“As artists, it’s important that we tell our stories, that we share our voices,” says Heather Dennen, Program Coordinator and Director of Dance for the Baldwin Wallace University Community Arts School (CAS). She speaks of the fifteen dancers, students from age 7 to 18, who participated in One Light, a new, fully produced dance video filmed on a rooftop overlooking the Cleveland skyline and Lake Erie. This project, conceived by Dennen as a way for students to process the events of 2020, celebrates dance as an expression of identity and explores a transformative journey from isolation to community.
In adapting live dance to the screen, One Light offered a unique opportunity for CAS dance students to experience all aspects of the creative process, from conception to production. Performing on a rooftop and surrounded by camera operators and drones, the dancers had three hours to record several takes to achieve the various angles necessary for the film. Throughout the entire process, these students represented themselves and the BW community, embracing a new creative challenge with conviction.
Exemplifying BW and CAS’s commitment to collaborative educational experiences, One Light features choreography by Heather Dennen set to a new composition by Dr. Clint Needham, Composer-In-Residence and Associate Professor of Composition at BW’s Conservatory of Music. A string quartet comprised of CAS faculty performs the piece and includes Sam Rotberg (violin), Corrie Anne Riberdy (violin), Carol Ross (viola) and Gayle Klaber (cello). “In so many ways,” says Needham, “this project really typifies BW’s holistic approach, especially pertaining to the artistic pursuits of the institution. I think we’re in the best symbiotic situation between CAS, the Conservatory and the community at large. Taking who we are and what we do to other parts of our region, showing what we’re about. I hope this is just scratching the surface of what we can do in the future.”
As both a BW faculty member and the father of a CAS dance student, Needham did not hesitate to join the project when CAS leadership approached him. “It felt only natural that I would come on board. I talked with Heather to understand her vision for the piece. She told me her storyline and I tried to tailor the music to support it,” says Needham, “These kids gave me a lot of hope. They were able to adapt to everything. They’ve come out on the other side of last year, not completely unscathed, but really excited about the future.”
Confronted with the pandemic, the BW Community Arts School had to adapt its operations to ensure the safety of its students and community. For the CAS Dance Department, the shift to hybrid learning meant limited rehearsal time and required innovation to achieve its artistic and educational goals. Normally, the CAS Dance Company (one of the department’s offerings) rehearses between 10 and 20 hours per week. This past semester, they only met weekly for 4. Not only did the pandemic restrict time, but it also denied dancers physical contact in an art form that is inherently communal. “We had dance zones, taped squares on the floor,” says Dennen, “This physical distance pushed me as a choreographer, but the dancers and I leaned into this space and used that to help tell this story.”
In many ways, One Light is a story of possibility, an exercise in growth. It highlights the tenacity of an artistic vision, and the endurance of human connection. The work does not ignore the limitations, isolation and tension of this past year, but it speaks to a future of joy.
Rehearsals for One Light incorporated discussions of its themes, creating space for students to question, reflect and grow in their understanding of the work. “I think it’s important that the students have a voice in the process,” says Dennen. “That’s why we dance. Because it lets us express things that words don’t. These students are very in tune with what was happening in the world this year. They wanted to be an influence, to make a change, to have a voice. And at 13-14 years old, how do you give them a voice? Well, we’re dancers so we’re going to dance.”
Through its commitment to inclusive arts education, the BW Community Arts School aims to empower learners of all ages and backgrounds to develop not just as artists, but as contributing, compassionate human beings. Cory Isler, Associate Director of CAS, reiterates this foundational goal, saying “With One Light, we hoped to take a difficult moment and create a positive lasting experience for our students and community, reminding us that we can get through hard times, think creatively and achieve things we’ve never tried before.”
“In so many ways,” concludes Dennen, “One Light embodies who CAS is. Its themes reflect the values that are important across all of our programming. Equality, giving people a place to belong so nobody feels isolated. Making sure that everyone feels respected, heard and valued as a human being. Sure, I want my students to be good dancers. But, at the end of the day, I want them to be good human beings.”
At its core, the “one light” that CAS works to ignite in its programs is that of acceptance, inclusion and commitment to enhancing lives through arts education.
Experience One Light.
- Cameron Cabot for Baldwin Wallace University Community Arts School
The mission of the Baldwin Wallace University Community Arts School is to enrich lives by providing experiences that promote life-long engagement with the arts.
A non-competitive studio, the Baldwin Wallace Community Arts School Dance Department trains young dancers to have solid technical foundations, a passion for the arts, positive self-expression, and confidence. Our professional approach ensures each student receives comprehensive dance training in an environment that supports personal achievement, discipline, friendship, teamwork, positive attitude, creativity, kindness, and respect. The dance curriculum is designed to train all ages, skillsets, and confidence levels to achieve their greatest potential whether their goals are professional or personal growth. The CAS Dance Department looks forward to a full portfolio of dance offerings in the Fall of 2021. Register today.
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