I heard the piano’s haunting melody before I opened the door. Melancholic chords echoed through the Dance Building’s underground practice room. The production crew, director and choreographer stood against the floor-to-ceiling mirror while the dancers’ bodies moved as if suspended in water. All I could hear was their feet skidding on the floor, labored breathing, the snapping of Hannah’s camera and the piano. There was a sign to remove shoes, transforming the subterranean space into sacred ground.
On that Friday night practice, the entire cast rehearsed for “And We Look On,” a puppetry and dance performance focused on environmentalism. Music, Theatre & Dance and LSA senior Isabel Olson described the show as “a 30 to 40 minute piece that touches on both the natural beauty of our world but also the decay and dilapidation that is being caused right now by humans.”
This week, Olson’s vision is coming to the stage at the Duderstadt Center Video Studio this Thursday, Feb. 27 and Friday, Feb. 28 from 7 to 8 p.m.
The performance is a journey through an idealized world, our current reality and the wasteland — a representation of our future. Conceived by Olson this past October, “And We Look On” uses screen projections, puppetry, dancing and original music written by Cole P. Abod.
“Puppetry, to me, simply means animating an object and realizing that almost any object can come alive,” Olson said. “That became a really good metaphor for this show where everything we touch in this world is trash. So it is bringing to life the beauty of this world through waste just spoke to me, as that could be puppetry so easily.”
In her role directing the cabaret dance show in the fall of 2018, Olson met Music, Theatre & Dance senior Johanna Kepler, a dance major and now the “And We Look On” choreographer. For Kepler, the scenes depicting the “shadow world” presented the biggest challenge (but were also the most fun). Staging the transitions between having dancers in 3-D and also behind a screen required her to stretch her imagination.
Kepler listed packing peanuts, Meijer bags, umbrellas and cellophane as just some of the recycled items used in the show. She found that art through movement and dance is a radically different experience from reading a headline or statistics, which can desensitize the public.
“I want the audience to be confronted, to reflect and be uncomfortable,” Kepler said. “And by uncomfortable, I mean, opening up a dialogue that is important to have, but may not be something you talked about with your friends on a day to day basis.”
While choreographing the piece, Kepler wondered how we evoke emotion to spark action.
“The way I’ve been doing that is making superhuman moments where there’s a clear human connection on stage,” Kepler said.
Olson was floored by the cast and crew’s willingness to take risks and help her bring this small idea to life.
During their break, I sat with the dancers on the floor as they stretched, tired but still smiling at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday. Senior Matthew Standerski, sophomore Atticus Olivet, junior Alana Pollard and sophomore Claire Vogel, all Music, Theatre & Dance majors, spoke of their passion for their performance’s message that combines activism and theatre.
All the dancers mentioned the cross-disciplinary nature of the show, with members’ majors ranging from history, theatre, dance and art. The group’s cross-disciplinary membership is a feature they consider one of their greatest strengths.
“Because it’s a piece that didn’t exist before, it feels deeply personal. You can point to and say, ‘Oh, I remember the day that we decided that was going to be in the piece,’” said Pollard. “I think the whole piece feels so deeply rooted in collaboration. And that’s what makes it feel really special.”
Standerski found that though “And We Look On’s” uses minimal resources, a production can still do so much with so little. He noticed how it’s easy to slip into feeling helpless, but art is able to show the profound ways in which people can make a difference.
“The cool paradox of it is we’re making something beautiful out of the trash and the recycled material. And that will live in people’s minds longer than the trash that they throw away every day.”
“And We Look On” will perform at the Duderstadt Center Video Studio Thursday, Feb. 27 and Friday, Feb. 28 from 7 to 8 p.m. It is free to all audiences.