Category Archives: Dance


The Wedding Guest

In addition to their teaching, Swarthmore professors frequently work on their own, independent projects. Most recently, on April 27, Olivia Sabee, Assistant Professor of Dance, and Thomas Whitman, Daniel Underhill Professor of Music, debuted their collaborative ballet The Wedding Guest at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The Wedding Guest features Swarthmore alumni musicians, current students as dancers, and Olivia Sabee’s own dance company, Agora Dance.

Professor Whitman composed the ballet’s music. He has previously mainly worked on operas and contemporary dance pieces; this is his first time collaborating with a choreographer on a ballet. Professors Sabee and Whitman considered a number of ideas, before deciding they were interested in environmental themes. Sabee suggested adapting Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. As Professor Sabee explains,

“We were talking about all types of different ideas and decided we wanted to portray the natural world, with elements of supernatural…we originally talked about climate change, though that faded from the final piece… [The Rime of the Ancient Mariner] is a piece that can really stand on its on, with no dialogue or acting, although of course we had to pare it down a lot.”

“It’s a great story in terms of environment,” adds Whitman. “The human at the center of it all inexplicably shoots a beautiful creature of nature and gets punished by nature in return, which seemed like a colorful and resonant image. It also has a lot of opportunities to write cool music – there’s the albatross, sea monsters, storms, a calm sea, dance music for the wedding, all these different elements that seem extremely promising.”

“I was intrigued by the idea of writing a ballet with a real, old-fashioned narrative storyline,” adds Whitman. “I like working in collaboration, because it makes it much easier for me to feel like I’m contributing a piece to a larger puzzle. Collaborating with Olivia and my former students, and traveling to D.C. together, was the most pleasant part of the experience.”

Most of the dancers who performed on the program came from Agora Dance, a D.C.-based company co-directed by Professor Sabee. Overall, The Wedding Guest included three professional and seven student dancers.

“The dancers I chose had to have strong ballet skills, but also experience with improv, contemporary dance, and inversion,” says Sabee. “The dancers in this ballet were all chosen for the way they use their arms, which is very important, especially for the albatrosses…My favorite choreographic moment is a pas de deux by the two albatrosses. It’s simple in many ways, very pared down as far as movement goes, but we spent a lot of time working on arm movements to develop birdlike qualities.”

Professor Sabee spent hours watching videos of birds and of water, from waves to whirlpools, to better understand how the dancers could best reproduce the movement of water. She also worked with Swarthmore Associate in Performance Chandra Moss-Thorne, who danced the part of the titular wedding guest, and Tara Webb, who supervises the Swarthmore Theater Department wardrobe and helped design the costumes.

Meanwhile, Professor Whitman watched a number of wedding dances on Youtube in order to compose the festive music for the opening marriage scene. He was also in charge of finding musicians, three alumni and two non-alumni freelance musicians. According to Whitman, “I originally was going to hire freelance musicians in D.C. to play the score, then Olivia decided students should be part of the show. It made no sense to transport D.C. musicians to Swarthmore for rehearsals, so it was better to hire students…I was unsure about asking student musicians, because they would have had to skip a few days of classes. So ultimately I called alumni I have worked with and played with socially. Traveling to D.C. with everyone was wonderful.”

Regarding the presence of professional performers from Agora Dance, Sabee believes “any opportunities to bring students together with professional dancers is really exciting because it really pushes the students to perform more fully, and pushes them physically. We have a great crop of very talented students, and everyone thought it was great working with them.”

The ballet itself, which was part of a larger, 1-hour program, was a major success. Over three hundred people attended in person, with an extra 3,500 watching on livestream. Both professors have expressed delight in working so closely together, and hope to do more collaborations in the future.

Emilie Hautemont ’20


Spring Dance Concert Features Guest and Student Choreographers

With summer break and finals growing steadily closer, everyone deserves a break from end-of-semester stress.  Students, faculty and community members alike should come to the Dance Concert (May 4, 8:30 pm and May 5, 8 pm in the LPAC Pearson-Hall Theater) and see what stunning pieces various dance classes have been working on. The Concert features performances by students in Dance Lab, Ensemble and Repertoire classes, and individual performances, in addition to a performance by guest choreographer Kun-Yang Lin’s dance company, Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers.

