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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

group choreography.

"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

Studio Company.

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,

8 p.m.

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