Louisa Carman ’21 is one of 12 Swarthmore students who seized an uncommon opportunity last month on the Pearson-Hall Theatre stage: performing with the award-winning Doug Varone and Dancers.
“Oh my gosh, I was so nervous,” says Carman, an honors political science major and dance minor from Chicago, Ill., of sharing the stage with a professional dance company. “And with only one performance, the pressure was on.
“But before I knew it, I felt very in tune with everyone,” she adds. “Even when things were a little off, we sensed how to adjust and fed off of one another’s energy throughout the whole piece.”
That synergy developed over the course of a weeklong residency at the College, organized by Assistant Professor of Dance Stephanie Liapis, in which Doug Varone and Dancers led master classes, discussions, and rehearsals. That built upon a semester’s worth of work in the studio by 22 music and dance students who, along with faculty, explored the company’s choreography.
“This is the ultimate embodied research and professional networking we can offer,” says Liapis, who performed with Doug Varone and Dancers earlier in her career. “The time these students had learning and developing as young artists in the work, the direct feedback from Doug Varone and Dancers, and the experience on stage with a professional company are invaluable.”
For the production at the Lang Performing Arts Center (LPAC), part of the Cooper Series, the students joined Doug Varone and Dancers to perform “Mass,” from the company’s celebrated work in the shelter of the fold.
By learning and performing a work from a major choreographer, the students processed it in a number of ways: as a reference point in the broader history of contemporary modern dance, as a masterwork of study on its own, and as a work of art they got to embody themselves.
Restaging a professional work also created an opportunity for students to engage with current, original research in the field. That complements the knowledge base the students have developed with Liapis since she came to the College last fall.
“We were new to each other, and I was asking the students to move and think in new ways,” Liapis says. “To see how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time is overwhelming and something I will cherish always.”
That momentum and connection to Doug Varone and Dancers will continue, after two students got funding from the College to do a dance intensive with the company over winter break. It’s a chance for the students to drill deeply into the craft and get a taste for a possible career.
“That’s a really nice opportunity you get at Swarthmore,” says Carman, who may pursue the intensive this summer.
Another perk at Swarthmore is the relatively small size of the department, which attracts students to most if not all audition opportunities. But the Doug Varone and Dancers piece, in particular, appealed to Carman.
“I was really drawn to the interaction between the 12 dancers being the focus of the dance,” she says. “That’s right up my alley, the kind of dance I get really excited about.”
Performing it with Doug Varone and Dancers, though? Another matter altogether.
“I could not have imagined being able to do something at that level when I got to Swarthmore,” Carman says. “That was definitely unexpected, but sort of shows me what I’ve been able to get from my time here.”
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