For seniors in Deerfield’s dance program, the spring is a time to use their artistic knowledge and choreograph their final pieces for the end-of-year showcases. These are projects that, for many senior dancers, have been built by years of experience fostered by the dance program.
“It’s unusual for students to be choreographing at this point in their lives,” noted Director of Dance Jen Whitcomb. “But we have such creative forces here and they’re such mature students that they’re ready.”
To get to such a level of talent and gain the ability to self-choreograph, however, requires hours of teaching and training.
Adult choreographers constantly push the dancers to expand their expressive ranges and aspire to create their own dances, a goal that many students, such as Quinn Soucy ‘19, have anticipated since before they joined the Deerfield dance program.
“I’ve wanted to dance professionally since I started training in sixth grade,” Soucy said. “When I wasn’t getting the material and repertoire I imagine I might see in the professional world, I decided I needed to provide that for myself.”
To foster an inspirational environment, dancers are exposed to all forms of dance and conduct choreography labs where they can experiment and become more comfortable with different themes, ideas, and forms of movement.
Whitcomb works with dancers to achieve this by first asking students to choreograph a dance called “this is me” and then, later, to create another piece called “this is not me”. This is meant to highlight to students that what initially seemed foreign can easily become part of their repertoire.
“I think it’s important to let young artists find their own voices as choreographers,” Whitcomb said “It empowers them, since there’s nothing more satisfying than creating a work of art.”
But Whitcomb also realizes that, while it is important to give students opportunities to be inspired, creativity is not a skill that can be taught.
Instead, students must find their artistic voices through given exercises as well as from each other.
Dancer Acy Cai ‘20, who shared her first choreographed piece at the last Winter Dance Showcase, has grown throughout her time in the dance program and developed her own creative process for choreographing.
Cai described that she is often inspired by the songs she chooses for her pieces. She uses movements, lighting, and costumes to amplify the message.
One important inspiration to Cai has been being part of dances choreographed by other students. Experiencing the styles of other dancers such as Soucy and Zo Williams ‘19 has been one of the greatest influences in Cai’s development of her own technique.
Having danced before coming to Deerfield in New York, Williams has a choreography technique that is slightly different from that of other dancers.
An admirer of theatrical dance, Williams connects to the musical elements of dance and makes his phrases based on emotions, music, and visions. Yet Williams is unique in that his creative process often changes and evolves; many times he rarely edits the pieces he creates but, instead, allows them to flow as the develop.
Conversely, Quinn teaches her dances quickly to allow time to “clean” and edit them, a process that allows her more time to envision the way she wants the piece to be conveyed onstage.
She said, “Once I have the full picture of my dance, I can start imagining lighting and costumes. When all of that is said and done, I get to see my vision come to life on stage.”
As seniors, Williams and Soucy will get to see their work on the Deerfield stage for the last time at the spring showcases in May, a time for veterans of the dance program to display their growth to the Deerfield community.
Reflecting on the seniors that she’s danced with for the past years, Cai said, “I’m really happy and proud of how far they’ve come. Dance is an emotional art, and to put yourself out there with a piece that you created is incredible. It makes people feel things, so the best thing that the audience can do is feel.”