From Feb. 8 to 10, the Muhlenberg College Theatre and Dance Department put on its 2024 production of “In Motion,” a dance show featuring seven works choreographed by Muhlenberg Dance faculty and visiting professors. The pieces handled a variety of different topics from grief and the subculture of punk, to colonization and resistance. The pieces ranged in length, cast size, dance style and meaning, evoking strong praise from the audience. 

Audience member Maya Brooks ‘24 said, “It was wonderful to see all the dancers who have worked hard for months finally put their talent on the main stage. The show was exciting and engaging for its full run time without a dull moment.” 

Some of the choreographers, Assistant Professor of Dance Natalie Gotter, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Elizabeth June Bergman, Ph.D., and Guest Artist Tommie-Waheed Evans, worked in collaboration with the dancers when putting their pieces together. Co-Director of Dance, Gotter remarked on her process for creating “Not a Bit Afraid.” Gotter said, “The majority of the actual movement being seen was produced by the dancers with prompting and direction from me. I would provide different tasks, questions, games and images that the dancers responded to through movement development. I then adjusted the movement to fit into the aesthetic I was interested in, edited, chopped up, puzzled back together, etc. While the piece is crafted by me, the crafting material was created through their bodies.”

The eight dancers in Gotter’s piece interacted with an elevated table, laying on top and bending off. Gotter said that during rehearsals, “[the cast] spent a lot of time just getting comfortable with it, playing with different ways of getting on and off and discovering what personal safety boundaries were present.” 

Dancer Mallory Massache ‘27 spoke about working with and around the table, saying, “In the beginning, we did a lot of work to get comfortable with not only the box but also weight sharing with each other. We had to have a lot of trust in each other for the piece to work and Natalie really encouraged that trust within us by doing different trust exercises which was very helpful. It posed challenges in the choreography because a lot of the time the things that we were doing started on the ground and then moved to the box so we need[ed] to adjust to that and it took some time to feel comfortable and confident dancing on the box. By the time the performance came, I felt very comfortable with it and it became such a huge part of the piece and definitely wouldn’t have been the same without it.” 

Bergman, choreographer of “Dance Punk!” and guest dancer in “THE LEDGE,” also reflected on the process of choreographing with her dancers. Bergman said, “I came into our rehearsals with the desire to explore the question ‘How do you dance punk?’” 

A popular dance historian whose work focuses on the 1970s and 1980s, Bergman knew that she wanted to include the “seemingly different” punk and disco subcultures. Bergman worked with her dancers to explore what “punk” meant to them and their experiences with it, watching YouTube videos to gather inspiration from not just the movement of punk but its ideology and fashion as well. Aspects of the piece mimicked “party scenes,” which represented the “environments like dance clubs and music venues” where most punk dancing originated from. Bergman said that she “love[s] social dancing the most, so [she] wanted to bring in the kinds of dancing that have brought [her] the most joy and stage them in scenes or vignettes that connoted the kinds of communities that the styles of dancing [punk and disco] originally came from.”

Maya Schlegel ‘27, who attended a performance of “In Motion” said, “‘In Motion’ was absolutely mesmerizing. I was so impressed that the dancers could remember such intricate and long routines!” 

The other choreographers, Director of the Co-Curriculum for Theatre & Dance, Lecturer of Dance and Tap Instructor Robyn Watson, Visiting Professor of Jazz Anito Gavino, Assistant Professor of Ballet and Dance Education Heidi Cruz-Austin and Adjunct Professor of Hip Hop Samuel Antonio Reyes crafted poignant and entertaining pieces as well. Gavino’s piece, “The Alchemy of Bantaba,” stood apart from the other six in the show. The visiting assistant professor of jazz created a truly mixed media experience, including audio from the documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and film from her own village in the Philippines that was projected on the back wall of the stage. 

The dancers wore colorful tops and long, flowy silk skirts. Gavino knew from the beginning that she wanted to incorporate the skirts because they “represent[ed] the Latin/Caribbean diaspora and dances [from which she did research].” The skirts were yet another layer that helped visually connect the dance to the cultural inspiration used as the basis for the piece. Gavino said that she “also wanted an image of what kingdoms or queendoms would be like before colonization and enslavement…thus the dramatic silk skirts.” 

Jacob Lugo ‘26, one of the dancers in Gavino’s piece, said “I’m a quarter Puerto Rican on my dad’s side. Inside that though there’s a mix of Taino, which is an indigenous group in la Borinquen, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Caribbean, most likely some African and definitely a whole lotta Spanish. I grew up in [New Hampshire] which is probably the whitest state like ever so I kinda learned to compartmentalize and pretend to be 100 percent white, you know? It wasn’t until high school [that] I even talked about being Puerto Rican, and it wasn’t until I came here I started really taking pride in who I am and where I come from.” 

Lily Courtney ‘27 said that working on “The Alchemy of Bantaba” “was very emotional” and that even though she couldn’t directly relate to all of the concepts of the piece it became less “about what I looked like when I was dancing, it was more about what message and what story was I trying to tell everybody else?” 

In the playbill, Gavino included a quote from Katherine Dunham, choreographer and social activist who founded the first American Black dance company. “After many efforts to arrive at some conclusive decision when thinking of dance, I have decided upon this, that dance is not a technique but a social act and that dance should return to where it first came from, which is the heart and soul of man, and man’s social living.” Gavino said that she loved this quote and included it because “not only do I agree with it, but I also question her differentiation of technique from the act of social dancing. Social dance and the ability to communicate with another human through a movement language in itself is the technique.” After watching “The Alchemy of Bantaba,” it is clear that Gavino understands the technique of communication through social dance and clearly conveyed her themes of freedom and community in addition to displaying the beauty of dances from the Caribbean and Afro-Cuban traditions. 

Zoe Chasinoff ‘26, an audience member, said that she “Really enjoyed seeing ‘In Motion’ as someone who really doesn’t know a lot about dance. Seeing my friends and classmates performing was really beautiful, and I loved watching these talented people do what they love.”

“Grief, it brings the need, the naked freeze” was choreographed by Cruz-Austin, co-director of dance. Cruz-Austin’s ballet piece included the largest number of dancers in the production, with a total of 21. Reflecting on the creation of her piece, Cruz-Austin said, “Because I had such a big cast, I had to be very deliberate about moving them within the space, particularly with transitions, I wanted to make sure the flow of the piece wasn’t disrupted in maneuvering them around and it was important to me to maintain the energy and pulse of the piece throughout.” 

The dancers of this piece donned red robes with tons of frills. When asked about the purpose that the robes played in the piece, Cruz-Austin noted that “The robe signifies the lie we tell ourselves and the world to keep going when we are grieving and in pain. They demonstrate[d] the status quo and that life goes on regardless of what may be happening.” 

Discussing the experience of participating in “In Motion” for the first time, Courtney said, “It was kind of like a collective community at Muhlenberg where we could just create art and create work that was very meaningful and also positive in a way. And it wasn’t competitive anymore, which felt really nice.” 


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