Beats and bamboo, hoops and sinister masks — sounds like a Sweet Briar dance concert

Posted on April 08, 2016 by Jennifer McManamay

In Sweet Briar’s Spring Dance Concert, students will swing from new heights, dance program director Mark Magruder has foraged deep into the Sweet Briar woods for bamboo props and Ella Magruder will pay homage to the College’s founder in a historical piece. It all happens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 15, and Saturday, April 16, in Murchison Lane Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public.

Junior Katrina “Kat” Buniak of Austin, Texas, and graduating senior Samantha Cochran of Virginia Beach have been practicing and getting stronger on the lyra, or aerial hoop, since it was installed in the College’s main dance studio last fall. Buniak is choreographing two pieces, including a solo, “Reaching Greater Heights,” that she is preparing to perform.

2016 Spring Dance Concert Poster
“For me, [the lyra] adds an uplifting effect to the scene. It is beautiful to watch and even more fun to work with,” she says. “I will be performing my first solo for this concert and I am very excited. I have come a long way to have this moment on stage. Can’t wait to show off what I have learned.”

She’s also choreographing a duo called “Solstice.”

“It is more about the movement of the dancers. I love making theatrical pieces. I always like to have strong energy in my choreography,” Buniak says. “I want the audience to feel almost included in the dance, like they could join in — or have the urge to try doing what we do.”

Vanessa Finnegan, a junior from Washington, N.J., is working toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts combining her major in English and creative writing with a dance minor. She’s working on a solo called “Learning to Walk” that celebrates “how amazing it is to have a physical body.”

“To me, movement is one of the most enjoyable things to learn and explore. I think pursuits of the mind are often valued above and as separate from pursuits of the body and I want my piece to express not only how our bodies are equally important, but that they are the inseparable partners of our minds,” she says.

Her group piece, “Fuzzy Socks,” with Alex Dagher ’17 of Wichita Falls, Texas, Rachel Moser-Hardy ’19 of Shelburne, Vt., and Ruth Packard of Spotsylvania, Va., aims to evoke Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

“The piece is perhaps a little bit silly but also an attempt at representing genuine feelings of indulgence in pleasure, comfort and unity with the earth and all living things,” Finnegan says.

Packard, Dagher and Rachel Rogers ’18 of Providence Forge, Va., also are choreographing works for the concert. Rogers, who will audition for the B.FA. program later this year, will choreograph and perform a solo. For costuming, she painted a mask in class — which led her to the theme and, eventually, the music.

Photo by Andrew Wilds Photo by Andrew Wilds

“I knew I wanted a creepy-looking mask that would be interesting for the audience, but I did not know where my theme was headed until I started movement,” she says. “I did the piece in silence the first few weeks and when I showed Mark [Magruder] in class, he asked me to do it again and played this music. It seemed to fall perfectly in place to my already set choreography, like it was meant to be.”

The accompaniment Magruder chose is a traditional klezmer piece, “Doina Naftule,” performed by Itzhak Perlman. The result is an “I’m-coming-for-you” impression, she says, meant to grab attention by provoking a sense of unease.

Mark Magruder has set the largest piece of the concert with 12 dancers. “Bamboo Winds” takes its name from the long poles he’s using for props harvested from the groves scattered in the woods on campus. The bamboo stands fascinate him and he has used them many times before.

The work is athletic but with quieter moments and is set to his original composition. Former Sweet Briar employee and drummer Tom Marcais will perform live, while Magruder himself will alternate playing several instruments, including the Chinese guzheng. The dancers will add percussive beats, both with their feet and the bamboo.

Ella Magruder’s work featuring the period-costumed characters of Sweet Briar founder Indiana Fletcher Williams and her daughter, Daisy, is an expression of gratitude after a tumultuous year. The piece is set to Karl Jenkins’ “Benedictus” performed by 2Cellos.

“I have come to realize how much Indiana’s vision for the future truly has made a difference in my life and in the lives of many others,” Magruder says. “Indiana could have given in to grief upon losing Daisy, her only child. Instead, she put into perpetuity an educational opportunity for thousands of young women. As a 1975 graduate of the College and a professor at SBC for thirty-two years of my life, I owe her a lot.”

For more information about the concert, contact Mark Magruder at or (434) 381-6150.