Dance, composition students collaborate to create original works for annual concert

Here’s a guest post about the upcoming Hammer and Nail concert courtesy of newsroom colleague Tracy James, who typically blogs at Health and Vitality:

Audiences are treated to a trove of creativity, ingenuity, movement and music as original works by Indiana University dance and composition students are performed during the annual Hammer and Nail concert April 9 and 10 at Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington.

Each night features two one-hour shows, each involving seven to eight dances that explore a range of ideas, such as playfulness, mental illness and the intrusion of technology on intimate relationships, with the works examining different aspects of movement and choreography. Admission to the 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. shows is free.

Hammer and Nail

Performers rehearse for the upcoming Hammer and Nail concert. The annual concert pairs up a contemporary dance choreographer and School of Music composer to create original works.

Dance historian and lecturer Selene Carter points out that students are responsible for every aspect of the works – the choreography, dancing, composition of the music and then the musical performances. One of the works, “Iridescent Hues,” incorporates a student-made video.

“The level of ability among the performers is so high,” Carter said. “This concert allows fledgling artists to spread their wings for the first time. The dance students have been mentored in the creative process of dance making for two years in their course work as dance majors. This collaboration is the first time they take a whole project from its inception to performance.”

I stopped by a rehearsal of “Iridescent Hues,” this week and watched several months of planning, creating, re-imagining and rehearsals condense into a performance of just under 5 minutes.

“The whole idea started off differently from where it is,” said choreographer Annie Ellis, a junior majoring in dance. She is completing Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and also taking pre-med courses. “We kept the integrity, the playful attitude.”

And the paint!

When Ellis thinks of child’s play and playfulness, the original concept of her piece, she thinks of finger paints, and she really wanted her dancers all covered in paint during their performance.

“My (five) dancers are absolutely fabulous,” she said. “I came in saying, ‘I want you all to be on stage in paint,’ and they’re like, ‘Yah, let’s do it!’”

Dancing in paint on stage wasn’t feasible, however, but a “stubborn” Ellis wasn’t ready to give up on the idea. After talking with her mentor Elizabeth Shea, director of the Contemporary Dance Program, she changed directions and sought out someone who could create a video that could be incorporated into the dance.

One cold day in February, Ellis, her dancers and Matt Starr, a senior working on his Bachelor of Fine Arts and self-designed major in “socially charged media,” headed to Lake Monroe to have some fun with dance and powdered paint.

“Matt filmed everything at the scene so we had a lot to choose from for the video,” Ellis said. “He filmed them jumping up and down because they were cold – and we used that because it worked really well in the video.”

Phillip Sink, a doctoral student in the Jacobs School of Music, used his guitar – which he does not know how to play – to create the bold soundtrack. Sink put paperclips on the strings and plucked them, and then did the same with rubber bands. He sampled a variety of noises from the guitar and then put them together digitally on the computer.

“It was interesting to see how Annie interpreted the music and what she did with it,” he said. “The music is really active. She let the dancers take over in some places and then let the music take over in other places. There are moments when the video is more prominent.”

Ellis, Starr and Sink enjoyed the collaborative process. Sink and Ellis were paired up after a form of speed-dating, during which they talked with 15 to 20 other artists about their visions and goals in order to find a good match for the project.

“It’s always a pleasure to work with other artists because I’m normally stuck behind a computer all day,” said Starr, who recently began a business called Thesthetics, which focuses on helping other artists use new media, projections and other services.

Hammer and Nail is presented by the Indiana Dance Theatre and the Student Composer Association, in collaboration with the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, Jacobs School of Music and grant funding from the IU Student Association. The concert also is a food drive, collecting non-perishable food items and cash donations for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

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