Kim Arrow, Associate Professor of Dance, is managing the Concert. His work BREAKS, performed by members of his Taiko Repertory class, will open the concert.

“In [BREAKS] I combine contemporary and traditional repertory in a mix of styles in one piece, which I admit is a bit of a cheeky thing to do. But I love the transitions and juxtapositions and contrasts: ergo the title,” says Arrow.

The Concert will include Ballet, Contemporary, Tap, and African-based dance performances. For Professor Arrow, “the most enjoyable part [of the concert] …is watching individual works come together, especially for those which I’ve been able to follow from their inception, such as Molly Murphy’s and Jenny Gao’s.”

Molly Murphy ‘18 will be performing a tap piece, “Neighbors,” which she choreographed herself. She will be accompanied by Wesley Han ‘18 and Francesca Rothell ‘21. Additionally, she is a TA for the tap repertoire class and part of the Taiko Repertory. As Murphy puts it, “it’s going to be fun! And also a marathon, because I’ll be in three numbers with no time to change in between, but it will be fun. This is my last chance to make something at Swarthmore before I graduate…I’ve been in dance concerts every semester as part of a class, and this will be the third time I perform one of my own compositions.”

“Neighbors” is a lighthearted piece about loud, annoying neighbors — perfect for tap dancing, which Murphy has been practicing since she was seven. She was inspired to choreograph the piece by a Philadelphia swing club which frequently plays old jazz songs.

Jenny Gao ’18, a student of Dance Lab II (taught by Kim Arrow) has also choreographed her own piece, a solo entitled “virga” (a natural phenomenon in which massive streaks of rain never reach the ground due to the dryness of air). She was inspired by a Dance Lab assignment which required students to choose an animal to represent; she chose a bear.

“I wouldn’t even call it a bear now, though,” explains Gao. “More like a being or creature that evolves as the piece goes on…as a senior it was very important for me to create something very intimately.”

Gao started in dance at Swarthmore later than most of the department’s students, taking her first class in her sophomore year and her first ballet class this semester.

“I think that’s why I sometimes struggle to put it in choreographic terms, which is both good and bad…A lot of the movements [in the piece] are things you wouldn’t normally do. I was inspired by my training in martial arts, in Beijing opera, and by my performance as Ariel [in this year’s Yellow Stockings’ production of The Tempest].]”

Although both students choreographed their pieces themselves, they worked closely with Professor Arrow, who offered feedback and support. As he says himself, “I am always very proud of the people involved in producing such a thing as a concert with all its challenges and hard work required, not to mention the talent and experience required of the performers and choreographers.  And I’m always amazed at the variety of dance and music styles and traditions and the polyglot movement vocabulary required to pull it off.”

Emilie Hautemont ’20

Happy Molly!

Profile of Dance Minor Molly Murphy ’18

There is no question that senior Molly Murphy finds happiness through dance. Any of her performances at the Swarthmore student dance concerts these past four years has showcased not only her finesse and technicality in tap dancing, but also her ability to brighten the stage with an infectious smile and an energy that radiates throughout the theater. Off the stage, Molly is a little more reserved and soft spoken, though her gentle and soothing demeanor is still as infectious as her stage presence. During my conversation with her, I found myself drawn in, listening to her words with an attentiveness that follows when someone has hushed and important things to share.

“I’m a very quiet person; tap is when I let out a lot of noise. It’s my happy place. People tell me I’m very different when I tap dance or when I’m performing tap than in every other circumstance. Tap is another way for me to express myself and communicate in ways that I often can’t do when I’m talking to people.” Tap has been a mode of expression for Molly and has provided a source of support while at Swarthmore. Despite her shyness in outside contexts, Molly has discovered a form of communication that has allowed her to connect with students and professors in and out of the studio, allowing her to lay hold of dance as an identity within her community.

“Coming to Swarthmore and meeting Sharon Friedler, talking with her and taking classes with her, I realized how big a part dance was in my life. Before Swarthmore, I never really thought of it in relationship with my identity. I took Arts as Social Change and Dancing Identities and did my first independent project [all with Professor Friedler]. I realized it was something I couldn’t put to the side. Dance is something that’s gotten me through Swarthmore and being a dance minor ensured that dance wouldn’t get pushed aside in the face of other commitments.”

