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Last modified: Thursday, January 3, 2008

Masterpieces and high tech: Modern dance at Indiana University

Jan. 3, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Modern dance performers at Indiana University will perform seminal works of modern dance icons as well as original faculty creations featuring cutting-edge technology during the IU Contemporary Dance Program's annual guest artist and faculty concert.

The concert, "From Past to Present: The Tradition of Modern Dance," will be held on Jan. 11 and 12, at 7:30 p.m., in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre at IU Bloomington. On Jan. 11, a pre-concert talk will be given at 6:45 p.m. in the Grand Hall of the Neal Marshall Black Cultural Center.

Contemporary Dance

Photo by: Jeremy Hogan

Junior modern dance major Kelly McCormick-Bangs performs in "Aureole," a signature work of the iconic modern dance choreographer Paul Taylor.

Print-Quality Photo

The contemporary dance faculty decided to "push the envelope" this year by challenging their dancers to learn the repertoires of Paul Taylor, Bella Lewitzky and Anna Sokolow. Their works -- Aureole and 3 Epitaphs by Taylor, Trio for Saki by Lewitzky, and Rooms by Sokolow -- are considered masterpieces of modern dance choreography.

"These artists are a major piece of modern dance history," said Elizabeth Shea, coordinator of the IU Contemporary Dance Program in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "These works were choreographed between the late '50s and mid '60s, which is in the heart of the traditional classic modern dance era. This will be the first time dance students from Indiana University have performed works by any of these internationally known artists."

Modern dance from that era is known for the emotional and expressive "dialogue" shared with audiences, while more recent modern dance is considered eclectic.

"Each choreographer had his or her own vocabulary in those days," said Laura Poole, a visiting guest lecturer in HPER who also performed with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Co. in the 1980s. "In our concert, they'll be recognized by their movement vocabulary. Each one is very different."

Taylor's two works demonstrate the artist's own eclecticism. In Aureole, a work known as surprisingly beautiful and serene for its time, the dancers wear lovely, white flowing costumes. The dancers in 3 Epitaphs are dressed from head to toe in black, with the only music being a funeral dirge.

"It's not pretty at all, and quite humorous," Shea said, describing the latter piece, which features masked dancers.

Constance Dinapoli, a former member of the Paul Taylor Dance Co., has been helping the IU dancers prepare for the Taylor works through her role as a guest artist to the contemporary dance program, which is part of HPER's Department of Kinesiology.

The faculty portion of the concert begins with another high-tech collaboration involving Shea, Robert Shakespeare, professor of lighting design in the Department of Theatre and Drama, and Jeffrey Hass, professor of composition in the IU Jacobs School of Music. New or revised works also will be presented by HPER's Gwedolyn Hamm, Emmy Award winning-choreographer George Pinney, professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama, and Iris Rosa, director of the African American Dance Co. and professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies.

Contemporary Dance

Junior modern dance major Kelly McCormick-Bangs performs in Elizabeth Shea's "The Nature of Human," an abstract contemporary work that features innovative lighting by Robert Shakespeare and electronic score by Jeffery Hass.

Shea, Shakespeare and Hass received a $50,000 grant from IU's New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities along with funding from IU's Creative Digital Arts and Humanities Initiative to create The Nature of Human, an abstract comment on the interaction of the mind, body and spirit.

The piece uses nontraditional lighting, relying on an elaborate network of video projectors that cast video onto the dancers. Additional infrared lighting prevents the video from appearing anywhere but on the dancers' bodies. Some of the video will be of the dancers themselves while other projections will involve patterns.

Hass created the original music for the piece at the IU Center for Electronic and Computer Music, where he serves as director. The score was designed to intersect with video images, particularly in the second movement, Magnetic Resonance Music, where Hass shaped the projection using images of the dancers in conjunction with the sound.

"Present trends in dance technology feature technology between the dancers, the lighting and music," Shea said. "It's the new direction modern dance is taking, and our team has been exploring it for around three years."

Shea and her collaborators also received funding several years ago from IU's New Frontiers program, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment, to create their high-tech Coming to Light.

Hamm, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology, is adding to and recreating her piece, Variations. Pinney, who received an Emmy Award for his choreography in Blast, will present Just Dance. Rosa's Bolitas de Pegao involves dances of the African Diaspora.

Shea noted that the concert also is being produced by the kinesiology and theatre and drama departments, with students handling most of the lighting, stage management and production.

On Jan. 11, a pre-concert talk will be given at 6:45 p.m. in the Grand Hall of the Neal Marshall Black Cultural Center. Dinapoli will speak about the Taylor works and her experiences with the Paul Taylor Dance Co. Poole and HPER dance historian Selene Carter will speak about the Lewitzky and Sokolow works. Tickets for the concert cost $20 for adults and $15 for students, seniors and children under 12. For ticket information, contact the IU Auditorium box office at 812-855-1103.

For more information, contact Shea at 812-855-7020 or