Vassar students perform at annual Battery Dance Festival

Image courtesy of Phil Mahabeer, Battery Dance Festival.

On Aug. 13, atop a stage overlooking the scenic Hudson River, twins Camryn and Courtney Spero ’24  presented their choreographed piece “Distance” as part of the Young Voices in Dance program at the 41st Annual Battery Dance Festival. According to Battery Dance, “The program highlights the intellectual curiosity, innovation, and artistic excellence of youth (ages 15-22) from across the country.” The Speros set their piece to “Blue Monday” by New Order and recruited 10 Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT) members to perform.

 The twins, both VRDT members, began their choreographic process for this piece in Spring 2021 when they presented choreography with five dancers to the first minute and a half of the song, as part of the Dance Department showcase. The faculty feedback was encouraging, and included suggestions to play with the tempo and try different costumes. When talking about the inspiration for the dance, Camryn Spero said, “We were working with these ideas of a collective, how we interact with each other and authenticity versus superficiality.” She continued, remarking, “How [the dancers] interacted with each other physically was the basis and from there we were able to add the movement.” She added, “The entire piece was very much driven visually by pathways, formations and transitions.” 

Image courtesy of Phil Mahabeer, Battery Dance Festival.

Learning from that early performance and the faculty feedback, the Speros continued to work over the summer. However, Courtney Spero noted that once they returned to Vassar they “scrapped” a lot of the choreography, admitting, “We thought we could up the ante and do something a little bit more unique, a little bit more genuine and authentic to what we wanted the piece to be.” She continued, “The one thing that stayed pretty consistent from summer to fall was formations and pathways.”

The Speros premiered the full piece as VRDT student choreography in Nov. 2021. “The audience reception was quite positive,” Camryn recalled. She added, “We did what came naturally, and because of that organicness and love we had for that product, we were inspired to submit it.” So, in Spring 2022, the Speros submitted a video of the piece to Battery Dance and were notified of their selection in June. 10 of the original 12 dancers were able to perform the piece at the festival, and leading up to the show the Speros held two four-hour rehearsal days at Vassar with some dancers on Zoom. In reworking the piece for 10 dancers, the Speros changed some of the original choreography. Camryn Spero described, “It was exciting creating a new partnering section that was more dynamic and organic.”

Image courtesy of Phil Mahabeer, Battery Dance Festival.

One of the VRDT dancers in the piece, Abby Rice ’25, noted, “It was the first student piece I was in in VRDT, so it was cool to see students creating such incredible choreography.” She added, “Getting to do their style is really fun because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done.”

Rice recalled that the day of the performance “couldn’t have been more perfect,” with “blue skies” and “the statue of liberty in the background.” In addition to the beautiful setting, Courtney Spero said, “I feel like the energy was just very positive and not panicked.”

Image courtesy of Phil Mahabeer, Battery Dance Festival.

Camryn Spero reflected on the community aspect of the experience, expressing, “Everyone seemed so happy to be there, not only for the opportunity to dance and to dance this piece again, but just to see each other.” The piece included four recent graduates, so it was a chance for them to perform one last time with their VRDT family.  The cast had spent many intimate Saturday rehearsals in Kenyon leading up to the Fall performance, so performing at Battery was a wonderful opportunity. Courtney Spero commented, “It’s just refreshing to dance with these people outside of the Vassar studios.” She added, “The willingness of all 10 of them to spend part of their summers relearning this piece that they auditioned for almost a year ago—it was very touching to have that experience.” 

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