Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Five College Calendar
Smith eDigest
Submit an Idea
News Archive
News Publications
Planning an Event
Contact Us
News & Events
 Dance Dept. press release  Date: 11/11/11 Bookmark and Share

Annual Fall Faculty Dance Concert, Nov. 17-19

A Retrospective Look at the History of Improvisational Dance

This year’s Faculty Dance Concert, with performances Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 17 to 19, at 8 p.m. in Theatre 14, Mendenhall Center, features choreographic premieres created by dance faculty Chris Aiken, Rodger Blum and Five College Lecturer in African Dance Marilyn Sylla.

For this year's event, the Smith dance and Five College dance departments present Merce Cunningham’s renowned EVENTS. This project is especially timely as it will coincide with the Cunningham company’s final tour and performances.

Merce Cunningham was one of the great innovators of 20th century art and dance, known especially for his wide-ranging, innovative collaborations with leading composers and visual artists. EVENTS will include original collaborations with lighting and costume designers and sound and media artists, including, from Smith: Eitan Mendelowitz, computer science; Greg Brown, music; and Emily Dunn, theatre.

The production of EVENTS is supported by a prestigious American Masterpieces grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The use of improvisation in concert dance was an aesthetic formulated by Cunningham (and others) that still strongly influences artists such as Aiken. Cunningham realized that it is very easy to become a prisoner of one’s habits and of what one knows. As such, he developed methods that challenged him to move into unknown territories. His use of chance procedures offered him new creative avenues because of the surprising interactions that would occur when he took known elements and combined them in unknown ways.

“This way of working is what makes Chris Aiken such an important and exciting hire for Smith and the Five College dance department,” states Rodger Blum, chair of the Department of Dance.

Contrasting his work with that of Cunningham, Aiken says, “Cunningham allows the dancers to choose when or where to initiate certain set choreographies but the movement is set. My work allows the dancers to have agency over their movement choices.” Aiken is focused on the creation of processes that are both designed to explore the possibilities of the human body and to create a relationship to choice-making and habit.

Aiken’s piece for the concert will present a directed improvisational dance with nine dancers. While many of the elements of the dance, such as music, lighting and costumes, will be decided upon ahead of time, the actual movements will be improvised in the moment based upon “scores” and directions that have been internalized by the dancers throughout the rehearsal process; the dancers will be composing in real time.

Other pieces on the concert program performed include “Sonnet for the Broken-hearted,” an ensemble work choreographed by Blum that explores a range of relationships, from light-hearted and silly to confused and dark.

Marilyn and Sekou Sylla’s “Carnival” dance is based on African, Brazilian and Caribbean music and dance and is inspired by annual Carnival events celebrated in many parts of the world, including the United States, Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean.

The Fall Faculty Dance Concert is always an exhilarating and sold out evening of contemporary dance; advance ticket purchase is recommended. Tickets are $9, general admission, $5 for students and seniors. To order, call 413-585-ARTS (2787) or email

DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z