Choreographers mix it up in Sweet Briar’s Fall Dance Concert

Posted on October 29, 2010 by Staff Writer

Sarah Fletcher
A quick poll of the students and faculty members choreographing Sweet Briar College’s Fall Dance Concert suggests a colorful program tailored for those who like a little tradition with their modern dance. It includes instructor Mari Mori’s classical ballet in which she sets four dancers to music by Johann Pachelbel and a lively Irish step dance choreographed by senior Katherine Boltz.

The concert will be held at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5 and Saturday, Nov. 6 in Murchison Lane Auditorium at Babcock Fine Arts Center. Admission is free and open to the public.

Boltz is calling her work “Mhna Laidre,” which means “Strong Women.” The music is a slip jig that becomes a reel. “Traditionally, slip jigs are only danced by women, and reels are known for being strong and lively,” she said.

Mori, an internationally trained dancer who teaches at Sweet Briar and the Virginia School of the Arts, is making her debut as a Sweet Briar choreographer. Her piece emphasizes fundamental ballet moves to evoke the emotions that humans experience in day-to-day living.

There’s no story or hidden meanings in the dance. “It’s just simple things that people can connect to in our lives,” such as happiness and loneliness, she said, noting that the music, costumes and lighting all work equally with the dancers to create the effect.

Dance program director Mark Magruder’s modern piece, “Succession,” does have a story, which he says is a departure for him. “If you know anything about my work you know it’s abstract, athletic choreography,” he said. “But this one does have a loose story that people may choose to follow or not.”

Based on the idea of a single-gender society, it depicts a struggle for power among three queens. First-year Ebonnie “Ty” Shreve, who portrays one of the queens, will also play flute during part of the dance. She’ll be joined in the live composition that accompanies the piece by Magruder and drummer Tom Marcais.

Student choreographers Ashley Adams ’11 of Danville, Cortney Lewandowski ’12 of Amherst and Jessica Murphy ’13 of Lynchburg each draw from their own lives to portray a range of human experiences — for example, Murphy’s solo “Stress Fracture” is inspired by anxiety over exams and project deadlines while Lewandowski sets three dancers who represent the power of friendship during a difficult time.

Professor Ella Magruder’s choreography was sparked by an experiment the College is conducting using iPads. Two of her students are participating in the trial and it made her examine her own dependency on being “connected.” What began as political satire morphed in to a reflection on society’s general “obsession and addiction to the digital screen.”

Among the questions she asks is whether this technology is useful or intrusive, helpful or harmful. What surprises her is that students are thinking about it, too, especially in light of recent headlines such as the suicide of a Rutgers student.

“They’re concerned,” she said. “They seem to be starting to question it in ways I hadn’t seen before.”

As an artist Magruder feels an obligation to explore important topics in her work. “I think it’s the role of the arts to look into a phenomenon of culture,” she said.

For information on the dance concert, contact Mark Magruder at (434) 381-6150 or