The Fall Dance Concert at Franklin & Marshall College in November 2012 featured a reconstruction of "Celebration," a 1934 production by legendary American choreographer Martha Graham. But for the dozen F&M students who performed the piece, the "celebration" was just beginning.
Directed by F&M Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Jennifer Conley, the dancers are taking their show on the road -- to New York City's famed Joyce Theater, one of the premier dancing venues in the country. The students will perform at 2 p.m. Feb. 23 as part of the University Partners Showcase, an event featuring six student groups from around the United States performing Graham classics.
As they prepare for the big stage, the F&M dancers are excited to perform in a venue that regularly hosts prominent dance companies from around the country and the world.
"I almost cried when we found out that we were going to perform at the Joyce Theater, where the Martha Graham Dance Company tours regularly," said F&M dancer Bianca Santos '14, a psychology major and sociology minor. "Dancing on such a renowned stage is an honor, and I can't wait to be surrounded by so many Graham enthusiasts."
The students' opportunity to perform in New York came about when Conley, a former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, asked the event's organizers about the possibility late last summer.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these dancers to experience performing on a stage of this caliber and in front of such a knowledgeable dance audience," Conley said. "I'm looking forward to being backstage with the cast at the Joyce, which is a special place for me. I debuted there in 2003, and I'm excited to be directing Martha Graham's legacy through this piece."
"Celebration" is the third Graham reconstruction Conley has directed at F&M. In 2007 she directed the 1936 piece "Steps in the Street," and two years later led a reconstruction of the 1929 classic "Heretic." She credits two colleagues -- F&M's Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and Dance Lynn Brooks and Assistant Professor of Dance Pamela Vail -- for their support and "forward-thinking approach" to the dance experience at F&M.
Conley said auditions for "Celebration" were open to all F&M students. The cast includes students with a wide range of academic majors, all of whom share a passion for dancing.
Gwen LeBar '14, a dance major and Italian minor at the College, joined the F&M Dance Company during her first semester in 2010.
"I love dancing for the pure joy of it, but what I love most about the Dance Company is the community," LeBar said. "For those of us who are committed to it, we're committed to each other. That has been especially important in a piece as demanding and rigorous as 'Celebration.'"
Government major and physics minor Abby Komlenic '13 said she never imagined being able to perform on a prestigious stage such as the Joyce Theater. But dancing has also had a long-term benefit for Komlenic during her college experience. "Dancing at F&M has been a release for me," she said. "The hours of rehearsal can be tedious, but they're a perfect break from [the challenges of] academics."
The cast of "Celebration" will travel to New York Feb. 21 and conduct technical rehearsals in the Joyce Theater Feb. 22. The curtain rises the following day -- a moment for which Conley can't wait.
"It's been a journey. We've worked very hard together," she said. "I've asked the students for their commitment to do really rigorous work, and they've met the challenge. They have inspired me."