Branches

On April 18th, 2014, The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation held their fundraising event, Preservation of the Charles Weidman Moving Image Archive. The goal of the Preservation Project is to raise enough money to fully preserve and digitize the Weidman archive of film and video in the Jerome Robbins Archive Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.10255928_797443500267749_356168068576485523_n

The fundraiser included two beautifully danced Weidman works. Nimbus Dance Works from Jersey City performed Lynchtown. The dancers were extremely technical and passionate and started off the night’s events with a bang! Foundation President of the Board, Robert Kosinski,  said it was one of the best performances of Lynchtown he had ever seen!

Nimbus Dance Works performing "Lynchtown" in 2013. Photo by Terry Lin.

Nimbus Dance Works performing “Lynchtown” in 2013. Photo by Terry Lin.

Attendees at the fundraiser also had the privilege to see Weidman’s trio Branches from the Easter Oratorio performed by Phoebe Rose Sandford, Sarah Hillmon, and Julia Jurgilewicz, all three Weidman alumni and members of RedCurrant Collective.  Julia Jurgilewicz staged this work from the video footage of a performance from 2010 by Tisch School of the Arts, NYU dancers at the 92nd St Y.  The Foundation’s vice-president, Margaret O’Sullivan, helped the dancers with details and intention. The dancers were graceful yet strong, and concluded the night’s performances with everyone looking forward to spring!

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Dancers in rehearsal learning from video.

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Dancers running through "Branches" before the fundraiser.

Dancers running through “Branches” before the fundraiser.

The Foundation was pleased to have such wonderful dancers performing these iconic Weidman works. Dancer Sarah Hillmon performed for the Foundation at the 92nd St Y and Baryshnikov Arts Center in excerpts of the Easter Oratorio in her first year of her undergraduate degree at Tisch, NYU. She had the fun job of relearning her part for the fundraiser that she performed four years ago in the Branches trio. She remarked how different parts were harder or easier with her new body than when she was a dance student and how special it is to be able to revisit a part after years of different trainings and performances. Today, Sarah dances with Lucinda Childs Dance,  touring often to Europe, Australia, and Asia, and has even graced the stage of BAM in Child’s Einstein on the Beach. Sarah also dances with Suzanne Beahrs Dance and is a founding member of RedCurrant Collective. Sarah is looking forward to touring to China this May.

Sarah Hillmon in Amid by Suzanne Beahrs Dance. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Sarah in “Amid” by Suzanne Beahrs Dance. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Sarah performing in "Branches" in 2010. Photo by Julie Lemberger.

Sarah performing in “Branches” in 2010. Photo by Julie Lemberger.

Phoebe Rose Sandford was new to Branches and did an incredible job of picking up the choreography in just three rehearsals! Phoebe performed Weidman’s Brahm’s Waltzes in 2012 at the 92nd St Y in her second year of her undergraduate degree at Tisch, NYU. Phoebe was excited to revisit Weidman technique as it was a good reminder of her ballet days as a student, but now she was able to apply her modern training and experience. Phoebe is a certified MBD yoga teacher at The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, and she also teaches dance at Cynthia King Dance Studio. She is a founding member of RedCurrant Collective, and in addition to dancing and choreographing for her collective, she dances for Anne Zuerner and mishiDance. The Foundation was so pleased to have her dance for us again!

Phoebe in "Ascending and Descending" by mishiDance. Photo by Sharon Harsa.

Phoebe in “Ascending and Descending” by mishiDance. Photo by Sharon Harsa.

Phoebe in rehearsal for Brahm's Waltzes in 2011. Photo courtesy of Oberon's Grove.

Phoebe in rehearsal for “Brahm’s Waltzes” in 2011. Photo courtesy of Oberon’s Grove.

Julia Jurgilewicz performed both the Easter Oratorio and the Brahm’s Waltzes while in her undergraduate program at Tisch, NYU.  Julia had an interesting situation with Branches where she had learned the part of Sarah Hillmon back in 2010 and then learned a different role for the fundraiser. Julia remarked that “it was like a fun puzzle, fitting together the ensemble parts that I remembered from four years ago and my new solo moments.” She enjoyed performing the work with her deeper understanding of movement and appreciated the opportunity to see how much had changed in her dancing in four years. Julia has  performed in three productions at the Metropolitan Opera and dances for Suzanne Beahrs Dance, Bodystories:Teresa Fellion Dance, and Erica Essner Performance Co-Op. When she is not dancing, Julia works for Ballet Tech bringing free ballet training to public school students in the five boroughs. She is looking forward to dancing in Bulgaria this June and creating her own work through RedCurrant Collective to be presented in the fall.

Julia dancing in "Amid" by Suzanne Beahrs Dance. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Julia dancing in “Amid” by Suzanne Beahrs Dance. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

 

Julia in rehearsal for "Brahm's Waltzes" in 2011. Photo courtesy of Oberon's Grove.

