Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the February 18,
2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Princeton Dance, On Center Stage
"Spring Dance Festival" springs onto the stage of the new Berlind
Theater this week, the first time in the program’s 35-year history
that dance has been presented in a purpose-built space. Dancer,
choreographer, and director Ze’eva Cohen, who founded the university’s
dance program in 1969, could not be happier.
"Thirty-four years later, and we have a theater," Cohen exclaims, and
immediately conjures up her span of years with the program. "I still
remember my first presentation. It was in April, 1970, in Poe Field –
part of an Earth Day celebration. It was mostly men marching around
bare-chested to the sound of congo drums and rock bands."
Cohen recalls how the passion and expression of those earliest members
of the Program in Dance was a sign of the times. Although dance
classes were only introduced after the school became co-educational,
50 of the 60 students enrolled were men. "Their dances had themes of
exuberance, anger at the Vietnam War, loss of identity, and the thrill
of community," says Cohen. "There was audience participation at the
end. It was is if, now that the women were in, it was no longer
undignified for the men to dance."
True to her mission for the university’s dance program, even that
early outdoor performance was rooted in choreographic study. "I wove
together their own movement studies that we had made in the studio,
and even though they dealt with abstract principals – even though
there was abstract movement – there was passion and expression," she
The dance expression of Cohen’s 21st century students will be on
display when the Program in Theater and Dance presents its concert
featuring 40 student dancers on Friday and Saturday, February 20 and
21, at 8 p.m. This year’s edition of the always lively, annual
showcase concert program features works by faculty dancers Cohen,
Meghan Durham, Rebecca Lazier, and guest choreographer Jessica Lang.
Also featured are works by 10 student choreographers, members of
Lazier’s choreography class.
Cohen, a professional modern dancer who came to the program with a
degree from Juilliard, will present one of her signature works,
"Rainwood," danced to sounds from nature. First created for her own
company in 1977, and later performed by the Boston Ballet and others,
the abstract work for seven women investigates the power of movement
as reflected in the flora and fauna of an imaginary forest. Recreated
for Princeton students, the production features projects of artwork by
Avri Ohana, who has also painted the costumes.
‘Rainwood" was created by Cohen in Santa Cruz, California, when she
was new to America and to the West’s magnificent natural landscape. "I
was a kid coming from the Middle East," she says, "seeing vegetation,
and life, and redwoods, birds, seals – a kind of nature life I had
never seen in Israel."
The resulting work, which she has revived periodically since the ’70s,
takes its movement vocabulary from the observation of migrating birds
in flight and birds nesting in their native habitats and explores
various ways in which the birds come together. "I’m not a scholar
studying birds, but I see a sense of transformation, and I introduce
imagery from other aspects of nature."
Cohen has created works for Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, for Alvin
Ailey, Munich Tanz project and other national companies. A former lead
dancer with Anna Sokolow, she was a founding member of New York’s
Dance Theater Workshop, now known around the world at DTW. After
touring nationally and internationally with her solo dance repertory
program, she later founded Ze’eva Cohen and Dancers to present her
"At Berlind, the sight lines are fantastic. This is the first time
we’ll have rigging for screens to raise and lower. We’ll have double
the number of lighting instruments and we can use projections. And I
think dance should thrive there. Eventually I would like to combine
live music as well, so that all the elements come together."
One student work on the program, a duet choreographed by junior Maria
Ciocca, will be danced to live music. A four-musician student ensemble
of keyboard, viola, oboe, and voice with perform original music to
accompany the new dance.
New to Cohen is the fact that a significant number of students now
come into the program with professional and pre-professional dance
training, much of it in ballet, and some in modern dance. "That’s new.
That was not the case when I started," she says, noting that she has
returning professionals in her program from Washington Ballet, Finland
Ballet, and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. This new aspect is due, in
part, to a Princeton admissions initiative to recruit students with
special strengths in the humanities and the arts. The program offers
an ongoing extracurricular ballet class five days a week to enable
ballet students to maintain their training.
For Cohen, however, dance-making is at the heart of the program. "All
our students, from the beginning, every single dance course includes
choreography," she explains. "And I believe public performance can not
only display technical excellence but also choreographic excellence –
judged on its originality and ingenuity. Often not having as much
technique liberates them into creating more interesting pieces."
"We have such an intelligent human body that is thirsty to create,"
says Cohen. "My job is just to teach them how to form and not get
caught up in this web of technical excellence where every piece looks
alike. I love the diversity we get." A significant number of the
program students also belong to one of the many dance groups on
campus. "A good part of our student performers produce at least two
other performances a year."
Cohen says the program faculty must also excel in both performance and
choreography. New faculty member Rebecca Lazier has created "Arctic
Light" for nine students, danced to the ancient music of Christobald
de Morales. The work draws on sacred ritual to create an emotional
dance landscape. The piece depicts a sense of vast open space, evoking
movement in stillness. Lazier is a graduate of the Juilliard School
and directs her own company, Terrain.
Faculty member Meghan Durham has choreographed "Commute" for a cast of
17 students. The work, designed especially for students without
advanced training, makes the most of a modern, pedestrian movement
vocabulary to explore the relentless nature of a daily commute as
fertile ground where personal experience can germinate and grow.
Apparently mundane experience can still hold the possibility for
Designed to address the interests and capabilities of students with
extensive ballet training is Jessica Lang’s "Life Line," a
contemporary dance that fuses ballet vocabulary with a modern
sensibility. Set to music of Hildegard von Bingen, the work explores
how "magical" occurrences in a person’s life become linked in memory.
Lang performed with Twyla Tharp’s company and her choreography has
been performed by Pennsylvania Ballet and American Ballet Theater’s
From the fields of Poe to the neo-Romanesque dome of Richardson
Auditorium, Princeton’s dance continues to evolve into the new
– Nicole Plett
Spring Dance Festival, Princeton University Theater & Dance Program,
Berlind Theater, University Place, 609-258-2787. The Dance Program
celebrates its first performances in the purpose-built Berlind
Theater. $15 adult; $5 child. Friday and Saturday, February 20 and 21,
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.