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Black-Led Ballet Company to Collaborate with and Perform at Swarthmore

Three ballet dancers en pointe during class in studio

From left: Nya Ham and Maya Hawkins of Collage Dance and Avery Baumel ’26 of Haverford collaborated when the company first visited Swarthmore in January. Photos by Sasha Fornari

It’s rewarding enough when Swarthmore students have the opportunity to share rehearsal and performance space with a professional company, as they did in January with Collage Dance.

But when that company and the College have deeply shared values, it elevates the experience.

“We both view ballet as a diverse, dynamic, creative, and rigorous space that exists in dialogue with history,” says Olivia Sabee, associate professor and chair of the Dance Program. “It has been such a pleasure to watch Swarthmore students push through their comfort zones in productive ways that they will carry with them even after they leave the College.”

Lecturer Chandra Moss-Thorne adds, “Being in a space in which all present have a shared goal of uplifting one another, one in which all voices — verbal, physical, and artistic — are valued and seen, is humbling and special.”

Now, the wider Swarthmore community can join in the experience. Collage Dance, a Black-led, Memphis-based ballet company, returns for a series of workshops through Thursday, March 30, as well as performances Friday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m. (followed by a reception) and Saturday, April 1, at 3 p.m. Classes are free and open to anyone over the age of 14. The performances are free and open to all, with no reservations required. (Full details here.)

Collage Dance is presenting a program featuring their signature work, Rise, set to a score that joins Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech with original music. The piece, choreographed by the company’s founding artistic director Kevin Thomas, brings together nearly 30 students elementary-school-age and up from the greater Philadelphia and Wilmington areas,  including 12 from the College, to perform alongside the company.

The performances also feature the world premiere of GEMS, a contemporary ballet Amy Hall Garner choreographed, with Swarthmore students at the center, as well as Garner’s tribute to Memphis culture, Bluff City Blues, which was last performed to sold-out crowds at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Two dancers jump during rehearsal

Simone Gingerich-Boberg ’26 and Nia Lyons of Collage Dance.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding to have the privilege of participating in [Garner’s] choreographic process and learning with and from the Collage dancers,” says Katie Carlson ’23, a sociology & anthropology major and dance minor from Duluth, Minn. “They have taught me new ways for approaching choreography and inspired me to grow my confidence in dancing spaces.”

For Alexis Metoyer ’23, the collaboration with Collage Dance offers a special glimpse into the choreographic process as well as the strengths of the company’s professional dancers.

“For a week, I was able to experience a small slice of what life is like as a professional dancer,” the biology and dance double major from South Bend, Ind., says of the experience in January. “Dance is something they have been able to make into a career, which is extremely special.”

Recently named a “Southern Cultural Treasure” by South Arts and the Ford Foundation, Collage Dance is one of the largest Black-led performing arts organizations in the South, and one of few ballet companies in the world with a roster of Black, Indigenous, and people of color dancers who represent the communities they serve.

For Moss-Thorne, the collaboration between Collage Dance, the College, and community ballet students has far exceeded any hopes she and Sabee shared when they first imagined a project of this magnitude.

“It has fostered a magnificent community, a space where those diverse approaches to ballet are uplifted,” she says. “It has been an honor to witness.”

The William J. Cooper Foundation and the Department of Music and Dance present this week’s programs. Classes take place in the Lang Performing Arts Center (LPAC), Boyer Dance Studio, and Friday’s and Saturday’s performances are in LPAC, Pearson-Hall Theatre. 

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