Julia in rehearsal for “Brahm’s Waltzes” in 2011. Photo courtesy of Oberon’s Grove.

The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation is lucky to have such wonderful dancers donating their time, skill, and passion to keeping Charles Weidman’s legacy alive and is pleased that the Foundation’s relationship with Tisch Dance has flourished with continued collaborations. The Foundation looks forward to hopefully staging more Weidman works on the world’s talented dancers and students. To find out more about the Foundation’s missions and goals, visit our website at www.charlesweidman.org.

 

Post by Julia Jurgilewicz

 

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The Easter Oratorio

In 1967, Charles Weidman choreographed Easter Oratorio, a beautifully simplistic and joyous dance that premiered at the Expression of Two Arts Theater in NYC. It featured multiple sections including ensemble numbers and a trio for women all surrounding the topic of rejoicing at the resurrection. In the later part of Weidman’s career, his pieces took on spiritual tones which was unique to his previous genres of  choreography. He especially focused on classical music by composers Brahms, Bach, Beethoven and choreographing joyous, grand, exalting movement.  His first pursuit in this new tone was Christmas Oratorio to music by Bach created in 1961 followed by  Easter Oratorio six years later also to music by Bach.

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Tisch School of the Arts dancers performing “Fugue” at the 92nd St Y
Photo by Julie Lemberger

Weidman believed that music and dance were one, and Easter Oratorio is a prime example of how his movement was inspired by the composition of the music. “Fugue”, the opening dance of the Oratorio, features an ensemble of dancers moving in structured sections in time and sequence with the music. A fugue is a compositional structure where a short melody or phrase is taken up by other instruments/voices at sequential, overlapping timings (think of “Row, row, row your boat” sung in a round). Weidman took these overlapping sections and did the same with his choreography; the women start moving with one theme followed by the men taking up the same or different movement overlapping the women to create a beautiful, yet mathematic assembly of elated bodies.

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“Fugue”
Photo by Julia Lemberger

Though Charles enjoyed following the structure of the music with his dance, he did so in an interesting way. Margaret O’Sullivan (Foundation Vice-President and Weidman company dancer) reflects on how Charles choreographed to the music in a unexpected way. Instead of starting on the 1 of every six counts, the impetus for the beginning of the phrase was always on the 6, making the movement seem to spurt out and grow in a way the was organic with the music, but simultaneously following its own rhythm and flow. This gives the Fugue the impression of always rolling forward and creates a play between the push and pull of the music and the dancers.

Margaret O'Sullivan in "Branches"

Margaret O’Sullivan in “Branches”

In 2010, the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation partnered with Tisch School of the Arts, NYU to re-stage and perform two sections from the Easter Oratorio. Janet Towner assisted by Margaret O’Sullivan taught the Tisch dancers the “Fugue” and the trio “Branches”. The two performances of these excerpts at the 92nd St Y and at Baryshnikov Arts Center were not only the first instance of Weidman/Bach performed to live music, but also the first time the excerpts had been shown in NYC since Weidman’s death.

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Janet Towner working with dancer Michael Gonzalez 
Photo by Larry Hall

The trio, “Branches” features three women holding laurel branches and circling around one another in sweeping and jumping movement. Each woman has a solo moment involving the first dancer with one branch, the second soloist with two, and the final woman wielding three branches in the formation of the cross. Each solo also contributes a different mood to the piece, the first stretching and arching on the floor with the single branch pointing to the sky, the second reaching and honoring with arms outstretched in a V shape , and the third swirling and whirling in praise and delight beneath the cross shaped branches.

The third solo moment in "Branches"

The third solo moment in “Branches”
Photo by Larry Hall

Elinor Rogosin in The Dancemakers: Conversations with American Choreographers speaks to how “the expression of the joy of the resurrection is the overwhelming mood in the piece” and how as an audience member, you “could have been eavesdropping on someone at prayer”. Rogosin comments on the simplicity of the choreography and the absence of acrobatic movement “creating a refreshing impact of naive expression”. When learning Easter Oratorio, Tisch alumni Elizabeth Montgomery reflects on the technique of the face and chest in order to achieve the look of ecstasy: “I remember Margaret explaining to us the intention of “space in the face;” it should be as though you’re looking past whatever is in the room in front of you, as though you’re looking out into the horizon from someplace very high. Maintaining that energy in an of itself is exhausting. Now add the jumps, hinges, and pivots, and Easter Oratorio becomes one of the most challenging pieces I’ve ever danced, in spite of its choreographic simplicity”.

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“Fugue”
Photo by Larry Hall

“Bach’s dramatic intent in the Easter Oratorio is the expression of the joy of the Resurrection.  Despite the fringes of melancholy added by the adagio, and by some of the recitatives, the overwhelming mood is one of rejoicing”. -Charles Weidman on a 1971 program

1971 performance of Easter Oratorio

1971 performance of Easter Oratorio

Post by Julia Jurgilewicz