The Music of Movement

An insider's look at the Contemporary Dance Program's Winter Dance Concert.

Anna Powell Teeter

“Movement never lies,” said Martha Graham, one of the pioneers of twentieth-century dance, and it’s easy to understand the wisdom of this observation when you watch a contemporary dance performance. There may not be a story. There may not be characters, or at least not exactly. But there’s truth in every motion and every movement — honesty and personality made physical.

Every year, the Winter Dance Concert is a marquee performance within the College’s Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. This past year, the concert was titled Making Spaces, and it was directed by Professor Elizabeth Limons Shea, a choreographer and artist whose work has been performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and produced by the American Dance Guild, the Boston Contemporary Dance Festival, and the Detroit Dance City Festival, just to name a few.

If movement never lies, then the Winter Dance Concert is kinetic proof that the truth can be a beautiful thing. The performances are stunning — the angles of the lighting and the dynamism of the dancers like something from a dream — and The College Magazine was there to capture it in a wonderful new photo essay.

“We start training the very first week of classes,” Shea explains about the program's Winter Dance Concert. “It’s all undergraduates — sophomores through seniors. This is our big concert for the year, and the choreography is both guest artists and faculty pieces. This past year, we had two guest artists’ pieces, which means that these dances were already made, and then the faculty also created several new works for the dancers, which was really fantastic.”

“Contemporary dance is an abstract artform,” Shea says. “It actually has a lot in common with 20th century classical music and visual art. I often take my students to the IU Art Museum to get into the mind of the visual artist. Dance is such a complicated field, because there’s the mind, there’s the body, and then there’s the soul, and we get all of it in dance. I think that performers come to dance because of a need for a physical type of expression. I think that tripartite balance of mind, body, and soul shifts from person to person, from choreographer to choreographer, performer to performer.”

“When my students come into class and we discuss what we make dances about, I tell them that we can make dances about anything,” Shea says. “We can make a dance about a repetitive tapping of a single finger, or we can make a dance about the displacement of millions of people around the globe. It can be very personal — it can be a memoir — or we might want to change somebody’s mind about something. And then sometimes, we might just want to perform an intellectual exercise.”

On the role of lighting in a performance of contemporary dance, Shea says, “Lighting helps to create a world, and quite often, those worlds are not literal. When you’re designing traditional theater productions, you might try to create sunlight, or you might try to make the stage look like a room darkly lit at night. In dance, all bets are off.”

“Light can also put the body in its best-seen form,” Shea says. “We use a lot of side-lighting, which can really sculpt the body and really allow us to see it, as opposed to down light and front light, which can wash out shapes and lines.”

“When I think about what a successful dance concert is in the education space, the most important question is, ‘Did the students grow?’” Shea says. “It’s not just about putting on a spectacular production. It’s also about what the students learned from spending six months in the studio. It’s about what they learned from rehearsing, being part of these professional-level choreographies, and how they grew.”

Anna Powell Teeter

Anna Powell Teeter is an independent photographer and filmmaker specializing in editorial portraiture and documentary photography. She studied photography and journalism at Indiana University and resides in Bloomington​. In addition to making work with her cameras, she is the creative director and editor of Driftless, a Midwest-lifestyle magazine. Visit Anna's website at annapowellteeter.com.