Fall dance concert honors icon of modern dance

Sweet Briar’s Fall Dance Concert will feature something that hasn’t been seen on stage in some time: A performance by Professor Ella Magruder. Hers will be one of several dances by faculty and students on the program, which will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, and Saturday, Nov. 7, in Murchison Lane Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public.

Dance professor Mark Magruder performs Beverly Blossom's hilarious solo "Besame Mucho." Photo by Andrew Wilds.
Dance professor Mark Magruder performs Beverly Blossom’s hilarious solo “Besame Mucho.” Photo by Andrew Wilds.

Nov. 1 will mark one year since the death of modern dance choreographer Beverly Blossom, who was both a mentor and longtime friend to Ella and Mark Magruder. They were her students at the University of Illinois. Both will perform Blossom’s choreography — famous for its zany hilarity — in concerts on three successive weekends: in memorial concerts in her honor at Hunter College in New York City on Nov. 1 and at Illinois on Nov. 14, with the Sweet Briar concert in between.

Although Ella Magruder has continued to teach and choreograph, she hasn’t performed in several years. She will reprise one of Blossom’s earliest works, “Black Traveler,” which she performed previously in New York and elsewhere. In 1999, dancing simultaneously with another soloist on stage, a New York Times reviewer described this example of Blossom’s madcap style, noting that the dancers “twitched goofily away at breakneck speed.” The whole piece takes place on a stool.

In the Sweet Briar concert, Mark Magruder will dance “Besame Mucho,” which turns a solo into a frenetic duet with a costume that splits the dancer in two — half woman, half man. It, too, is a Blossom classic that he has performed in the past — including once at a “crazy little theater” in New York with the choreographer herself.

“It was one of my favorite moments performing with someone,” says Magruder, who recalls feeling an “instant simpatico” with Blossom when they first met at UI.

“She was an amazing teacher. I’ve never gotten so much from any one person in my life, so I call her my mentor.”

Both professors will choreograph dances for students, including Mark Magruder’s “Drift,” a work for seven performers set to his own musical composition. Student choreographers include junior Bachelor of Fine Arts candidate Vanessa Finnegan. Both her solo, “From Colored Sand” set to “Dancing in Madness” by Anoushka Shankar, and her trio, “Seduced by Fireflies,” have impressed Magruder.

“Vanessa has done a beautiful atmospheric trio that has this ebb and flow to it,” he says. “It goes from soloist to duet, but the soloist keeps changing. There’s a neat interplay between the dancers.”

Finnegan, a dance minor who is majoring in creative writing, will perform the piece with sophomores Velocity Haigh and Anna Colvin.

The firefly’s light represents a beacon that someone who is lost can follow in the dark, Finnegan says. “But the light is not constant and flicks in and out. The emotion is knowing something wonderful and magical exists within your grasp but not knowing how to keep track of it and not being able to trust in its constancy.”

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