Seniors Combine Dance, Music, Electronics for Joint Performance Piece

Mary Fischer

With their piece append, double-degree senior Christy Rose and College senior Molly Barger proved on Saturday that exceptional work is created when artists work together to cross boundaries and defy expectations. The performance served as both Rose’s junior TIMARA recital and Barger’s senior Dance project. Marked by mostly ensemble-based choreographies and a wide variety of acrobatic elements, this 30-minute investigation of human relationships and the role of technology was relatable and immersive.

The show consisted of five different sections, each focusing on different choreographic and musical elements related to the title themes: interaction, connection, distraction, construction and consumption. A collaborative spirit was clearly visible on stage from the beginning of the interaction section. As the dancers moved in horizontal and vertical lines across the stage, their spatial awareness and attention to one another was at the forefront, suggesting that the eight students spent much time rehearsing together and that Rose and Barger had a clear vision of what the final piece would look like.

As the dance piece moved forward, dancers interacted for brief moments and performed what appeared to be repeated choreographed patterns. This gave the first section of append a semi-improvised feel, as these gestures took place at seemingly random moments and varied places on stage. Despite the relatively limited vocabulary of movement used in this section, the performers’ differing levels of skill and dance background gave each of these parts a freeform atmosphere and added to the exploratory vibe of the entire piece.

The second section, connection, featured more solo sections as well as choreographed aerial acrobatics. These seemed the most rehearsed parts of the show. The acrobatics were generally paired smoothly with key segments of the atmospheric music.

Visually and formally moving toward representations of technological interaction, connection incorporated the use of stretch sensors, which look similar to long cables, attached to each of the dancers. A physical constraint on the dancers, the sensors served as a tangible connection between the musical world and the world created on stage. The interaction between dance and music was successfully executed, as the sensors used movement to create sound.

The third movement, distraction, saw an extension of the deconstruction of boundaries between humans, technology and dance by introducing “the box,” a pressure-sensitive granular synthesizer that Rose devised. Barger and College senior Alex Katz excelled with an organic, thoughtful choreography on “the box.” Both dancers performed with equal amounts of energy, as though they were trying to speak each other’s language with their bodies. The musical landscape changed based on how they interacted with “the box”; the pattern made by impacts with “the box” controlled how an original audio file was processed through the synthesizer.

The introduction of a live trio, composed of Rose, double-degree senior and saxophonist David Diongue and double-degree fifth-year and percussionist Justin Gunter was a great addition to an already successful show. It gave the relatively abstract musical landscape that had so far governed the show a more tangible, concrete feel. The trio did an excellent job, effortlessly meandering in and out of improvisational sections within Rose’s piece.

At a school with the artistic breadth of Oberlin, it is surprising that pieces like append are a relative exception. Not many students choose to collaborate with others for their final projects, especially not outside of their discipline; collaborations between the Conservatory and the College are even less common. Rose and Barger succeeded in making a case for the value of more of these collaborations.