Thomas Dwyer and Dance Exchange Make “Language” in Sheboygan
March 13, 2010
For the last three weeks, Thomas Dwyer and his colleagues from the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, have running a community dance workshop and been putting in 12-hour rehearsal days at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Led by choreographer Cassie Meador, they staged a collaborative performance with 60 participants, ages seven to mid-70s, for a performance piece, titled “Language for the Land” this weekend.
During the week, as he readied for his role as naturalist John Muir (who grew up in Wisconsin), Thomas, 75, said the fierce demand of readying for the performance was showing a bit. “We’re getting to crunch point, and that’s sometimes hard for the community, not used to it,” he said. The dance mixed images from Muir’s journals with stories and dancers from the Hmong and Hispanic communities of Sheboygan. After the first performance, everyone exhaled. “Our cast danced beautifully! It was wonderful to see each person really shine,” dancer Sarah Leavitt wrote on the company blog on Saturday. (Photos included: http://dxontheroad.blogspot.com/) When I get a video of the performance, I’ll post it. In the meantime, here’s a beautiful video of Thomas and Martha Wittman performing Meador’s “Drift.”
Unlike Thomas, who never even attempted to dance before his fifty-second birthday, Wittman has been teaching, dancing and choreographing for more than 50 years. As a young performer she danced with the Juilliard Dance Theatre under the direction of Doris Humphrey and in the companies of Ruth Currier, Joseph Gifford and Anna Sokolow. She was a long-term member of the Bennington College dance faculty in Vermont, and has been a guest artist, teacher and choreographer in numerous colleges, universities and summer dance programs around the country. Martha joined the Dance Exchange in 1996.
Drift was commissioned by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Local Dance Commissioning Project in 2008. The initial concept for the piece was inspired by Meador’s visits to her hometown of Augusta, Georgia, where she found a plot of land that had undergone several transformations: from productive farmland to a strip mall, to a Piggly Wiggly supermarket, and finally to a place of worship – complete with the leftover electronic swinging doors from the Piggly Wiggly.
In the dance, a table turns into a house and a cathedral archway becomes a series of grocery shelves. Objects—grocery carts, tea cups, cereal boxes—drift around the set as the characters, wearing their stories on their bodies, tell their tales.
On the Dance Exchange website, Meador says, “As a choreographer I have always been intrigued by the relationship between the physical and intellectual energy that sustains the artistic process. I place myself in the tradition of artists and scientists who actively engage their cognitive, creative and physical faculties in a multi-faceted process. My own choreographic process is inspired by the rigors of scientific discovery and exploration, by the geologists who hunt, gather, reconstruct and translate the sources and evidence of change in the world.”
(Above, on March 4, Dance Exchange members celebrate Thomas and the publication of my book in Sheboygan.)