These academic dance courses, particularly Arts as Social Change and Dancing Identities, opened Molly’s eyes to the possibility of dance to influence people’s lives and create change in communities. As a Peace and Conflict Studies major, Molly has naturally been interested in the ways that dance can offer meaning and impact.

“I’m a Peace and Conflict Studies major; taking Arts as Social Change made me more aware of dance as a positive form of social change, whether that is in youth programs, prison settings, or Sharon’s dance programs for people with Parkinson’s Disease. It’s kind of a therapeutic tool for a variety of different communities and a way to pass on tradition and stories.”

Molly hopes to continue participating in dance communities even after she graduates from Swarthmore this spring. Recently, she has been taking swing dance and tango classes in Philadelphia, and finds that having common ground, a passion for dance, makes connecting with people a little bit easier. Even despite the exciting possibility of meeting new people in dancecommunities, Molly is still nostalgic about her time at Swarthmore and nods agreeably when I ask her if there are things she will miss about the Musicand Dance Department here.

“Oh yeah. All of the LPAC crew and teachers and professors in the dancedepartment, they really made Swarthmore home for me. I’m going to miss that because coming into Swarthmore, it was a much more supportive danceenvironment than what I’d experienced in high school, which was much more competitive. It’s been nice to TA for the tap repertory class here and be able to do a few of my own pieces and work one on one with professors on how to develop ideas. [It made me see that] dance is an art form in its own right and [taught me] how to use and change space and locate yourself within that space. So I have Swarthmore to thank for helping me to understand what my relationship is with dance and how it has shaped my identity.”

Molly will be performing for the last time in the Swarthmore student danceconcert this spring with the tap repertory class, as well as a smaller piece she choreographed herself. She is approaching this piece in a similar way to the tap piece she choreographed last spring, which involved three of her friends who were graduating. Considered her fondest dance memory at Swarthmore, the piece was titled “Until Tomorrow” and was about friendship and the idea that people may not always be in the same space, but that experiences do last even if you’re not always together.

This time, that message will be for Molly and the other seniors in the tap piece, a reminder of the friendships formed over the past four years and the endless possibilities in the coming years.

Marion Kudla ’19

HOOP OF LIFE: Music and Dance from Ojibwa/Oneida with Ty Defoe (4/24 at 4:30PM)

HOOP OF LIFE with Ty Defoe/ Gi izhig (Oneida/Ojibwe Nations)Ty_Defoe

This event will include interactive tribal songs and flute, hoop, and eagle dances. This unique program explores stories within a framework of traditional and contemporary culture, history, and values. Ty draws on his vast repertoire gifted to him weaves urban anecdotes and teachings that can be applied to ideas of shape-shifting and how this relates to identity. Walking in multiple worlds on earth is what Ty carries as he  weaves stories and humanity together. Storytelling is often discovered with a presenting a message. For example the Sacred Hoop Dance is a metaphor that gives a message of people creating unity. The four colors of the hoops are symbols of interdependence and unity – the four human races, the four seasons, the four directions of the compass. As the Hoops move they speak of renewed creation of all of the universe.

Upper Tarble


April 24, 2018 

dance matters too

Dance Matters Too! Professor Pallabi Chakravorty’s Latest Book

Professor Pallabi Chakravorty of the Swarthmore Music and DanceDepartment has had a busy year. Despite her abrupt sabbatical due to a back injury, Professor Chakravorty has published two books within the past year that she has been working for close to a decade: This is How We DanceNow! Performance in the Age of Bollywood and Reality Shows, published in October of 2017, and Dance Matters Too: Memories, Markets, Identities, which was published in India this past March and is forthcoming in the United States.

Dance Matters Too was inspired by a conference Professor Chakravorty attended that sparked conversations about the nature of classical Indian performance in the face of contemporary global changes. People from all over the world interested in classical Indian dance gathered at this international conference to address their diverse experiences in the field, and when Professor Chakravorty and her co-editor Nilanjana Gupta sent out calls for papers, they were surprised by the influx of articles from scholars anddancers all over the world.

