On January 23, the Grace community gathered in Tuttle Hall to witness the high school dancers at Open Studio, an informal exhibition of choreography. Open Studio kicked off at 6:30 pm with a full house and ended with rounds of applause as the dancers took their final bow. I have been in dance ensemble and participated in Open Studio all three years that I have been at Grace. As usual, during this years Open Studio I felt a rush of excitement and energy after walking off the stage.
Open Studio first came to be out of Project Exhibition Day, which was a time when classes were meant to share their culminating projects from the semester. As expected, performing arts classes had a lot of work that could be shared. Most of the dance performances used to be held in the dance studio, which is small and difficult to fit larger groups of people in. Trying to combat these spatial difficulties, the dance department teamed up with the drama department to have a performance in the Multi-Purpose Room after school. This performance in the evening of Project Exhibition Day became known as Open Studio. With this change, the dance and theater classes still got a chance to exhibit the work created throughout the semester but in a more sensical, organized manner.
This year, since drama classes did not take part in Open Studio, it was formed from the range of dance classes that occurred during lunchtime or lab day elective periods. From the beginning of the year, Ms. Pommiss, Dance Teacher said, “I had a strong sense that the work coming out of each of the classes would be good enough to have its own informal showing.” Still frustrated by the lack of space and organization during the performances of the elective classes, it was decided that Open Studio would be much better suited in Tuttle Hall at the 86 campus. After hashing out the scheduling details, Ms. Pommiss had to decide which classes would exhibit their work. It is important to give the students in dance classes, who did not necessarily sign up for the class to perform, an opportunity to showcase their work. Ms. Pommiss commented that it was equally important that they have the option of not performing if they are not comfortable with it. In the end, she felt that there were four classes ready to perform: a section of Dance I, the Dance II class, the Choreolab class and the Action Art class.
The Dance I class performed a version of a piece that Ms. Pommiss previously choreographed titled “Roaming Charges May Apply.” The students contributed to the choreography somewhat, but it was really a piece that, “Poked fun at our relationship with technology and the language and movements that technology has adopted as its own,” Ms. Pommiss commented. Watching from offstage, the contrast of fluid motions with the repetition of machine-like movements made the performance particularly compelling.
For the second year in a row, the Dance II class did an excerpt of Bill T. Jones’s, “D-Man in the Waters,” which is a piece from 1989 that responded to the AIDS epidemic. It was important for the students to be able to learn about the history of the AIDS crisis in a different way. It was of equal importance for the students to ask themselves what issues they feel need to gain recognition today, as AIDS is now under control and not as prominent of an issue. Ms. Pommiss hoped that this piece would “still be infused with that same sense of urgency that the original performance of “D-Man in the Waters” provoked.” From the synchronized sprinting around the stage or the dancer that was thrown up in the air while the lights turned on, the urgency was made abundantly clear to the audience.
The Choreolab class began the year by learning about the late German choreographer Pina Bausch, focusing on her piece performed in 1975 called “Rite Of Spring.” The class focused on themes of rituals and the place they have in our communities and later incorporated it into the culminating performance. This was a collaborative piece with choreography from Ms. Pommiss, Anya Zaretsky ‘20 and myself.
In the Action Art class, which ran for the first time this year, students chose an issue that they wanted to explore and raise awareness about. They ended up learning about prison reform, with even more of a focus on what life behind bars might be like for incarcerated men and women in this country. The students incorporated the skills that they already had and developed almost all of the material themselves. During the performance there was live jazz music, spoken text, intricately designed set pieces and student-made choreography, which made the piece all the more interesting to watch.
For the future Open Studios, the performances would run more smoothly if students would be able to practice in the actual performance space. Scheduling, clearly, is very difficult, especially at Tuttle Hall, which is primarily used by students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 8, so the teching of the pieces was right before they were performed. Ideally, Ms. Pommiss noted, there would be a performance space at the high school, so that the teching of shows would not be rushed and so that the students could really get comfortable on stage. Nonetheless, Open Studio was an overwhelming success. The dancers, Ms. Pommiss, and all of the people who set up Tuttle Hall made for a night that will not be forgotten by the Grace community.