When choreographer Charles Weidman was about 10, he witnessed a lynching in Lincoln, Nebraska, that haunted him into adulthood. So indelible was the memory that Weidman used the event as the basis of “Lynchtown,” a dance piece he choreographed in 1936 to explore how people do things in mobs that they wouldn’t otherwise do as individuals.
In the dance community, “Lynchtown” is regarded as a modern dance classic and important seminal work.
For the past two months, students at five New Jersey high schools, including two schools in Jersey City, have been exploring similar themes in their own original dance pieces. Working with senior company dancers from the Jersey City-based Nimbus Dance Works, the students will on Sunday, June 9 perform their choreographed pieces at Rutgers University’s Mastrobuono Theater. Senior dancers from Nimbus Dance Works will also perform Weidman’s original “Lynchtown,” in addition to “We Acquiesce,” a new piece choreographed by Nimbus founder Samuel Pott.
Nimbus Dance Works performed Weidman’s “Lynchtown” and Pott’s “We Acquiesce” last week as part of the company’s 2013 spring season at the Barrow Mansion.
‘I admired what Weidman did, and what those other early modern dancers did, in taking on real issues.’ – Samuel Pott
About three years ago, Pott – who, like the early modern choreographers, believes that dance should be about more than just physical movement and should relate to contemporary social concerns – had the idea to revisit the central theme addressed in “Lynchtown.” Working with the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation and Jersey City resident Robert Kosinski, who sits on the foundation’s board, Pott began to explore how Nimbus could use “Lynchtown” to generate discussion about mob justice and the dangers of getting caught up in a mob mentality.
Pott and Nimbus Dance Works later began Dance Speaks Out, a project through which senior members from the dance company began working with high school students in dance programs throughout New Jersey. The students were asked to explore, through dance and discussion, those areas of our own modern lives where mob violence influences the actions of individual people.
The students addressed such issues as cyber bullying, terrorism, teen pregnancy, and environmental degradation.
Among the schools participating in the program are Jersey City’s Henry Snyder High School, County Prep High School, also based in Jersey City, and High Tech High in North Bergen. Newark Arts High School and Ocean County Vocational Technical School in Lakehurst round out the other high schools that were part of this project.
“I admired what Weidman did, and what those other early modern dancers did, in taking on real issues,” said Pott. “And I wanted to work with students to develop their own voice beyond who can do latest dance move, who can put on something [flashy] that will make them the next contestant. There are all these dance shows now like ‘So you Think You Can Dance,’ and it’s all about showing off. And it can reduce dance to a very surface-level activity. I wanted to have a deeper conversation with dance students so they can start speaking out about issues that are important. ”
The students selected for the Dance Speaks Out program were already enrolled in dance programs at their respective high schools and worked with Nimbus to create pieces that they recently performed for their high school communities. The project culminates with the final performance at Rutgers on June 9. That performance will be the first time students at each of the schools will be able to see the work of their peers who were also part of the Dance Speaks Out project.
“I think it will be interesting for the students to see what their peers created coming from the same context and project, because what they all did is quite unique,” Pott said. “This will hopefully be another way for a dialogue to get started.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.