Caked in grayscale makeup and decked out in garments of neutral palette, the dancers in “A Hollywood Classic” mimicked a black and white film as they glided onto the stage in the Conwell Dance Theater.
“A Hollywood Classic” premiered Oct. 16-17 in Conwell Hall as the dance department’s 2015 Reflection:Response Choreographic Commission, which includes a cash award of $5,000, rehearsal space and production support. Choreographed by Jennifer Weber, a New York-based choreographer and director, the piece was a fusion of jazz elements, hip-hop influences and old Hollywood storytelling created in just two weeks.
“It’s like soup—you put it all on the stove and let it cook,” Weber said. “You have to use the best ingredients to get a good bowl.”
Reflection:Response is the dance department’s performance and speaker series based on reflecting three different bodies: the experimental, the choreographic and the activist body.
“It gives choreographers the time, space and money to just create,” Weber said.
“A Hollywood Classic” was inspired by the work of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who were iconic dance partners in the 1930s and ‘40s, and conveyed a modern-day version of the partnership.
“I am always interested in juxtaposing different ideas and eras so it seemed fitting to look at other American dance icons and bring them into the language of hip-hop,” Weber said.
The old Hollywood theme was executed through different techniques to make a black and white film come alive on the stage. The performers were masked in grey paint and a screen behind the characters displayed conversation between them like a silent film. No speech was used; the story was told simply through the music and dancing.
“The hardest thing was to find the music because we were creating the story as we were writing it,” Weber said.
Since there was no talking to move the show along, the music had to mimic speech. A vintage “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift conveyed the atmosphere of desire and longing between Ginger and Fred. An intense hip-hop song blared loudly when they had their first fight. Jazzy love songs conveyed the sense of romance. The story was told through the tone and type of the song.
“I am hoping that people just have a good time,” Weber said. “I want them to fall in love with the characters falling in love.”
In a question-and-answer session after the show, the producers of the performance discussed how it was a blending of all their ideas mixed with hard work that created their success.
Performers and audience members alike walked away from the production with new perspectives.
“If I had to pick a motto, it would be to collaborate, not separate—collaboration is huge,” said David Heller, a doctoral student in dance at Temple and performer in the show.
“I was mesmerized by the stylistic components and the evident passion in the artists’ faces,” said Anisa Eshraghi, a freshman biochemistry major. “I was stunned, as a violinist, by how the dancers were able to create a 45-minute piece and make it flow as one. I am used to segmented performances, so it was really a display of talent.”
Jacquelyn Fricke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.