Each fall, new members of the Bates dance community come together to create the First-Year dance piece, performed in the Back to Bates Weekend Dance Concert. This year, Rachel Boggia, Assistant Professor of Dance, spearheads those efforts.
Boggia and Carol Dilley, acting Chair of the Theater and Dance departments, have rotated the responsibility of working with the first-years on this piece. Returning from a six-month sabbatical, Boggia wanted to return to the dance community and work with its new members while also exploring a new improvisational score, Forward/Afterward. The score draws on inter-dancer relationships during improvisational movement, particularly through paying attention to the other dancers.
Boggia cited this year’s convocation speaker, Danielle Allen, as another influence. Allen’s speech discusses collaboration, a theme throughout the score. Dancers worked together in groups of three to generate material, though they were not allowed to make any communicative gestures or to speak. Boggia culled pieces of each small group’s set of movements and strung them together to make a longer section of choreography. A large portion of movement was drawn from this framework, and consequently three or more dancers generated each section.
Another concept that Boggia explored during her sabbatical and summer was risky weight. Inspired by Bebe Miller, this weight study was new to many of the first-years. Johanna Hayes ’19 describes risky weight as “the idea that you can never quite catch up to your weight.” Continuously moving, the dancers are always falling off balance and never recover. This fast-paced idea was applied to the Forward/Afterward score to keep the dancers moving, as the Forward/Afterward score can slow movements. The combination of these two practices is where the piece’s choreography draws from; during rehearsals, dancers try to integrate these two concepts.
The soundscape for this piece is three a cappella singers harmonizing onstage with the dancers. Boggia, known for her propensity for original soundscapes, was inspired to use the live singers when she heard the Parents’ Weekend A Cappella Concert in the fall of 2014. “The feeling of being in the same room with all those live singers was really exciting… I thought, I’ve got to use this kind of power in a piece,” Boggia said.
During rehearsals, the excitement and energy the live music brought to the piece was reflected in the relationship between the soundscape and the movement. Boggia went on to say, “it would be such a great feeling to be dancing with live singers, and also so comforting to be sung to while you’re dancing in front of a live audience.” The choice to have live music was not just to enhance the audience’s perception of the piece, but also to ease the dancers’ first performance experience at Bates.
Many first-year dancers choose to participate in this piece as an informal, open opportunity to get involved with the dance community and meet other first-year students. “I thought it would be an easy way to get into the performing community here, especially because I knew that everyone was coming from the same place,” said first-year Flannery Black-Ingersoll. Other first-years cited the chance to perform just a month into the school year as driving their interest in the first-year piece.
Regardless of their initial reason to participate in the piece, each member of the cast has withstood lengthy and exhausting rehearsals in the hopes that other members of the Bates Community can enjoy their hard work. Congratulations to these first-year students on their first Bates College performance!