Anticipation builds as a hum of whispers fill the air in a blacked-out Tuttle Hall. Suddenly, a spotlight shines on four dancers moving independently to music the audience cannot hear. With headphones on, one by one they start to sing the words that drum through their ears, happiness exuding from their bodies with each movement. This is Synesthesia, the 2019 Spring Dance Performance.
Synesthesia is a complex neurological condition in whichthe stimulation of one sense triggers an automatic, involuntary experience in another sense. Imagine your eyes closed, your headphones pulsing with a song you listened to all summer, and suddenly you see blues or yellows and feel warmth in the middle of winter. That is synesthesia – and that is what the Dance Ensemble students set out to convey through twelve dance pieces in April.
Auditions are held at the end of the summer and dance students begin brainstorming themes for the show early in September. In the spring, the Dance Ensemble performs pieces they have been working on since their auditions. “The theme is a guidepost,” Dance Teacher and Curriculum Coordinator Jenny Pommiss explained. “Choosing the theme is a collaborative effort, and this theme allows for a lot of student interaction. You can use any style of dance and apply it to synesthesia.”
Students have the opportunity to choreograph their own pieces. Dancers must write a proposal for their idea and show the senior captains and Ms. Pommiss a sample movement. Peregrine L. ’20, choreographed a piece for the first time this year. “Being on the choreography side of the dance concert this year really helped me to appreciate the extra work, time and creativity that goes into making all of our final pieces,” she explained. While Peregrine has been dancing since she was four years old, she had never before choreographed. “I think that choreographing this piece really pushed me out of my comfort zone, in a good way.”
The performances this year showcased dance styles from Caribbean afro-funk to step and jazz. Students also had the privilege to work with a guest choreographer, Maria Bauman-Morales, the Artistic Director of the MB Dance Company. She set an original piece for Grace dance ensemble members, and over the course of ten sessions, worked with students to create an additional piece, offering feedback and helping to elevate the dancers experience. “Having a guest artist is always super fun and challenging since they are typically teaching us material from professional dances that are performed in large theatres,” Alec J.’19 said. “Ms. Pommiss generally looks for guest choreographers who work in styles that are outside of the Grace program so that dancers in the ensemble are exposed to a variety of styles.”
Ensemble dancers also had the opportunity of working with a familiar face, Camille Segre-Lawrence ’18, alumna and former captain of the dance ensemble. Camille choreographed a number for the show and worked with Ms. Pommiss to costume and design the whole show.
“I want to bust open the narrow definition of what dance is,” Ms. Pommiss said. “The goal of the dance ensemble is to delve deeper into skills, and to explore dance as more than just movement, but as expression and story-telling. Dance is truly the intersection of art and entertainment, and that is what I hope the students understand at the end of each year.”
Alec, who is also involved in the visual arts programming at Grace, has found that being in the Dance Ensemble has challenged him and taught him to value the differences in the various art mediums. “I have always thought of myself as a visual artist, and I am going to college for visual art, but being exposed to dance has allowed me to practice another form of art that I didn’t know much about,” he explained. “Dance has benefited me in ways that I cannot express; it has given me irreplaceable friendships and has given me a space inside of Grace where I am truly comfortable.”