A group of Lafayette faculty and students recently took over the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in New York City for the two-day premiere of Prana/Breath, a marriage of two Indian classical dance forms, Bharata Natyam and Odissi, as well as modern dance. The 90-minute concert explored the ways in which prana, or the breath, manifests via different dancing bodies, live percussion, dance histories, and various movement vocabularies.
The evening was a collaboration between two dance companies, Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company and Sakshi Productions, which was co-founded by Nandini Sikand, assistant professor of film and media studies.
“There is something about dance that is intensely magical. And performed to live music, it is even more so,” explains Sikand, who was the organizational force behind the evening. “As a performer, you put yourself and your work out there, and the gratification is immediate. For me, dance is not just a performance but an offering to one’s collaborators on stage and to the audience.”
Sakshi Productions worked with Kirk O’Riordan, assistant professor of music and director of bands, who composed an 11-minute original score, Night of Summer Stars, based on the Carl Sandburg poem “Summer Stars,” specifically for this performance. The Lafayette Percussion Ensemble brought the piece to life using suspended cymbals, triangles, finger cymbals, glockenspiel, crotales, vibraphone, crystal glasses, log drum, djembe, and other percussion items.
Percussion performers included Taylor Dougherty ’13 (Parlin, N.J.), Ryan King ’12 (Willow Street, Pa.), Tony Lorence ’13 (Cumbola, Pa.), Michael Ryan ’15 (Pottsville, Pa.), David Salter ’12 (Bethlehem, Pa.), Hannah Weaver ’14 (Whitefish, Mont.), Kathryn Yoder ’13 (Sun Prairie, Wis.), Lea Gilbertson, visiting professor of geology, and Larry Stockton, professor and head of music.
Weaver, a physics major who played the glockenspiel and whistled for a few measures during the performance, describes the experience of playing in New York City as “surreal.” A piano player since elementary school, she’s only played the glockenspiel since joining Percussion Ensemble two years ago. At first learning the piece was an exercise in frustration, she says, but when the group clicked, she used the same word as Sikand: “magical.”
O’Riordan composed a demanding piece that he describes as “very meditative…the sounds ring and resonate in a very calm way, reminiscent of Buddhist meditation.” The slow pace meant that the musicians had to listen to each other carefully to stay in sync. Weaver felt the connection that Sikand described among the dancers and musicians.
“After our second performance, all of the dancers said that was the most fun they had had moving to our music,” she says. “The connection was strong, and it was liberating to watch the group of dancers move so beautifully to our music.”
Like Weaver, Dougherty is a piano player relatively new to the percussion world. She played a set of three triangles for the performance and is still wrapping her mind around the fact that as a psychology and government & law double major, she got to perform in New York City. When the blindingly bright lights hit the stage during the group’s tech rehearsal, she finally realized, “Wow. This is actually happening.”
“One of the things that drew me to Lafayette was the ability to have your academic passions while still being involved in other areas of academia despite your major,” she says. “I can’t say how grateful I am for this opportunity. For someone who came into college with less musical experience then she lets on, I never would have dreamed I would be able to say that I performed in New York, especially as a non-music major. This is just one of the many examples of the value of a Lafayette education and experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Carrie Rohman, assistant professor of English, choreographed Night of Summer Stars and danced to the piece along with Sikand and two local performers. Rohman, who has a modern dance background, and Sikand, who has been dancing Odissi since age seven, first collaborated last spring for a similar concert at Alvin Ailey.
Rohman also choreographed and performed a duet she created several years ago. That piece included text she wrote as well as a new film by Sikand and Andy Smith, associate professor of English and chair of film and media studies. A team of students also helped with the film, including Joel Vargas ’14, who edited the film, and Caroline Radigan ’15 (East Northport, N.Y.), Daniela Filip ’15 (Chisinau, Moldova), and Chris Jones ’13 (Macungie, Pa.), who were production assistants.
“This project shows Lafayette at its very best and truly demonstrates the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration,” says Stockton, who also conducted the musicians. “As we continue to explore the importance and integration of the arts into life at Lafayette, there can be no better example than this. The focus is on doing rather than discussing, and it unfolded in one of the major performance venues in the world.”