Winter dance: A Choreographic Offering

  • Above: A scene from 2016-17 Academy winter dance, A Choreographic Offering.

  • Above: A scene from 2016-17 Academy winter dance, A Choreographic Offering.

  • Above: A scene from 2016-17 Academy winter dance, A Choreographic Offering.

Interlochen Arts Academy dancers prepared for their winter concert with the aid of notable guest artists.

Winter in Interlochen: the lake freezes, the wind howls and the snow drifts into foot-deep banks. While the world outside the windows was frosted in winter’s chill, the Interlochen Arts Academy Dance Department—with the aid of guest artists Megan Williams, Christopher Williams and Pablo Francisco Ruvalcaba—heated up the Hildegard Lewis Dance Building as it prepared for the annual Winter Dance concert, A Choreographic Offering.

The performance featured original works by guest artists Megan Williams and Christopher Williams, both of whom visited campus in the spring to stage their works. The program also included a selection from Jose Limon’s A Choreographic Offering and new works by Interlochen Arts Academy dance faculty. Live music, including several musical premieres, was provided by Arts Academy music faculty and staff.

Megan Williams, a New York-based choreographer and professor of dance at Connecticut College, returned to campus during Inter*mester for her second consecutive year working with Interlochen Arts Academy dancers. Last year, she staged a piece of Mark Morris repertory for the Winter Dance program, while this year, she created an original work titled “Right Around the Corner, Near Everywhere You Want to Be.”

In selecting the music for the work, Megan Williams consulted with staff accompanist Steve Larson, and settled on a piece that she loved and that Larson would enjoy playing live. Claude Debussy wrote Children’s Corner, a suite of six piano solos—of which she is using five—inspired by his granddaughter, and her toys.

Director of Dance Joseph Morrissey asked Megan Williams to include large group of dancers into her choreography so that each dance student could have a role in the program. “As an educator, I understand the value of opportunity,” she said. “All of the dancers need to get on stage to hone their craft.”

“My inspirations for this piece were both the complexity of the music, and the openness of the students,” she said. “Even the more melancholic sections have a childlike character, yet also a certain sophistication. While the dancing isn’t childish, it is playful and somewhat innocent. The dance is non-narrative, and while it evokes childhood, it is clearly being performed by young adults.”

After Megan Williams departed, Pablo Francisco Ruvalcaba, a repetiteur from the Jose Limon Dance Foundation, arrived at Interlochen Arts Academy to work with dance students. Ruvalcaba staged selections from Limon’s A Choreographic Offering, which features music by J.S. Bach and lends its name to the program as a whole. Limon’s works are considered classics of modern dance and are rarely staged at the pre-college level.

In February, the young dancers hosted another renowned choreographer, Christopher Williams. Christopher Williams—no relation to Megan Williams—had also worked with Academy dance students in the spring of 2016, choreographing a work for the 2016 NY Phil Biennial performance.

Like Megan Williams, Christopher Williams choreographed a piece by Claude Debussy: “Prélude à l’apres-midi d’un faune” (“The Afternoon of a Faun”). Christopher Williams’ choreography was inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky’s original 1912 choreography as well as the mythical elements included in the original poem written by Stephane Mallarme.

“‘The Afternoon of a Faun’ describes the sensual experiences of a young faun after his afternoon nap,” Christopher Williams said. “The choreography references the classical mythical elements.”

In both the original Nijinsky choreography and Christopher Williams’ new interpretation, seven nymphs interact with the faun, a mythical half-man, half-goat creature. Christopher Williams pictured his nymphs as naiads, a type of water nymph that was viewed as the guardian of springs and a symbol of fertility in the ancient world. He said many ancient cultures made sacrifices to deities to protect the spring and the fertility of the human race; he channels all of these ideas in his choreography.

“In my mind, I have the idea that the nymphs sacrifice and devour the faun,” he said.

The original Nijinsky choreography casts seven female dancers as the nymphs and one male dancer as the faun; Christopher Williams’ choreography is more gender-inclusive, casting male dancers as the chief of the nymphs and several of the other nymphs.

“All of the students are incredibly devoted and fast learners,” he said. “They care about details, which makes the final product really beautiful.”

While the fall semester focused on the classical ballet The Sleeping Beauty, the winter dance concert gave students the opportunity to focus on contemporary dance. “It’s a chance for the diverse and robust interests of our students to showcase a broad spectrum of dance,” Morrissey said.