Renowned arist moves students to dance

Freshman Alison Giampolo learns the Martha Graham technique under the careful instruction of principal dancer Brdnik.

By Angela Romansky

Mice, movement and Martha Graham were just a few of the exciting elements that made up the Rider Master Class dance event on April 6.

The dancers of the Rider Dance Program were given the opportunity to attend a master class given by Tadej Brdnik, principal dancer of the world-renowned Martha Graham dance company. Arts administration major Caroline Asuncion was responsible for bringing the class to campus.

“I was so inspired,” Asuncion said. “I wanted to share my experience with the Rider dancers and with my professors.”

It seemed that Asuncion’s drive paid off when 10 dancers showed up at 9:30 a.m., eager to get the class under way. All dancers in attendance agreed that they were excited for the opportunity.

At approximately 9:45 a.m., Brdnik opened the door and the chattering fell silent at the sound of his first step into the room. All eyes were on the blonde Slovenian dancer as he walked to the front of the room and apologized for breaking his phone, since that meant the dancers would have no music other than his counting for the class. From the looks on the faces of the dancers, not many seemed to mind.

Brdnik began by introducing the Graham technique.

“The Graham technique is simply a result of her teaching others to move in the same way that she did,” he said.

The Martha Graham Dance Company, founded in 1926 and located in New York City, is known for its focus on numerous styles of dance. Celebrity choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor studied under Martha Graham. The company is constantly expanding, and has performed for audiences in more than 50 countries.
While a dance technique is normally a system of skills, style and tactics that develop over long periods of time, the Graham technique is the only training that has developed over the lifespan of a single person.  By learning this technique, Rider dancers can help train their core muscles and spines in order to increase their strength and become better dancers.

The basis of Graham work is the center, contraction and release. Brdnik described this motion as “seaweed moving at the bottom of the ocean. It responds from the base, upward.” This new way of initiating movement challenged the dancers by forcing them to go back to the basics of technique.

Brdnik told the dancers that they could become better simply by doing something as trivial as sitting up straight.

“It’s like the alphabet,” he said. “You have to know the letters, the basics. Otherwise, you get all of your words wrong.”

While this concept was new to the dancers, it was not the only unusual aspect of the morning. During a warm-up combination on the floor, Brdnik noted that the dancers seemed too concentrated on positions and were neglecting to put energy behind their movement. In order to fix this problem, he told dancers to “color their movement with sound,” meaning that he wanted them to scream, yell or grunt while they performed the combination to initiate energy.

The dancers were unable to take this instruction seriously the first few attempts. In fact, the first attempt resulted in silence and then laughter. However, Brdnik refused to let the girls off easy.

“This is what college is about,” he said. “It’s something new and different. I want to bring you out of your comfort zone.”

Sure enough, the fourth attempt at the combination resulted in yelling that corresponded to each dancer’s moves.

During the final minutes of class, Brdnik invited his “new little family” to sit down with him for some questions and answers. Sophomore Madeline Calandrillo wanted to know how he got started as a dancer.

“I was born into a very poor family in Slovenia,” he said. “My mother did not believe in dancing as a profession.”

Brdnik went on to describe his mother’s desire for him to go to college, and his temporary desire to be a dance journalist. He entered a five-day dance competition on a whim, and at the end of it he emerged as the winner and was approached by a representative from the Martha Graham Dance Company. Brdnik called his mother and said, “Mom, I won. They want me to go to the U.S.” His news was met by 20 excruciating seconds of dead silence followed by, “That’s fantastic. Let’s make it happen.”

Overall, the class proved to be an inspiring experience.

“Taking this class has opened my mind and motivated me to do something out of the ordinary and enabled me to embrace part of myself as an artist,” said sophomore Courtney Schumacher.

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