Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mills Repertory Dance Company

Last Friday we had a field trip to Mills College to watch a performance of the Mills Repertory Dance Company (MRDC), a company of dance department undergrads and graduate students. The MRDC makes the Friday matinee of their fall performance complementary to students from east bay schools — a wonderful opportunity and a great community resource. This was my fifth excursion there, with  five different schools now; with forty-one students, it was certainly the biggest group I have ever taken!

It is always a bit of an adventure, organizing my first field trip in a new school district, figuring out all the procedures and regulations... But it got done and Friday morning we got on a bus to Oakland. When we arrived the performers were still warming up, so my students scattered to explore the campus (especially the cafe in the quad), making it even more exciting when I had to round them all up in time for the performance. they did all make it back, and were a lovely audience, respectful and attentive (after some of my experiences over the past couple of years, being able to watch the performance without worrying about what my students might be doing was quite a treat).

The company performed four pieces — two by resident choreographers/professors, one by a visiting choreographer from New York, and one a re-staging of a Merce Cunningham event. It was a nice mix of pieces — all modern dance with one more in a dance-theater vein, involving benches as props and the dancers’ voices as the score. It was a pleasure to see the Cunningham piece, as the movement style was so distinctively Cunningham I could have guessed the choreographer without the program.

I was curious how my students would react to modern dance and dance theater, as most of them are beginners with little experience of dance beyond what they see on TV or videos — and those with experience are studio-trained in ballet, jazz or Hawai’ian — so what we were seeing would be entirely new and well out of their comfort zone. I have not yet seen all their reviews and reflections (many are coming in after the Thanksgiving holiday); but from what I have read so far, they seemed quite impressed by the technical expertise of the dancers and had some perceptive observations on the choreography (although many were somewhat bemused by the dance theater piece). All so far were glad they were able to see the performance (I haven’t read any opinions that “it was all boring,”which is what I would be afraid of with teens). It is gratifying to know that my beginning students can already appreciate some fairly sophisticated abstract choreography — in all, I was very pleased at a satisfying trip!

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