals are wonderful when the cast of dancers is cooperative and professional. My dancers were and they also assisted and supported me during a very difficult time. I would say that dance can actually heal a person. For we dancers, the studio is home. We can leave everything outside the room and dance.”