The book is divided into sections loosely separated by historical significance. The first looks at the history of the style itself and what remains of classical Indian dance now. The second part looks at the current influence and fusion of popular culture on Indian dance. It investigates the role of globalization ofdance alongside shifting ideas of Indian national identity. The final section deals with the creation of subnational identity through the development of regional styles of classical Indian dance.


When asked what inspired her to do the research for her article, titled “Cosmopolitan Then and Cosmopolitan Now: Rabindranrtiya Meets DanceReality Shows,” in Dance Matters Too, she referenced her own experiences as a Kathak-trained dancer.

“I became very interested in challenging myself. I have a certain mindset about aesthetics. We develop strong tastes and preferences as dancers if you are trained in certain ways…so it creates a mindset and I wanted to challenge that. I’ve always been very fond of Bombay films, which after the 1980s, after liberalization, became Bollywood. It is much more global and spectacle-oriented, prior to [Bombay films] that were more classically oriented and had folk forms.”

Professor Chakravorty’s fieldwork for This is How We Dance Now, which she also used for her article in Dance Matters Too, has taken her to the sets of Bollywood films to work and dance alongside young Bollywood dancers. “It was a challenge. What I first learned was I am not a Bollywood dancer…After being exposed to that kind of movement and energy, high energy movement that is not line oriented but spectacle oriented, I thought there’s something there. These people are enjoying [what they’re doing]. Through these interactions, I saw how versatile they were, how fabulous they are asdancers. It’s a different kind of dance and I have tremendous respect for what they’re doing.”

Once her most recently published book, Dance Matters Too, is available in the United States, Professor Chakravorty hopes to see forums for writers anddancers to write about dance, giving more visibility and accessibility to dancestudies and dance scholarship.

“I want more people to do dance research in different venues, so that writing becomes a part of the culture of dance, to think about dance not in isolation, that it’s this esoteric world, but that dance is connected to other things.Dance is first and foremost culture…so [I want people] to understand how it is part of culture and why it changes, how it is dynamic and cross-cultural, and to make people competent in cross-cultural understanding.”

Dance Matters Too: Memories, Markets, Identities contributes to these forums and will offer insight on the ever-shifting nature of Indian dance in an increasingly global world, providing its readers with compelling reasons for the continued study and appreciation for a variety of dance forms.

Marion Kudla ’19

tamagawa taiko

Tamagawa Taiko Returns to Swarthmore

Tamagawa Taiko Drum and Dance Group has a long history with Swarthmore’s Dance and Music programs, spanning eighteen years of performances and workshops. Professor Kim Arrow, Swarthmore Taiko professor, first met Tamagawa Taiko director Isaburoh Hanayagi in 1999 at a dance festival in Philadelphia. The two of them–one an expert in Japanese performing arts and one a dance professor with a budding interest in taiko–arranged Swarthmore’s first Tamagawa Taiko performance the following year. Although lightly publicized, the concert was sold out, setting the standard for annual performances since.

In addition to regular taiko performances, Isaburoh has held multiple workshops in dance, taiko, and kabuki theater, extending the relationship between Swarthmore and Tamagawa beyond just the taiko programs. In 2002, a delegation from Tamagawa traveled to Swarthmore to consult with various faculty and administrators in establishing the first Department of Liberal Arts in Japan at Tamagawa University. Later, Swarthmore President Al Bloom and Tamagawa President Yoshiaki Obara would establish an official Sister Relationship between the two institutions, symbolized by the hanging of printed cherry blossom fabric over the LPAC stairwell. In 2004, a member of Tamagawa’s Art Program held a workshop in Japanese textile design for Swarthmore art students. In 2008, Isaburoh served as a Cornell Visiting Professor of Japanese at Swarthmore, during which his taiko classes performed with the Tamagawa group to an audience of over 20,000 people at Philadelphia’s Sakura Sunday Festival. Swarthmore has benefitted from the Tamagawa Taiko program in innumerable ways, including the gift of fourteen professional-class taiko drums arranged by Isaburoh.

