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National Water Dance Comes to Race Street Pier


by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

On Saturday April 12th, Colleen Hooper, a local choreographer and PhD candidate at Temple University, will lead a group of fellow students and alumni in National Water Dance at Race Street Pier.  The 25-minute performance is part of a nation-wide celebration of arts in action, initiated in 2011 by the New World School of the Arts in Miami and designed to draw attention to environmental conservation and protection.

National Water Dance will feature 7 dancers, including Temple’s Merían Soto, and 3 musicians, including Jon Katz (Composer/Saxophone), Joe Veltri (Vibraphone) and Jeremy Sowers (Percussion).  Logistical support is provided by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. 

In the following interview, Hooper discusses her choreographic process and her belief in the power of dance as a catalyst for social change.

Dance Journal:  Where did you get the idea for this performance? 

Colleen Hooper: I met the National Water Dance founder Dale Andree at the National Dance Education Organization Conference in October 2012 in Los Angeles.  National Water Dance grew out of a 2011 project Dale produced in Florida and she explained her intentions to make it nationwide. I was immediately interested in participating and thought it would be a great project to do with the Temple University community. The entire project is structured around working with educational institutions and there are elementary schools, community dance centers, high schools, and universities participating.

For me, this was an opportunity to artistically interpret water’s importance within the larger context of a national project. I see it as an extension of my community centered approach to making dance. I am very interested in placing dance in different contexts and experimenting with how it can represent and interact with issues that are important to us as a society.

DJ: The Jon Katz Trio will be providing live accompaniment for this weekend’s performance.  Can you tell us about some of the specific challenges and opportunities you’ve experience in working with live music? 

CH: I have focused on working with original music since 2010 with a particular interest in live music. I like live music’s energy and spontaneity.

We have not been able to rehearse with the musicians on the pier. Jon recorded the music, we rehearsed the dance, but we really don’t know how the live music will sound on the vast space of the pier. We will rehearse with the musicians early on Saturday morning before the show. Jon and I both have a lot of experience with improvisation, so we enjoy composing and planning while preserving an element of discovery in the performance experience.

DJ: National Water Dance draws inspiration from Rudolf Laban’s movement choirs in that it brings a community of people together to dance for a common purpose of goal.  How were movement phrases collected from (and then shared with) participants in 30 states? 

Dale Andree, the NWD artistic director, solicited movement phrases from all of the participants via the NWD website. We each recorded gestures and posted them on Youtube. Dale then compiled all of the gestures into a 3 minute “movement choir” phrase and we do this phrase in its entirety at the end of the dance.

DJ:  How would you describe your style of dance/choreography?

CH: I work to create a sense of connection through my movement by emphasizing relationships between performers and connecting to our surrounding environment.

DJ: Can you explain your process in choreographing this piece? 

CH: I went into the studio by myself for several rehearsals, exploring the idea of water and how I could translate that into my movement. I focused on experiencing the water within my body and moved in ways where I could feel my liquid composition. I also worked with water’s various states of matter:  transforming my movement quality from liquid to solid to gas.

As a group, we learned the “movement choir” compiled from the participants nationwide. I made a few phrases that I taught the dancers and explained my approach to working with water. From there, I asked the dancers to create solos and duets that spring from these movements and ideas. I directed their creation process but I was careful to allow for a lot of space for experimentation and personal choice.

Because water conservation is such an important issue, I wanted to find a compelling performance site that would highlight water and provide artistic inspiration. I have done a number of site-specific pieces and I really love the architecture and setting of the Race Street Pier. This location inspired a great deal of the movement.

DJ: What can audiences expect during Saturday’s performance? 

CH: We will be hosting Pennsylvania Representatives Michelle Brownlee and Mike O’Brien and Rep. O’Brien will say a few words to open the performance. After our welcome, the performance will run approximately 25 minutes. It will start on the north side of the pier and then move to the south side. Audience members are encouraged to move around to view the performance from different vantage points and there are benches throughout the pier that provide opportunities to sit in various locations.

DJ: What are you hoping to accomplish through National Water Dance?

CH: I want people to understand that dance is a catalyst for social change. Dance is an extremely powerful, versatile medium, and seeing a performance can impact people differently than presenting facts about environmental protection.

Saturday April 12th, 10 AM
The Race Street Pier, Race Street and North Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA 19106
FREE admission, open to the public

- Kat Richter

Kat Richter is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer and professor of anthropology. She specializes in travel writing, dance criticism, personal essays, humor and relationship advice.

Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, Dance Magazine, Museum and Skirt! and she has been featured on Good Morning America, HuffPost Live and in Marie Claire Magazine.

Kat Richter is Co-founder of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia's only all-female rhythm tap company.

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