When Colleen Hooper began choreographing the National Water Dance, she wanted to incorporate more to the process than just her own direction – each dancer videotaped themselves performing an active movement, which were then melded into a collaborative six minutes of the full performance.
Hooper, who teaches Ways of Knowing Dance at Temple while pursuing her Ph.D. in dance, is the choreographer of Philadelphia’s performance of a national event, the National Water Dance. The performance is intended to bring attention to the fragility of the nation’s waterways and to heighten audience consciousness of the value of water. Various shows will be performed in 70 cities within 30 states on the same day, April 12.
Philadelphia’s dance will take place from 10-10:30 a.m. on the Race Street Pier, where audiences will overlook the Delaware River and Ben Franklin Bridge. Hooper said she’s loved the opportunity to create a performance at the venue because of her interest in work “outside the theater.”
The performance will be the first to take place on the Race Street Pier. Hooper hopes that the location’s proximity to a waterway will help to lend impact to the overall message of the National Water Dance.
“I think the first thing is getting people to come out and be on the water with us,” Hooper said. “Art can be like a magnetic force to bring people to [awareness of] issues in a way that’s different than just providing them with information.”
Emma MacDonald, a dance alumna who has been working as an administrative assistant to Hooper for the project, said she was originally interested because she enjoys Hooper’s work, but appreciates the underlying message immensely.
“I’ve [been] personally very interested in art that is thought-provoking and challenges social norms and different social issues,” MacDonald said.
Along with being a dancer in the performance, MacDonald has helped promote the National Water Dance in Philadelphia and said she’s also working on an informative brochure about water use to be provided for audience members.
“I’m really hoping the awareness of water within ourselves and it’s connection to the water we drink in and bathe in,” MacDonald said.
Along with the brochure, Hooper said she’s working to create a short list of organizations that are focused on preserving water as part of the program.
“If you are interested in water issues, I wanted to provide a very short, to the point list of places that people could become involved, just to start the dialog,” Hooper said.
The show has brought together a diverse group of dancers from the Temple community, from award-winning faculty member Merian Soto to undergraduate students like Carolina Caban, a freshman neuroscience major. Caban, who’s been dancing for 14 years, signed up to receive emails from the dance department and said she was immediately drawn to the project.
“Dancing for me is always rewarding, but I feel like the movement [Hooper] is creating with us is very inspiring,” Caban said. “I like to show people that art can be something that helps the world too. [The dance is] something that has to do with our planet and I thought it was amazing to mix it with the thing I love – dance.”
Caban said she needs to be “on top of her game” as she works with highly experienced dancers like Soto, or another alumna Jimena Alivar, who received her Master’s of Fine Arts in dance in 2010 and returned to the country for the semester from her native Colombia after hearing of the National Water Dance. Hooper said Soto’s involvement was a “big vote of confidence” for the performance.
“To have one of my mentors expressing her support for us by being part of this was a really big deal,” Hooper said.
Alivar said she enjoys working with the other dancers in the National Water Dance.
“It was a great opportunity to reconnect and be part of the Temple community,” Alivar said. “I think that we’re always learning from each other so it’s a great experience, just to take a moment and be part of the group, not necessarily, ‘Oh, you can do this or you can’t do that,’ we’re being a team right now. And that is very satisfying, actually.”
MacDonald said she doesn’t see “any inconsistency” because the dancers work very well together. They all came together for the same reason, she said.
Jonathon Katz, a 2008 music education and jazz performance graduate, was brought on by MacDonald as a composer to create the live music that will be performed at the National Water Dance. Much like Hooper used input from all the dancers to create choreography, Katz said he watched videos of the dancers in order to create the musical score.
“I can kind of get the feel through what [Hooper’s] portraying just because she’s so talented,” Katz said. “I don’t even need to know what the event is going to be, because she does such a good a job portraying that. We can speak to people without words.”
He said he’s tried to be true to the water-themed performance with “soft sounds and nice long notes,” that correspond with what he called the “natural flow” or Hooper’s choreography. Hooper said her use of fluidity is an intentional nod to water’s constant presence.
“Something I’ve been talking about is the water within our bodies, because we are mostly water,” Hooper said. “Some of the movement is to connect with the liquid and the water nature of our own bodies.”
Erin Edinger-Turoff can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @erinJustineET.