Theater at Harvard
by Peter L. Hopkins
Last Saturday Lowell Lecture Hall looked more like drag night at a European discotheque than a venue of higher education as members of the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team got their cross-dress on as part of the group’s annual Harvard-Radcliffe challenge. The H-R challenge, which caps off the Ballroom Dance Team’s fall novice tournament, pits the veteran members of the Ballroom Dance Team against each other in a battle of the sexes to determine whether kings or queens reign over Harvard’s dance floors. Apparently Harvard’s three centuries of single-sex education have taught Harvard men some enduring lessons about how to make do without women, as the men of the Ballroom Dance Team eked out a one-point victory over their female teammates.
Pointe In Time
by Anais A. Borja
A slender dancer in a black leotard presses the heel of her angularly flexed foot onto the hardwood stage before moving into an elegant enchaînement. This juxtaposition of elements of modern dance and classical ballet is the essence of Then, Here & Now, José Mateo’s new ballet program playing at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church across the street from Pennypacker Hall.
In “Oceanid” and “Back to Bach,” the two newly-premiered pieces he choreographed, Mateo is as much working within the classical idiom of épaulement, glissade and ballotté as with the vocabulary of modern choreographers like Martha Graham. Mateo says his choreography moves beyond a mere extension of the tradition to translate “the intrinsic arrogance and aloofness of ballet” into that which is accessible to contemporary audiences of all “ethnic and economic backgrounds.”
The bare stage and sparse lighting emphasize Mateo’s choreography. His choice of themes for Then, Here & Now underlines the simplicity of form and natural quality of the dancing. Mateo describes his program as “elemental,” a motif most conspicuous in “Still Waters,” a piece set to Debussey’s Nocturne and “Oceanid,” set to music by Mendelssohn.
While Mateo emphasizes that there is no coherent narrative to the program and that the focus is the visual experience, what is consistent is the way he challenges the traditional manner that ballets are viewed. The music of Bach’s Piano Concerto in G minor which accompanies “Back to Bach” embodies Mateo’s iconoclasm. Towards the end of the second movement, soaring strings and a stage of fierce women in black is, Mateo says, “an affirmation of feminine strength and of women who are traditionally portrayed as ancillary characters in ballet.”
Even the venue in which Mateo’s company now resides attests to his aim to liberate ballet from conventional theater. Mateo and his 15-year-old company have negotiated a 41-year lease at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, which they moved into in July 2000. A Gothic church replete with vertical lines of tracery and paneling as well as a gorgeous stained glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany may be an unlikely venue for a dance troupe. However, the notion is not entirely alien to dance. The Judson Church in New York’s Greenwich Village was the place choreographers Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs and Twyla Tharp collaborated to help create postmodern dance. Indeed, once pews have been removed, churches with their expansive nave and proscenium stage are ideal spaces for dance.
The aesthetics of the church complement the dance in unexpected ways. The stained glass filters the waning light and by 6 p.m. the church is awash in a peach and cobalt glow. As twilight approaches, the dancer’s bending shadows are cast on the church’s stone walls. The audience seated in an intimate three-tier platform directly in front of the dancers challenges the traditional distance between performer and viewer. Cabaret-like tables pepper the tiers. Reminiscent of smoke-filled clubs, the Weimar republic and Marlene Dietrich, Mateo says the tables allow the audience “to see the choreography from some unconventional angles.” And there is something irresistibly irreverent about sipping martinis in a church.
Then, Here & Now will be performed Friday Nov. 1 and Saturday Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday Nov. 3 at 4 p.m. at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, located at 400 Harvard St. near the Square.
Eats and Arts
By Nicole B. Usher
Despite winning last year’s Straus Cup with its IM vigor, Adams House is still trying to hold on to its reputation as the Arts House. So along with language tables, Adams House offers a Monday dinner Arts Table, open to anyone who wants to talk about art. “It’s a forum where artists can connect,” Jennifer Mergel ’98, Adams House Arts Tutor said. Mergel remembers a time when each House had its own distinct character and “Adams House was an arts-focused community.” The table will invite visiting artists to present their work, provide a forum for students to discuss exhibitions and to create arts programming for the House. Students will also have the chance to interact and learn about the work of other student artists.
This week’s incarnation was Puppet MacBeth, the Shakespeare play done with an entirely ceramic cast. Past weeks have featured the artist in residence at the Office of Fine Arts and the Arts editor of Rolling Stone. Mergel said students were feeling the renewed spirit of Adams House’s artistic community. “I’ve had sophomores come up to me and say, Adams House really is the Arts House,” Mergel said. But she said the Arts table wasn’t about House pride. Rather, the table was created for students from any house or year who are interested in any area of the arts, from visual arts to theater.