Rolling the dice with ‘Rider Dances’

Senior Danielle Nolen (left) watches as dancers in her piece learn the moves she choreographed. She and 20 other dancers will be featured in Rider Dances with the Band, which can be seen in the Yvonne Theater this weekend.By Laura Mortkowitz

This year, the choreography for the third annual Rider Dances will be a gamble. Literally.

Rather than just laying out the choreography, Dr. Kimberly Chandler-Vaccaro, director of the Rider University and Princeton Ballet School dance program, has employed the chance method for this year’s dance concert, fully titled Rider Dances with the Band.

The dancers took classes last semester via video conference, working with acclaimed dancer Gus Solomons Jr. to learn his movement phrases for the
dances. Chandler-Vaccaro explained that Solomons was known to rely on fate to create pieces. Solomons was a huge advocate of the idea that was created by Merce Cunningham, a man Solomons worked with.

“The idea is that everything can’t be predetermined,” said Chandler-Vaccaro. “It’s a very risky proposition.”

Chandler-Vaccaro made dice, wrote down the dance phrases on a piece of paper and rolled the dice to see how the dances would come together. She is optimistic about the dance choreography, despite how risky the method is.

“It can give you a stomachache,” Chandler-Vaccaro admitted. “I’m more nervous about this than I’ve been about any production in my life.”

The chance method isn’t entirely new to freshman Stephanie Strausser, who has been dancing since she was younger and is excited about this performance.

“[I’ve] used the chance method in class before, but never in a performance,” Strausser said.

Dancing to the chance method is made even more challenging by the prospect that this year’s Rider Dances will be performed to all live music, as the title of the show implies. Chandler-Vaccaro decided to perform with the band after watching Dr. Jerry Rife, professor of music in the Fine Arts Department, conduct last year. Chandler-Vaccaro thought it seemed as if “he was dancing,” she said.

Music is an integral part of this year’s theme. Each piece will have a look at the relationship of music and dance and will explore new relationships.

“All the music is live and most of it is original for this event,” Chandler-Vaccaro said. “We’re going to roll the dice to see what the band plays. It’s all dance by chance.”

As the dancers practice, Chandler-Vaccaro will playfully hum the beat or talk with the rhythm. Nothing stops them as they practice, whether someone loses a sock or dancers painfully hit their heads on the floor.

Similar to last year, the performance will be one student’s thesis for the Baccalaureate Honors Program. Senior Danielle Nolen’s thesis will combine
poetry and movement in music. She is using the stories within Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology.

“It’s an exploration of the connectivity of literature and movement,” said Nolen. “I found that the characters of the poems translated well to movement. Each character, whether performed alone or by a duo, is depicted and distinguished through the quality and style of movement.”

As a veteran, Nolen admits this year’s show is very challenging, especially for her since she was choreographing, but also because of the live music.

“It’s always very different when you work with live music, but it’s even more fun because the collaboration produces such incredible results,” Nolen said.

This year, Rife will not only conduct, but he will also perform with his band The Rhythm Kings. Also part of the band is Philip Orr, an adjunct professor in the music department.

There are more than 40 people involved in the production. Of those, 10 are musicians and 20 are dancers. Nine different professional choreographers, who have about 30 years of experience combined, have been helping with the choreography.

Chandler-Vaccaro’s idea was to “give students a chance to work with people who do this for a living.”

As for Nolen, her favorite part of Rider Dances this year is not so much the fact that it’s helping her to graduate with honors, but “the experience of working with [new] choreographers and working with the amazing musicians.

Rider Dances with the Band will be performed on March 3 at 8 p.m. and March 4 at 3 p.m. in the Yvonne Theater. Tickets for the show are $5 for students, faculty and staff and $15 for general admission.

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