Prop Madness
November 29, 2001


At the Dance Teacher Summit last month, there was some talk about how the trend to use more and bigger props for competition routines can mean that studio dancers are now traveling with entire sets in tow. Things can get complicated!


I was thinking about that this weekend when I visited Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival and saw Lucy Guerin Inc perform Structure and Sadness, a work inspired by the 1970 West Gate Bridge collapse in Melbourne. The dancers, which had traveled from Australia to the relatively remote Festival location in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, spent a considerable part of the performance building an incredible set—the piece showcased engineering concepts of compression, suspension, and torsion. It wasn’t until afterward that I learned a shipment of their materials had been lost in transit. The Pillow stage crew had to scour the Berkshires to recreate a large glow-stick adorned backdrop, and the artistic director herself had to do some last minute shopping for costumes for her dancers. Prop nightmares happen to the professionals as well.


Guerin’s piece was stunning and original and, at least from my perspective, didn’t suffer from the improvised solutions.  At the end of the week, the stage crew paid homage to the company by arriving at the cast party decked out in green glow-sticks that mimicked the set.


The moral of the story might be that if you travel with complex props, it pays to keep your sense of humor. But be aware that not everyone at your competition event may appreciate your choices, especially if getting your materials onstage and off slows down the performance schedule.


Watching the show also brought to mind two stories from the August issue of Dance Teacher where educators (Karen Kaufmann in Montana and Rima Faber in Maryland) use dance to illustrate Newton’s laws of motion. Guerin’s work had a powerful emotional impact because of the tragedy of its subject matter. But in some respects the elements of physics that the dancers played with were even more engaging. Thank goodness they didn’t have to recreate the sheets of wood that ranged from just larger than the palm of a hand to two-foot by three-foot rectangles used to build their remarkable house of cards.



Photo by Kristi Pitsch, courtesy of Jacobs Pillow


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