Spring Dance Concert offers joyful sneak peek at student compositions

Students dancing
Sweet Briar students and faculty will perform original music and choreography in the College’s Spring Dance Concert April 7 and 8. Photo by Andrew Wilds

Something different is abuzz in Sweet Briar College’s Spring Dance Concert, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7, and Saturday, April 8, in Murchison Lane Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public.

OK, there’s always something a little different about Sweet Briar’s semesterly dance concerts. Program director Mark Magruder likes to keep it that way. But this time, the source is the music wing of the Babcock Fine Arts Center, where Velocity Haigh ’18 is busily composing — and from across the street, in Guion Science Center.

Haigh, a music and math double major from Tacoma, Wash., is working on a suite of compositions putting Paul Fleischman’s book celebrating the world of insects, “Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices,” to music. Several dances in the spring concert are set to recorded versions of her songs, offering a sneak peek of the live premiere on April 14.

Haigh contacted the poet — who won the 1989 Newbery Medal and several other notable awards for “Joyful Noise” — to ask permission to use his work. He readily gave it. Student musicians will perform her music.

The idea for this biology-inspired collaboration has been percolating for a few years, ever since Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Ecology Linda Fink suggested it to dance professors Mark and Ella Magruder. It just took time and an enterprising student to get it going, Mark Magruder said.

Ella Magruder’s group dance, “Requiem,” is one of the “Joyful Noise” works. It’s a lament for the black-winged damselflies, katydids, cave crickets and other creatures that succumb to winter’s first killing frost.

Of the student choreographers, Rachel Rogers ’18, Alex Dagher ’17 and Rachel Woods ’20 have created dances to Haigh’s work, including Woods’ “One Less Mother” set to “The Digger Wasp.”

Fleischman’s poems are written to be read aloud by two voices, either together or alternating. According to the publisher, “Funny, sad, loud, and quiet, each of these poems resounds with a booming, boisterous, joyful noise.”

Not every dance pays homage to insect life, however. Senior Caroline McDonald set “Planned Obsolescence” to the electronic beat of “My Stellar Boat” by Sonic Area. Kat Buniak is reprising a duet from her senior concert, “Hand in Hand,” which uses aerial straps.

“The dancers do a beautiful partnership,” Magruder said, “interweaving without bumping into each other. It’s a very sensitive and artfully done piece.”

Seniors Vanessa Finnegan, Ruth Packard and Kat Buniak also have choreography in the concert.

Magruder isn’t dancing, but he will perform live music for two pieces he is choreographing. He’ll perform Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” on the saxophone for “Glance Back.”

Danced by Woods, the piece evokes a bygone era and the sense of an unfolding journey marked by different moods, he says.

The music for his second work incorporates loops and different live instruments, including his recently acquired Moog synthesizer.

Magruder spoke of it with hints of melancholy and excitement. Two seniors, Buniak and McDonald, and three first-years, Woods, Cassie Mills and Olympia LeHota, will perform what he describes as a “knock-it-out-of-the-park, really demanding piece requiring a high level of dance technique.”

The blues are for the departing seniors, talented students who stuck with the program through difficult times. But he’s also excited about “an incredible crop of first-years.”

“I’m overjoyed they’re going on with their lives and I’m glad there’s some great first-years, but I’m going to be really sad,” Magruder admitted.

They will go out dancing, however, to Magruder’s unrelentingly fast-paced “Surge.”

For more information about the concert, contact Mark Magruder at mmagruder@sbc.edu or (434) 381-6150.

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