Since that first, modest concert at Swarthmore in 2000, Tamagawa Taiko has gained acclaim performing in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, DC, and across the Northeast. Notably, the group now performs annually for Philadelphia’s famous Cherry Blossom Festival. Amidst their growing reputation, Tamagawa Taiko returns to Swarthmore yearly for their ever-popular performances and continues to grace the campus with their musicdance, and Japanese cultural education. Says Professor Arrow, “I am aware that audiences await each Cherry Blossom season with much anticipation for this world-class event with its exceptionally trained drummers and dancers. I am very grateful that they regard Swarthmore as their second home.”

Taiko students Christine Lee ‘18 and Josie Hung ‘18 also voice their gratitude having witnessed several Tamagawa Taiko performances. “This upcoming show will be my 3rd time seeing Tamagawa Taiko perform,” says Lee. “Each time I watch their show, I am blown away by their artistry, skills, and overall performance. The drums are exhilarating, the dances are mesmerizing, and the fact that they’re students our age is all the more impressive.” Hung remembers the performances with similar awe. “The experience was truly amazing. I loved the energy, movement, and preciseness that each player brought and was completely enveloped in their performance from the moment they hit their first beat.” Hung encourages everyone, especially students outside the Music and Dance Department, to attend a Tamagawa Taiko performance. “I think it is valuable to see professional performances from people who train everyday in this art form,” she says. “I also think engaging and learning from art in different cultures is a very important and valuable lesson that every individual can take from this.”

Maya Kikuchi ’20

gamelan players

Gamelan Semara Santi Plays Lang Concert Hall and Hawthorne Park

To commemorate Gamelan Semara Santi’s twentieth anniversary season, the ensemble, comprised of Swarthmore students, faculty, staff, and community members, will perform two concerts. One in Lang Concert Hall on Sunday, April 8th, and the other on April 15th in South Philadelphia’s Hawthorne Park, the performances will feature Balinese music and dance performed in a variety of styles.

The second concert joins other activities designed to celebrate Gamelan’s twentieth anniversary through explorations of Balinese and other Asian styles of music. Earlier in the semester, the Department of Music and Dance hosted Indonesian dancer Didik Nini Thowok, who held a guest lecture and demonstration on cross-gender traditions in Balinese and other dance styles. The first performance will be shared with the newer Chinese Music Ensemble.

The decision to hold a second concert in Hawthorne Park is significant. According to co-director and Professor Thomas Whitman, there was “virtually no Indonesian community in Philadelphia” in 1997, when he began teaching gamelan at Swarthmore. He continues, “In the wake of Indonesian political and economic instability in the late 1990’s, however, there was large influx of immigrants from Indonesia, many of whom settled in South Philadelphia.”  Following contacts made with the new community and the support of the College, transporting the group to the city became more of a possibility. “Swarthmore’s full ensemble has never performed for an audience of Indonesian-Americans…so we thought this would be an appropriate capstone for our 20th anniversary season.”

Hawthorne Park joins previous off-campus venues that the ensemble has performed at such as the Kimmel Center and Longwood Gardens. The instruments, created by I Wayan Beratha, arrived on campus in the fall of 1997 and have since been featured in biannual concerts at Swarthmore College. Gamelan Semara Santi’s name was derived as a tribute to Swarthmore College’s Quaker roots, merging the name of the Balinese god of love (Semar), and “santi,” the Sanskrit word for “peace.”

The collection of instruments is tuned in the pelog system, which is realized as a repeating sequence of five notes named for the Balinese vowel sounds. Among the instruments, the largest is the gong; in gamelan music, the gong occupies a central role and, with the kempur and kemong, defines the cyclical pattern through which the nuclear melody takes shape. This melody, contrary to much of traditional West European musical practice, is voiced through the lower-toned instruments jegogan and calung and enhanced by a number of gangsas. Accompanying this basic distribution of instruments are, depending on the style, the kajar, reyong, suling, kendang, ceng-ceng, and gentorag.

During its upcoming concerts, Gamelan Semara Santi will perform one piece from the Gamelan Semar Pegulingan repertoire, which rose in prominence during the nineteenth century and is characterized by a slower and more regular gong cycle. We will also perform two pieces of the rapid and dynamic Gong Kebyar style, which evolved in tangent with Bali’s rapid sociocultural and political changes around the turn of the twentieth century.

I am incredibly grateful to the directors and group for making Gamelan a central part of my Swarthmore education since freshman year and am honored to be able to participate in our twentieth anniversary concerts. I am excited to share what we have learned in both the Lang Concert Hall and Hawthorne Park!


