Dance Like Everybody’s Listening

January 31, 2020
Oli Bentley ’21
dancers perform to music written by student composers.
Photo credit: Peter Swendsen ’99

TIMARA students compose music for dance... with dancers at their side.

In recent years, Oberlin has fostered numerous collaborations with GroundWorks DanceTheater, a Cleveland-based professional dance company dedicated to building community through the performance of contemporary works.

For Winter Term 2020, the conservatory’s TIMARA department teamed up with GroundWorks for a project that united composers and dancers under the guidance of TIMARA professor Peter Swendsen ’99.

Throughout the experience, TIMARA students were challenged to develop pieces that the performers would interpret through dance. Because the music and the dances were created simultaneously, the composers informed the dancers’ decisions just as much as the dancers informed those of each composer. For those on both sides of the creative process, the experience required thinking outside the box and a spirit of adventure—plus the ability to communicate their visions clearly.

Their work together culminated in a pair of informal performances: one in Oberlin’s dance studio in Warner Center and another at Cleveland State University.

The TIMARA participants found composing music for dance to be very different from their previous music-writing experiences.

“It was really fun, because we would talk about concepts and then the dancers would choreograph something,” says Piper Hill, a fifth-year double-degree student majoring in TIMARA and mathematics. “Then I would make some sounds, and they'd be like Oh that's really cool! Then they would choreograph some more. Usually, it was me writing music to the dance instead of the other way around."

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