The Collegian
Friday, June 21, 2024

Guest choreographer creates piece that incorporates Richmond's history

<p>The cast and crew of CROSS CURRENTS, a piece choreographed by Charlotte Boye-Christensen and performed by University Dancers on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.&nbsp;</p>

The cast and crew of CROSS CURRENTS, a piece choreographed by Charlotte Boye-Christensen and performed by University Dancers on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. 

Charlotte Boye-Christensen is a professionally trained dancer and contemporary choreographer who creates interdisciplinary, site-specific pieces. She has traveled the world showcasing her pieces for her company, NOW-ID, where she is the artistic director. 

She has produced pieces that were performed at historic locations in Germany, Singapore and across the U.S., now adding Richmond to the list. For Boye-Christensen, location is one of the most important factors in showcasing a dance.

From Nov. 3-17, she had a residency at the University of Richmond with the University Dancers, ending with a performance on Saturday, Nov. 16, titled CROSS CURRENTS.

Members of the University Dancers performed the piece outside the American Civil War Museum on the ground and among the natural, frigid elements. The dancers said they had been rehearsing for this in a studio in the Modlin Center for the Arts, and hoped that the weather was kind to them the day of the performance.

When visiting Richmond in May earlier this year, Boye-Christensen looked at other historic places where she thought she might want this piece to take place. She thought about having it near the Manchester Bridge or the Richmond Main Street Station but neither panned out because of expenses. 

But Boye-Christensen knew the location of the American Civil War Museum and its proximity to the James River would still be just as influential because the location brought together the history and environmental elements she was looking for.

“I like that [the Museum] does have visual impact and does have a role to play in the city that feels significant,” Boye-Christensen said. “If it doesn’t have any visual impact, I don’t care. It has to be interesting. It has to speak to us. It has to inspire. There’s a good mixture of bricks with the rawness of the new addition and the performance is looking to embrace both.”

During the rehearsal a week before the performance, Boye-Christensen watched as the dancers performed her piece. Demonstrating the moves, she showed her flexibility and rolled on the ground as the dancers did, evidence of her commitment to the choreography. She complimented their movements while also giving them notes. 

Anne Norman Van Gelder, the artistic director of University Dancers, watched and praised the dancers’ hard work.

As they rehearsed the piece, the music changed every few minutes with a wide range of sounds and dance movements. It began with melancholy, acoustic music but eventually transitioned into a cinematic sound score. In the middle of the piece, there was the sound of a train, which Boye-Christensen said was actually captured from a train passing in Richmond. 

“For me, music is crucial,” Boye-Christensen said. “It creates a road map for how the performance will be shaped.” 

She added that the music in her piece was supposed to encompass different genres, including ritual, tribal, folklore and environmental noises, to match the varying dance styles.

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The performance also included three dancers from Boye-Christensen’s own company and a Richmond-based poet who talks about the history of Richmond in her work. Boye-Christensen said she hoped her words provided a yearning element to the piece.

Boye-Christensen’s specialty is focused on site-specific work, which junior Karen Fleming, a member of University Dancers, said made the piece very moving for the audience. She said the American Civil War Museum in particular looked directly at Richmond's history. 

“It’s supposed to be about our relations to the space and the river and Richmond’s history to show where we’re going in the future,” Fleming said. “We just hope the audience feels something, as long as we can impact someone in some way.”

Fleming said that although the outdoor aspect of the piece was challenging, it was rare that choreographers were willing to go to the lengths that Boye-Christensen was to make a piece as dynamic and collaborative as possible.

“Usually, we just have choreographers come in and our designers on campus take care of it,” Fleming said. “It’s so cool to get so many people coming in for this. It’s my first time dancing with a professional company which is super exciting.”

Boye-Christensen’s husband, an architect, also collaborated on the project and helped with the design process of the set.

Senior Bella Long, a member of University Dancers, said the piece was collaborative and exciting to perform since University Dancers and NOW-ID were working together. 

“There’s one continuous theme and motif that it comes back to. It makes us feel like one joint company and team,” Long said, alluding to the idea of closeness and comradeship in the piece.

Long also said that the piece was about not just the dancers coming together with each other, but also with space which embodies Richmond’s history.

“The piece is called CROSS CURRENTS. It’s all about the history as well as the present coming together,” Long said. “We also have the two companies coming together. The goal is to join all of these things in one piece. Because it is in that space in front of the museum and river, it brings a real sense to the quality of the historical parts of Richmond.”

Leading up to the performance, Boye-Christensen said she hoped the audience would leave the performance not only feeling moved, but seeing the full capabilities and talent of the members of University Dancers.

“My goal is always to make sure the audience is moved on some level,” Boye-Christensen said. “There is meaningfulness to the performance and meaningfulness of the site.”

Contact contributor Lena Jacobson at 

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