Jacob Demree ‘19


The Tempest Brews at Swarthmore College

Emily Kennedy, a junior from Portland, Oregon, wasn’t planning on being a stage manager this semester.  She had already stage managed three shows at Swarthmore thus far, and as a Political Science Major with Environmental Studies and Math minors who is also pre-med and going abroad next semester, she had plenty of reason to take a break this spring and focus on academics and other extracurricular pursuits.

But when senior honors Theater major Wesley Han asked her to run their upcoming production of The Tempest, she found herself unable to turn down the “crazy” opportunity.  Kennedy knew Han from previous plays, in which at least one of them was acting, and had also seen their work as the director of last fall’s Senior Company production of HIR.  She describes Han as “such an incredible artist” and the chance to work with them as a stage-manager/director team on a show this ambitious she felt was not one to be missed.

A major part of what sets Han’s Tempest apart from Swarthmore’s usual theater offerings is that dance and music play an integral role throughout.  This makes sense considering their background as a cellist and pianist, whose drama experience during high school consisted almost exclusively of acting, singing, and dancing in musicals.  It’s true that here at Swarthmore, Han “got used to doing straight theater” and even learned to appreciate “how much more room for substance there is when you’re not stopping every five minutes to spontaneously burst into song.”  But after a very substantial and emotionally charged directing capstone last semester in the form of HIR, which involved just four actors and explored family politics with a queer twist, Han is returning to a much more dance- and sound-oriented production this spring with The Tempest.

The whole idea of doing this show originated in large part in the desire to incorporate dance into Han’s theater work, and Shakespeare provided a natural starting point. “So much of [a Shakespeare story] needs to be told nonverbally,” Han says, since “a lot of the language isn’t accessible today.”  And when dance minor Jenny Gao ’18 planted the seed of potentially collaborating, they immediately thought that her background and movement style would make her a good fit for the role of Ariel in The Tempest; in this production, Ariel isn’t just “some dude in a costume covered in feathers who just moves around like a person,” but rather a fully embodied spirit, with a cadre of lesser spirits to do her bidding.

In charge of choreographing most of the movement for that spirit ensemble is Louisa Carman ’21.  Carman, a prospective Political Science major with minors in Spanish and Dance, brings to this project a wealth of dance experience applied in new ways.  In high school, she studied ballet, jazz, tap, and hip-hop, and performed with Chicago’s Evanston Dance Ensemble in several of their large story-based productions, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland.  Through Evanston, she also gained some experience creating her own work, but hadn’t yet combined the two skills—choreographing and storytelling—in a deliberate way until The Tempest.  This combination proved initially difficult, as Carman says “it was a challenge for me to choreograph with the mindset that every element…has a role in advancing the story and adding to the overall atmosphere of the scene.”  She has had throughout the process to balance the worth of her movement for its own sake with how well it contributes to the overall theatrical production.

Sound designer Oliver Lipton ’18 has found himself adjusting to that balance, as well.  Lipton composed most of the show’s soundtrack as an honors thesis for his major in Theater, and while he had previously produced a radioplay called What We Fear as an independent study, this is his first experience creating sound for live theater or dance.  There’s a lot to explore, as not only is he providing the precise cues referred to or suggested by the script, but also the more extensive and rhythmically structured music for dance. Since Ariel in this production doesn’t speak onstage, he’s also responsible for manipulating recordings of Ariel’s voice to stand in for live lines.  All of these have to fit into a coherent soundscape that suggests the particular atmosphere and dynamics of one island, which Lipton decided was a mix of electronic and acoustic sound (dancer Gabriela Brown and Han play flute and cello, respectively, in several of his compositions).  He says that within that general auditory framework, “designing sounds in such a way that they work for the rest of the elements at play has been very interesting.”

Despite the challenges and compromises inherent in crafting all the factors involved in a production of this scope into a harmonious whole, having so many minds in the mix is ultimately quite rewarding.  Carman, for one, says her favorite part of choreographing for the show has been “working with other creative people,” and that she has “learned so much about the decisions that happen behind the scenes for a production like this one.”  Stage manager Kennedy, who gets to follow the whole arc of the project from before auditions to closing night, definitely agrees.  She loves facilitating and watching as “a bunch of people come together to make something cool.” And The Tempest is shaping up to be something cool, indeed.

