This time of year the birds fly in elegant mobs,
tragic and sinister against gathering clouds.
This fall, the choreography of CSU’s new director of dance is gracing the University Dance Theatre stage for the first time. Emily Morgan’s piece, fly in elegant mobs, is being showcased alongside choreographic innovations by the late Salvatore Aiello, CSU faculty, and select students. The concert takes place Nov. 9-10.
Inspired by the poem Migration by Bianca Stone, fly in elegant mobs captures Morgan’s interest in the movement of flocking birds. Morgan found that the poet’s juxtaposition of “elegant” and “mob” perfectly encapsulated in words what she wanted to portray through choreography.
The movement of a mob
“We think of mobs as unruly, but here, there is grace and order, and that was the driving factor,” said Morgan, who is new to Fort Collins and has been fascinated by the flight patterns of the geese that are plentiful near her home north of town. “The dancers are moving in and out of their mob or their flock, and hopefully the ways they move appear unpredictable and surprising to the audience.”
Throughout the dance, dark clouds and birds pass in and out of each other, representing the murmuration of starlings, where thousands of birds fly in coordinated patterns. Morgan has enjoyed watching the students experiment with movement, especially after watching videos of this phenomenon.
“As the students play with their movement, they start seeing what’s happening in the dance and are excited about making the connection,” said Morgan, who went on to explain the specific impact on the dance’s lift sequences. “When it comes to the lifts where we’re trying to get the quality of flight, when they’ve made the connection, the lifts have changed and better reflect that idea.”
Through movement, such as the lifts, Morgan incorporated additional captivating dichotomies from the poem as the author explores the beautiful, unexpected, and ugly aspects of nature and human co-existence.
Morgan represented this in the piece by switching up the predictable dance functions where males lift females. “As long as we’re doing it in an efficient way, everyone can be lifted,” she said. “Some of them are getting used to a new role and have never been lifted or done the lifting. Size doesn’t matter, and this is exciting.”
The composition of the auditioned group has also been significant, and Morgan especially enjoys that every year (freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior) is embodied in the ensemble of one male and eight female dancers. “That’s been cool to get them out of their usual relationships with each other,” said Morgan.
The production is set to music by Mark Lewis, a friend and former colleague of Morgan’s from Winthrop University. He originally wrote the two pieces for dance and, for Morgan, “the light, somewhat incessant rhythm with the violin sort of flying over the marimba” were a perfect pairing.
A dance legacy
The 2018 Fall Dance Concert also includes three works by the late Salvatore Aiello. With an illustrious performance career spanning the ’60s and ’70s with dance companies such as Joffrey Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Hamburg Ballet, Aiello went on to become artistic director of North Carolina Dance Theatre until his untimely death in 1995. During his tenure, he created dozens of works, some of which remain available today for performance or reconstruction.
“Sal’s work is timeless. It provides an ideal framework within which dancers can explore and develop unique artistic voices,” said Madeline Harvey, assistant professor of dance.
Jerri Kumery, Salvatore Aiello Trust curator and repetiteur, visited CSU in September for a week-long residency, setting choreography on the students. In collaboration with CSU faculty artists Madeline and Matthew Harvey, three of Aiello’s works make their Colorado debut at the concert.
“I’m excited about the diversity in the program,” said Morgan. “Snow brings some holiday cheer into the production and is Aiello’s version of the dance from The Nutcracker.”
Kumery also restaged two of Aiello’s works specifically for CSU Dance: Senza Freta is lively, quick, and quirky, and The Waiting Room is a smaller, more serious, but equally engaging piece.
The process of incorporating guest choreography for one piece, much less three, is intense, as Kumery concentrated everything she could possibly teach the students into just one week. According to Morgan, learning a dance in one week is difficult, plus there is some anxiety caused by the gap between the residency and the actual performance. “Internalizing reactions between performers in the space, the steps, everything, is extremely challenging in a week,” said Morgan, who is grateful for the extra rehearsal time, allowing Kumery’s knowledge to be distilled.
The success of the performance is also feasible through the extensive notetaking on the part of Madeline and Matthew Harvey, who were entrusted with the rehearsals following the residency. “It is a great responsibility to the people rehearsing the piece to maintain the standards,” Morgan explained. “To make sure that what goes on stage is what Jerry [Kumery] intended and also what Aiello intended … it is the carrying forward of this great legacy.
Wait, there’s more
On the concert, Madeline and Matthew Harvey are also premiering a new pas de deux by Delia Neil, associate professor of dance at University of North Carolina at Charlotte; five student pieces representing the best choreographic student work at CSU, round out the concert.
“There is a great range between Aiello’s contemporary work, the Harvey’s ballet, and the student pieces, which range from an emotional, serious duet to a lighthearted, less angsty modern dance piece,” said Morgan, who is excited to see the pieces come to life on stage as a fully realized concert.
CSU’s technical shops have massively contributed to making the comprehensive vision a reality, and Morgan greatly appreciates the extraordinary commitment to the concert by theatre students, staff, and faculty.
“Being here the last three months, just the work ethic and performance abilities of all of our students are things that have really impressed me so far, and I’m excited to see that get pushed further. It usually does in performance and I’m excited to see how they carry themselves on stage,” Morgan said. “That will be amazing to see.”
Dates and tickets
The 2018 Fall Dance Concert takes place in the University Dance Theatre at the University Center for the Arts on Friday, Nov. 9, and Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 2 p.m.
Tickets for the nightly performances are no charge/CSU students, $10/youth (under 18), $16/senior (62+), $18/adult. In celebration of the UCA’s 10th anniversary season, tickets for the matinee are $10/pubic, and no charge/CSU students. www.csuartstickets.com