Dance show defines Our Place, In Place

A multi-media event exemplifying the spirit and culture of 150 years of education

Internationally renowned director and choreographer Stephan Koplowitz honors the Gustavus Sesquicentennial with four site-specific performances that were performed on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 and will be performed again this Saturday.

The pieces, unique from each other by time and location, are delivered as one body of work exemplifying the culture of Gustavus. The performances are scheduled for 12:00 p.m. in the Campus Center, 6:00 p.m. along Eckman Mall, 9:00 p.m. in the Torrey Atrium of Beck Hall and 10:00 p.m. at Christ Chapel.

“All the sites put together celebrate different aspects of Gustavus in terms of what this place is, what the community is here and who these people are,” Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Jeffrey Peterson said.

Peterson serves as the Rehearsal Director for the performances and was responsible for writing the grant that brought Koplowitz to campus for a year-long engagement, which culminates with this series of performances. Peterson was featured in the Grand Step Project, a series of performances on staircases throughout New York City directed by Koplowitz in 2004.

“One of the goals of Stephan’s site work is that he seeks to reshape your perception of a site,” Peterson said. “If you witness his work and experience his work you will forever perceive that site differently because of that memory.”

Koplowitz’s visit began last May and continued in the fall when the director and choreographer toured the campus, met with students and faculty and observed dance auditions. This preliminary research allowed him to grasp the essence of the Gustavus community and capture a sense of the artistic capacity on campus.

“A lot of times when people ask me to do something, I’m wary because I’m not actually sure if they are able to fulfill what is needed,” Koplowitz said. “I did make a leap of faith here with this project on some level because I trusted that Jeffrey and the dance department knew what they were getting into.”

Our Place, In Place monologues in the Courtyard Cafe. Laura Schroeder.

This trust was the foundation of year-long engagement that was defined by hardwork, collaboration and exceeded expectations.

“I am impressed with the intellectual level, the creative level and the level of professionalism that the students brought to the project,” Koplowitz said. “My feeling is that there is a certain level of class to this place.”

“Gustavus Experience” is the first performance in the Campus Center. Actors from the Theatre and Dance Department will perform a series of six monologues which were written by members of Assistant Professor Cory Hinkle’s playwriting class.

A unique aspect of Our Place, In Place is that it incorporates more than 150 current students, alumni and faculty from a variety of departments and, coupled with the World Champion Govenaires Drum and Bugle Corps of St. Peter, create a multi-media event in honor of the Sesquicentennial.

“What is wonderful is that I came to do this work and I truly feel inspired artistically,” Koplowitz said. “Part of that has to do with the fact that the quality of students here is very high.”

The Eckman Mall piece incorporates the Adironack chairs as well in an attempt to personify the Gustavus experience through bodily movement.

“[The piece] is backed up by what the chair means to this campus and what it means to go to college here and also what you might do when you are in the chair,” Peterson said. The dance utilizes twenty dancers and twenty chairs in a 300 foot line spanning the length of Eckman Mall.

“The piece is about the chairs that so often give you support and asks you to stand on it and see the outside world around you,” Koplowitz said of the performance.

“In February [Koplowitz] would give us as students assignments,” Senior Erin Simon said. “For the chair piece he would ask us to find five ways to fit [ourselves] into the crevice of the chair. All the movement that are in the pieces you see come from people who have spent years here and the experience is really engrained in them. He took these experiences that we have and showed them through movement. That helps ground it in Gustavus.”

A unique aspect of all site-specific work is that it not only draws a knowing audience, but it also engages the unsuspecting passerby.

“During one rehearsal we had bikers zooming in and out of the chairs on Eckman and we had kids dancing to the Govenaires, so you really had to be aware more than usual about your surroundings,” Simon said, who is featured in both the Eckman Mall and Christ Chapel pieces.

“Since you are not in this very separated performance/audience space, people feel free to interact and participate,” Simon said. “That is what I love about it.”

The Beck Hall performance is quintessential of the collaboration utilized within the entirety of production. The atrium will be filled with the 128 voices of the Gustavus Choir and Choir of Christ Chapel, the movements of 24 dancers and the imagery compiled and edited by Sophomore Dan Coquyt. The imagery consists of four videos documenting the history of the college through Old Main, bringing the old inside the new.

“The Beck Hall site is more of an installation work,” Peterson said. “It’s not necessarily a piece that you have to view from beginning to end. It is a twenty minute experience.”

The final performance takes place at Christ Chapel, one of the more iconic architectural structures on campus. The uniqueness of the space inspired the use of it, and allowed Koplowitz to allude to the Swedish and Lutheran roots within the institution.

“I wanted to select sites that had some kind of meaning in relationship to the culture and history of Gustavus,” Koplowitz said. While the location of the dance may instill emotive appeal for the viewer, the narrative is meant to be somewhat ambiguous.

“A lot of things are left for the beholder to form opinions but at the same time it is very powerful,” Peterson said. “It is better left not talked about.”

The ambiguity and distinctiveness of site-specific words easily captures the attention and imagination of the audience, but is exceedingly difficult for the performers to depict.

“A lot of times when we are dancing we can really see each other, use peripheral vision and feel what other people [in order] to stay together,” Simon said. “In the chapel we can’t see each other at all, so we’re yelling out counts to try to stay together. You really have to shift your focus and shift what you are paying attention to.”

Our Place, In Place, when completed, will potentially be the largest dance ever performed at Gustavus. Such an accomplishment is nothing short of expected in order to capture 150 years of Gustavus tradition.

“The idea is to nurture the environment and the community,” Koplowitz said. “The students have really stepped up and brought this to another level.”