The Tempest will be showing in the LPAC Frear Ensemble Theater Friday, March 30th at 8pm, Saturday, March 31st at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, April 1st at 2pm.

Lydia Roe ’20

didik nini thowok

Improvisation and Identity in Didik Nini Thowok’s Traditional Indonesian Cross-Gender Performance

In a departure from the composed and choreographed nature of many Western Classical styles of music and dance, students at Swarthmore will get a taste for the improvisatory art of traditional Indonesian dance when Didik Nini Thowok comes to campus on Tuesday, March 6. Didik Nini Thowok is a traditional cross-gender dancer from Java, Indonesia who performs in a variety of dance traditions, including topeng, Sundanese, Cirebon, Balinese, and Central Javanese.

Professor Tom Whitman of the Music and Dance Department is excited for Didik Nini Thowok to work with the Swarthmore Gamelan ensemble, a group of dancers and percussive and wind musicians who practice this classical music and dance form from Bali, Indonesia, as part of the lecture. Professor Whitman is hopeful that this event will expose the Gamelan ensemble to the improvisatory art that Didik Nini Thowok can offer.

“We’re not able to do a lot of dances that are improvisatory in nature. The dances that we do are always choreographed dances. Having Didik Nini Thowok here is an opportunity for us to work with a very high-level Indonesian dancer and to give my students and the audience a sense of what improvisation is all about. I think it’ll be a good learning experience for me and for my students in the Gamelan and I hope the audience will find it interesting too.”

Along with the workshop with the Gamelan ensemble, the event will include a lecture hosted by Didik Nini Thowok, co-sponsored by the Music and Dance Department, Asian Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Professor Whitman believes that Didik Nini Thowok’s visit to campus will resonate with many Swarthmore students, not just as dancers or musicians, but also as individuals seeking identities within a shifting political and cultural climate. As Professor Whitman pointed out, and as Didik Nini Thowok mentioned in his 2011 TEDx Talk, Indonesia’s currently pluralistic government does not fully support the kind of message that Didik Nini Thowok delivers through cross-gender performance. The courage it takes for Didik Nini Thowok to publicly cross-dress is something Professor Whitman is certain Swarthmore students will appreciate and relate to.

“This is an artist who has grappled with issues of identity and what it means to be an artist in a very pluralistic setting that will speak to a lot of Swarthmore students. Just this notion of how one forges an identity and how one reconciles one’s own inner direction as an artist with a great tradition, I think is something all artists struggle with in a lot of ways, and I think it’s relevant.”

In his TEDx Talk, Didik Nini Thowok identifies with the struggles he has faced as a Chinese descendant in Indonesia and a man playing the role of a woman in his cross-gender performances, saying: “Since I was little, I’ve always experienced what it felt like to be a minority.”

But despite the discrimination as a result of the political situation in Indonesia, Didik Nini Thowok continues to deliver messages of love and acceptance across the globe.

Didik Nini Thowok’s lecture and demonstration is on Tuesday, March 6th at 4:30 PM in Lang Music Concert Hall. This event will be free and open to the public.

Marion Kudla ’19

Andrew Kim small

A Glance at Student Projects

Swarthmore can be a hectic place for students, who are required to balance academics, jobs, extracurriculars, and a social life (and, occasionally, sleep). It is especially so for Music and Dance students, who have the added pressure of auditions and practice. Yet, somehow, a number of Music and Dance majors have found time to pursue their own projects, and to share them with the community.

Andrew J Kim ’18 is a music major specializing in conducting. Despite the pressure of senior year and grad school applications, he found the time to apply for a choral conducting master class, held in Pittsburgh in the week before spring break.

“It’s actually less pressure than everything else,” laughingly notes Kim. “I heard about the master class from Joe Gregorio [the director of choral ensembles at Swarthmore], and we worked on the application together — there was a written application, and I had to submit a video of me directing. The Dean’s office is also funding part of trip, through student conference funding.”

