Sweet Briar College’s annual Fall Dance Concert has always been a colorful spectacle of diverse ideas, and 2016 is no different. From faculty-choreographed group dances to student-led solos in the air and on the floor, there will be something for everyone when dance professors Ella and Mark Magruder and their mentees take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 12, in Murchison Lane Auditorium.
Vanessa Finnegan ’17 used Sweet Briar’s natural surroundings in her interdisciplinary 2016 Honors Summer Research project.
Ella Magruder’s piece is choreographed for a group of dancers and draws inspiration from the artwork of famous glassblower Chihuly. Providing “an abstract look at the world of Chihuly,” as Mark Magruder put it, the dance also features a score by assistant professor of music Joshua Harris.
Mark Magruder will contribute two pieces to the concert. The first one, “Edge,” is a large group dance for eight students.
“I’m playing with the idea of edges as physical boundaries, as well as dealing with the edge of dark emotions,” he explained, adding the dance would showcase “strong technique and great athleticism.”
Magruder’s performers are Olympia LeHota ’20, Taylor Jefferson ’19, Haylei Libran ’20, Rachel Woods ’20, Katrina Buniak ’17, Ruth Packard ’17, Velocity Haigh ’18 and Caroline McDonald ’17 — a great mix of talented first-years and experienced dancers, Magruder says.
Music accompaniment will be played live on stage by Magruder, senior dance major and psychology minor Alex Dagher, and Tom Marcais, a former Sweet Briar College employee and longtime band mate of Magruder’s.
The second dance is a duet titled “Q,” performed by the professor himself and Buniak.
“This dance is loosely based on Don Quixote, but takes place in modern times with me as an older Blues musician,” says Magruder, who will be setting the score live and then looping it. Buniak will be featured on the aerial hoop for part of the dance.
As in previous years, the students aren’t just performers — they’re choreographers, too. Magruder says he loves seeing students’ ideas come together in creative pieces that reflect their backgrounds and interests while illustrating “how much they have grown as artists at Sweet Briar.”
One of them is Dagher. Her first piece is “a solo about death” featuring a cow skull as a prop and her own musical composition.
“I like to imagine myself as the Grim Reaper,” Dagher said.
Her second dance is a duet choreographed for first-year Taylor Watson and sophomore Taylor Jefferson.
“This is a partnership dance that is very serious, but has its sad and happy moments,” Dagher explained. “The song is the instrumental version of ‘Death of a Bachelor.’ ”
Raised in Texas, Dagher has traveled all over the world. She has been dancing for three years and has performed in every concert at Sweet Briar. Her interest in music, theater and special-effects makeup has her participating in various organizations, including the theater, dance and community service clubs. She also teaches two different dance classes, and has run her own psychology experiment.
Katrina Buniak ’17 on the hoop at Sweet Briar College. Photo by Andrew Wilds
After graduation, Dagher hopes to continue teaching dance at a studio.
Another member of the senior class, Ruth Packard, is choreographing — and performing in — a group dance for seven.
“My piece is called ‘The Necromancer’ and it’s about, well, a necromancer who brings some people back to life as zombies and they all dance together,” said Packard, who is combining her dance major and English/creative writing minor for a B.F.A degree. “It’s kind of a quirky piece with rather peppy music.”
Fellow B.F.A. candidate and senior Vanessa Finnegan, an English/creative writing major and dance minor, is doing a solo.
Meanwhile Rogers, a dance major and B.F.A. candidate, has created a solo that deals with the physical abuse of women — a timely commentary on the current political debate surrounding the treatment of women, as Magruder points out.
Finally Buniak, a senior dance major, will star in an aerial hoop dance she choreographed for herself. Magruder notes that the piece draws on her experience completing a summer internship program with Frequent Flyers, the Babcock Season Event for February 2017.
“The Babcock Season doesn’t just bring great performers to campus,” he said. “It really opens up a lot of opportunities for our students, too.”
Previously, Buniak studied for two summers with PILOBOLUS, another recent Babcock Season event.
Aerial dance is a relatively recent addition to Sweet Briar’s dance program, and it’s not very common at other colleges, Magruder says.
It all started in 2008, when he purchased a pair of aerial loops, also called slings.
In summer 2015, Courtney Hurt ’10 added an aerial hoop as a gift to the College in celebration of its avoided closure.
Both have gotten a lot of use in recent months, says Magruder, as his dance students flock to the air.