The Dance Theater of Harlem completes its third summer residency at the Hop – The Dartmouth | Candle Made Easy

Dancers from the renowned ballet company interacted with the Dartmouth community through creative projects during the final year of their residency.

by Madeline Sawyer | 8/5/22 1:05 am

Source: Courtesy of Dance Theater of Harlem

This summer marks the final year of Dance Theater of Harlem’s three-year residency at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. The collaboration, which began in 2020, has included masterclasses, pop-up shows, working with theater classes, a visit to The Hood and previews of The Hazel Scott Projectwhich has developed over the past three summers.

Dance Theater of Harlem’s face-to-face interactions with the Dartmouth community have primarily taken place this summer as it is the first time all dancers have been able to live and work in Hanover due to the pandemic. According to founding member and artistic director Virginia Johnson, collaborating with the Dartmouth community is an integral part of the dance company’s presence on campus — in addition to their classes and rehearsals.

“We interact with the students, which is really a wonderful thing, and that’s an important part of the stay – that we get to do our regular work, but also have the opportunity to connect with Dartmouth students in different ways,” said Johnson.

Pop-up shows around campus – including on the Green, Collis Terrace and Hop Place – are an innovative way for Company Members to connect with Dartmouth students. They interact with students by teaching simple movements and encouraging participation.

“[The pop-up shows are] to give students here at Dartmouth the opportunity to do some of what we do, to interact with us on a one-to-one basis,” Johnson said.

Students also had the opportunity to learn from the dancers of the Dance Theater of Harlem through a hop master class series held over three Wednesdays in July and early August. The students learned from professional dancers such as Virginia Johnson, Derek Brockington and Ingrid Silva.

“I really think the master classes are a great way to learn,” said Camille Dizon, a dancer from the Lebanon Ballet School who attended the third master class. “It’s very different from what I usually do every day and just seeing the different styles coming from different teachers.”

Three classes – two at Hop Garage and one at White River Ballet Academy – catered to students of different abilities. Despite their focus on classical ballet technique, some students reported that they felt the classes were different from other ballet classes they had taken.

“I really enjoyed it, how passionate [Silva] seemed to be about dancing,” Dizon said. “A lot of my movements are very strict and very technique based, and it felt a lot more free and focused on the movement in this class.”

Attendees at an artistic encounter at the Hood Museum last Thursday saw four dancers from the Dance Theater of Harlem reacting to the “Drawing Lines” exhibit. The artistic encounter, held in the Hood Atrium, expressed the dancers’ interpretation of the exhibition.

“These are visual artists expressing lines in really interesting ways,” Johnson said. “My idea was to expose a group of dancers to the exhibition and see what comes out of them.”

The artistic encounter also included two choreographed dances, two improvisation pieces and a Q&A with the dancers, where they gave the participants an insight into their creative process.

“We talked to each other most of the time [Johnson]… she tells us about her process, how she does things,” said Kai Lord ’23. “It’s surprisingly dancer-based, as the performance they did at the Hood Museum was pretty much their entire choreography. She let them run free. It’s interesting to see how much control the dancers get.”

The creative collaboration between the dancers of the Dance Theater of Harlem and Dartmouth students and faculty has also been the focus of a theater summer course over the past three summers. Combining theater and dance, the course focuses on dance company storytelling through ballet and on the development of performance works.

“We learn a lot of dance history and black history through dancing, which is super cool,” said Lord, a student in the class. “Another third is actual movement. [Professor] John Heginbotham teaches some contemporary ballet moves but then also lets us choreograph based on our experiences… The last third is with Dance Theater of Harlem, we look at some of their stuff, watch their rehearsals and talk to them.”

According to Johnson, the class played a role in the development of the Sounds of Hazel ballet, which was performed at the Hop on Thursday and Friday, August 5 and 6. Choreographed by Tiffany Rea-Fisher, the ballet honors the life and legacy of classical and jazz piano virtuoso Hazel Scott. In the summer of 2020 – the first time the course has run – the course explored Scott as an artist and activist. The students conducted a traditional exploration of the biographical aspects of their lives and provided background information for the ballet. Work on the choreography began later that summer.

Last summer, in the second year of the course, a handful of dancers from the Dance Theater of Harlem visited the theater for three days and worked with the class to build a performance based on Marita Bonner’s play The Purple Flower. Interactions of this kind continued this summer under the direction of Professors John Heginbotham and Monica White Ndounou, although the focus of the course differed from previous summers.

“There’s still a little bit of Hazel Scott, but I think this summer’s course is more about narratives through movement, so it’s more open-ended,” Johnson said. “It really focuses more on dance, how dance can tell stories.”

The Dance Theater of Harlem’s goal of telling stories through dance is reflected in all of its projects, which aim to encourage meaningful discussions between the community and the dancers.

“I think it’s been really nice to be here in Dartmouth because the quality of the investigation is very impressive,” Johnson said. “The students… have a way of seeing the world that isn’t just ‘give me the facts.’ You are interested and engaged, and you are curious. And that was really extraordinary.”

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