The class is part of a larger conference held by the regional chapter of the American Choral Directors Association and will feature workshops and lectures by choral conductors and teachers from across the United States. Kim and other students in the masterclass will prepare and conduct two pieces, working with a choir provided by the conference. He will also work closely with Dr Jerry Blackstone, the renowned Professor and Chair of Conducting at University of Michigan, who has previously taught choral directing to another Swarthmore alum.

Says Kim, “[You should] be constantly on the lookout for things to join into…just be confident about your strength as a musician. It doesn’t hurt to apply, so just try and put your best foot forward…it’s very cool to seek out opportunities, to meet other students doing the same thing as you and find out what other experiences they have.”

Rachel Isaacs-Falbel ‘19 took advantage of her semester abroad to supplement her dance education. A Dance Studies and Anthropology special major who specializes in the study of ballet, she spent the fall of 2017 in Nice, France taking classes in dance theory at the Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis through an IES Abroad program.

Explains Isaacs-Falbel, “It gave me a sense of how France interacts with ballet, and brought me a more critical perspective on the U.S. In terms of going into dance as a field, having French language skills is super helpful [Isaacs-Falbel is a French minor]. To learn about ballet history, you really need french to go into the archives and the vocabulary.”

Her classes included Theory of Choreography, and the History of Dance. She also took an advanced adult ballet class, which she describes as “…the fastest paced class I have ever taken – each exercise was set at a tempo twice as fast as I am used to, and they really pushed flexibility in a way I never experienced. [But] it was also super friendly and chill, they threw a going away party when I left.”

Isaacs-Falbel got to discover how French and American dance culture is different, particularly regarding ballet. French dancers must receive an official state diploma before they are approved to work as professional dancers. Isaacs-Falbel also noted that the Université de Nice Dance department works closely with the Music and Theater departments, sharing resources and frequently collaborating on projects, resulting in ballet – and more widely, dance – having a distinguished and protected standing in French culture. Her time in France allowed her to gain a new perspective on ballet in general, as well as new material for her thesis (on the intersections between race and class and the accessibility of ballet education in the U.S.).

“It’s totally possible to go abroad while being a dance or music major — there are lots of schools you can do exchanges with,” says Isaacs-Falbel. “It’s such a valuable experience, because… you gain a new perspective to bring back and critically think about, and think about what you’re learning at home and how that’s important.”


Dance majors can also participate in programs that are closer to home. Marion Kudla ’19, who also specializes in ballet, attended a five-day dance intensive held by Complexions Contemporary Ballet, a dance company based in her hometown of New York City. Like Kim, she heard of the program from one of the Music and Dance department instructors, Chandra Moss-Thorne.

“I was asking around for classes and programs, and Chandra, who was a professional dancer, recommended the program and the company, because I live in New York…you submit a video to apply. [The dance] was different to what I’m used to doing here, I felt like the movement resonated with me. It was exactly the way I wanted to move, artistically speaking. It was also really fun to explore where I could go with that…to see how each person could interpret moves differently.”

For the program, Kudla spent four hours a day at the Complexions studio: two hours in a ballet class, which incorporated elements of contemporary dance, and two hours in a rep [repertory] class, where she learned some of the Company choreography. Undergoing such intensive classes on a daily basis was a very different pace from Swarthmore, where dance classes must be balanced with academics and extracurriculars. Furthermore, combining ballet and modern dance in such a close way was a new experience for Kudla. “Most of my training has been in ballet…I did some Modern with an alum who graduated last year, but not as much, and this was was really a new way of moving and making it a mix of ballet and modern techniques…I really got to experience my artistry in a different way. And of course the four hour a day schedule was different…I think it was just the right amount, I felt tired but really good.”

One of the major advantages of such programs is that they allow students to develop new techniques and skills, and incorporate them into their performances and work at Swarthmore. They also allow them to go beyond the Swat bubble and meet other musicians and dancers with similar interests, so that they may share their experiences. Kudla participated in the Complexions program alongside dancers from a variety of background, from high school seniors to conservatory students and members of other dance companies.

To any students who may be nervous about participating in similar programs, she advises “[The program] really was an array of dancers with different abilities. Taking our similar experiences and exploring them in different ways, and seeing each person grow in their technical and artistic abilities, is what it’s about…and it would be applicable to anyone who is interested in exploring dancing.”

Emilie Hautemont ’20