New venue, new vistas for dancers
Princeton NJ -- The Program in Theater and Dance will present its inaugural dance performance, "Spring Dance Festival 2004," in the new Roger S. Berlind Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 20-21. It will be the first time in the 35-year history of formal dance instruction at Princeton that students will perform in a space especially designed for theater and dance. The University shares the facility, which opened last fall, with McCarter Theatre. (See article and photographs previously published in the PWB.)
It's quite a change from the first time students showcased their work for the University community: On Earth Day in 1970, 40 long-haired, bare-chested, body-painted men (pictures below, 1) and a few women performed before a large crowd on Poe Field. They were accompanied by conga drums and a rock 'n' roll band.
Ze'eva Cohen, now a professor in the Council of the Humanities and head of dance, had been hired as a visiting lecturer the previous fall. A professional modern dancer with first-rate credentials as a per-former and choreo- grapher, she was recruited with the advent of co-education to offer more classes of interest to women students. That first fall, 50 of the 60 students enrolled in the noncredit course were men.
Eight months later, the students presented "To Dance Is To Live," starting a tradition of spring dance festivals at Princeton. "The creative movement was intend- ed to express the exuberance of life in organized forms," Cohen said. From Poe Field, the performances moved to the lawn in front of Nassau Hall (2, 3) and then to the University Chapel (4). And from a noncredit course to address the interests of women students, the curriculum progressed to classes for credit and then to today's certificate program, which in- cludes the study of choreography, dance history and criticism. The modern dance courses are now supplemented with extracurricular ballet training on the intermediate and advanced levels. The skills of the dancers evolved from simply expressing emotions to also incorporating higher-level technique and professional dance repertory.
By the 1980s, the Program in Theater and Dance was using Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall (5) for its spring festivals. While a wonderful venue for concerts, Richardson lacked the rigging and lighting to give each dance its full theatrical potential.
This year's move to Berlind is a milestone, according to Cohen. "Having a professional venue for dance gives students and faculty a goal to raise the standard of performance," she said. "And the performance itself will have the maximum theatrical advantage in terms of visual effects."
According to Darryl Waskow, managing director in theater and dance, the lighting capacity has at least doubled from Richardson to Berlind. With its modern full-sized stage with state-of-the-art rigging and lighting, dressing rooms and rehearsal space, Berlind "meets the needs of the performers and the audience," he said.
The Feb. 20-21 program will employ a variety of visual effects. The dancers will present Cohen's signature work, "Rainwood," which is danced to nature sounds. It will feature projections of artwork by Avri Ohana, who also has painted the costumes.
"When we use more sophisticated visual elements to supplement the choreography," Cohen said, "the audience has the opportunity to engage their imagination with the dance."
In addition to choreography by Cohen, who will direct the festival, the program will include works by faculty members Meghan Durham and Rebecca Lazier, guest choreographer Jessica Lang and selected students. Forty students will perform during the event. Tickets are available at the McCarter box office at 258-2787.