Trans­form­ing the famil­iar with Sites of Dance’ at Drexel

4 minute read
'Sites of Dance' is a celebration of creativity and perseverance. (Photo by Johanna Austin.)
'Sites of Dance' is a celebration of creativity and perseverance. (Photo by Johanna Austin.)

Sites of Dance combines an evening of immersive, site-specific dance with a guided walk-through tour of Drexel University. Site-specific performances are uniquely suited to a world beginning to reopen after a pandemic: they are designed to take place not in a theater but in particular locations, often outside. In addition to offering a way to experience dance outdoors, Sites of Dance aims to transform how viewers perceive Drexel’s campus by making creative use of familiar spots including the sand volleyball court, the Alumni Garden, and the trees on Lancaster Walk.

“Site-specific dance changes the way we see things,” says Olive Prince, director of the Drexel Dance Ensemble. Seeing things in new ways also resonates with transitioning into post-Covid life as we return to places and people we have not visited in a long time.

A site for sore eyes

Forty-two students will perform works choreographed by their peers under Prince’s guidance. Prince suggested locations to the student choreographers, who drew inspiration from the sites and proposed ideas for dances at each location. The dances created by Maddie Alberici, Jenna Demer, Hannah Dolen, Janae Kindt, Alisia Lipsey, Aislinn McGhee Hassrick, and Jacob Wong range from seven and a half to nine minutes and incorporate dance styles including modern, contemporary, ballet, hip hop, and voguing. Rehearsals took place mainly over Zoom, with a few weekends spent making pieces on site. Most of the student choreographers are dance majors, but the performers represent all majors, from accounting to nursing.

Alisia Lipsey observes, “As a choreographer for Sites of Dance, the process has been like no other, especially during a pandemic. From rehearsing on Zoom to being socially distanced at our site, as a cast we’ve been able to overcome the challenge of being distanced and disconnected from one another.” Noting that “we yearn for conversation and connection” when it’s not possible to be together the way we used to, Lispey “structured rehearsals in ways that we can converse and see each other as individuals.” Her dance, “Where Growth Happens,” embraces welcoming challenges as opportunities for growth. Student choreographer Hannah Dolen described creating a dance as a challenge and a thrill, adding “I have discovered new ways in which space can greatly impact dance and movement, affecting my body and my choreography. It was such an interesting journey to create work virtually to then evolve in the site.”

Dance in a Covid world

Viewers will be divided into groups and guided to each site. Dancers will perform for each group, for a total of six times. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Christopher Farrell created incidental music for Sites of Dance to create an aural experience before the dancing begins, and Farrell will provide live guitar accompaniment to one piece. Each dance is performed to its own music, and each site has unique technical elements. Costume design emphasizes colors that pop in contrast to Drexel’s buildings and greenery, such as rich royal blues and mustard yellows, as well as purples inspired by Graffiti Pier.

After the live performances, viewers can view the premiere of an outdoor dance film concert at the Yard at the URBN Annex. Work on the film began in fall 2020 and concluded in spring 2021. The nine dances in the film include footage recorded at Mandell Theater, Wissahickon Park, a church, and in dancers’ hometowns, offering a fitting conclusion to an innovative program. “These dancers are so excited to perform” after a year and a half with limited in-person rehearsals and no audience, said Prince. “Students and their families have shown tremendous commitment during the pandemic. When the world turns upside down, we keep making.”

Sites of Dance is a celebration of creativity and perseverance, and a testament to finding ways to produce dance in a Covid world.

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

Presented by Drexel Dance Ensemble and FreshDance from June 3-6, Sites of Dance combines a guided walk through Drexel’s campus with live dance performance. The tour begins at 6:30pm. Bring your own blanket for an outdoor film viewing afterward at 8:30 pm. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $5 for Drexel students. For more information, visit online.

Image Description: A woman is captured in dance in mid-air in a wooded area, her arms flowing in the air as her head is tilted up, facing the overcast sky.

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