Dancing and Playing in the Gym

Dance Performance Pays Tribute to Radcliffe Gymnasium

"We've got two martial artists, two fencers, two wrestlers and one runner so far," says Claire Mallardi, the choreographer of a dance production intended to pay tribute to the Radcliffe Gymnasium. While it may sound as if Mallardi is organizing an athletic event, in fact, sports will play only a partial role in "Gym Transit."

The gym that will be venerated actually doubles as the Radcliffe Dance Studio, an area built in 1898 and regularly used as a gymnasium up until its renovation in 1980. Although these recent changes transformed the gym into a dance space, Mallardi and her performers plan to address their dance presentation to the area's dual use as both an athletic arena and a dance workshop.

"I want to show the relationship between the two types of movement, sports and dance, focusing on how they are similar," says Mallardi. "For 20 years, my classes have had to coexist with the athletic events in the studio. So I've recognized that many movements are inherent to both types of activities."

According to producer Roberta Reeder, the cast is experimenting with methods of blending the athletic and the artistic. "Various kinds of movement, such as those of playing basketball, running and playing baseball will be juxtaposed with the forms of dance-modern and ballet," she says.

Besides, choosing the unusual subjects of sports and a gymnasium for tribute, "Gym Transit" seems to surprise its audience further by reversing the positions of the viewers and the dancers for part of the production, the audience will stand around the track which looms above the dance area. Mallardi explains that this type of device is one of her favorite ways to create an unusual perspective for viewers. Last year, she presented "To Busby and Agassiz with Love," a dance production dedicated to Busby Berkely and the Agassiz Theater, which placed the spectators on the stage and couples doing the tango on the seats. According to Reader, the audience of "Gym Transit" will be limited to 50 or 60 so that it can be completely surrounded by the activity.

The production will also feature the musical work of composer Richard Lerman and Radcliffe pottery studio supervisor Nancy Selvage. The soundtrack includes traditional ballet music, electrically synthesized music, and recordings of athletic sounds, such as fencer's swords clinking.

The interior of the spacious, hazy gym will be highlighted by Selvage's additions of sports equipment, huge screens, and white paper slashes lining the walls. Mallardi explains that the transparent screens and other decorations will imbue the room with an "ephemeral feeling."

"I want to convey the feeling of the past, the shadows of what was," Mallardi says, adding that she hopes her production will suggest the history of the Radcliffe Gym and the ghosts of athletes past.

Reeder says that she hopes the audience will be affected in two ways by Gym Transit. "First of all, we hope that they'll begin to look at sports in a different way--as beautiful movement. Also, we just want to get people aware of the dance program here at Harvard."

Mallardi says that dancing is increasingly influenced by sports. "It's more physical--lots of speed and repetition. It's getting hard to tell the difference between the two." She adds that the high energy of this production helps demonstrate how dance and athletics are merging.

Gender roles are losing their definition as well, according to Mallardi. "Girls can play sports, because aggressiveness is accepted. And likewise, boys can dance."

The types of costumes used in "Gym Transit" is intended to reflect a progression of styles, beginning with early turn-of the century suits and finishing with modern, layered jazz costumes.

Dancer Tanya Fedoruk '87, notes that Mallardi's teaching style does not encourage a strict mimickry of a pattern of movements, but rather an ongoing, fluid process of change. "She changes her mind all the time. As a dancer/athlete, you're part of the development of the piece."

There are about 25 members in the cast. Seven of these are former students and area professionals, and the rest attend Harvard.

The piece, which will last for a little over an hour, has been funded by an Office for the Arts grant, President Horner's discretionary fund, gifts from The Friends of Dance at Radcliffe, the Harvard/Radcliffe Undergraduate Council, and the New England Foundation for the Arts "Meet the Composer" fund. An extensive fund drive has helped make the production as accessible as possible, according to Reeder.

According to Coordinator Molly Anderson, the unique accomplishment of the "Gym Transit" project is that it will "celebrate the history of interaction between dance and sports in this huge, majestic Gym," says.

The show opens tonight at the Gym and will run through next Saturday. Show time is 6:45 p.m. There will be one show next Sunday at 7:45 p.m.