The ‘final curtain’ bitter end for Mills College dance students

Caitlin Wonderween Photo: Photo by Stephen Texira

Outside the Leisure Hall at Mills College, on an unusually hot night, as the frogs sang on the hot summer nights of 1939, a decisive group of fearless geniuses entered a new area called “modern dance.” “Jumped first and walked around the sprawling Auckland campus lawn.

The legendary Merz Cunningham was part of that summer session, the first recurrence of becoming one of the longest running college dance departments in the country. After 83 years in the footage hall of a work by Mills’s most famous dance alumnus, Trisha Brown in 1958, it still seems that his free spirit and members of the choreography of Hanya Home, Anna Halprin, and others. , Flashed on the screen. But it was a bitter night, as many in the audience commented on Friday, April 8: “Coda: The Final Curtain”, a group and solo dance showcase, filmed live, and finally a master of fine arts degree performance. Batch of dance students at the Mills we know.

“It’s too much for us to carry on our shoulders,” said Caitlin Vanderwein, who performs her dance film “Alternate.” “We want to honor everyone who came before us.”

Clockwise dancers from left: Caitlin Vanderwine, Ye Feng, Tavni Pizagoni, Wade Reynolds of Mills College. Photo: Photo by Stephen Texira

This was the last graduation performance since the Mills College Dance Program ended on June 30th. On July 1, the campus will become Mills College at Northeastern University, the satellite campus of the giant Boston institution that Mills bought for the 170-year-old Women’s College after more than a decade of financial problems.

“There is relief now, to be honest,” said Professor Emerita Ann Murphy, who was part of a successful campaign to save the graduation dance program when it was threatened with a budget cut in 2015, and Mills’ leadership would begin to suggest a complete closure of the school. . “But there is also sadness, because in recent years it has been a time of extraordinary people in the department, making the most of decentralized power. There was buying and excitement from the faculty.

Sheldon Smith, current department chair, agreed. In 2008 he began teaching at Mills, remembering the school years of three technical classes simultaneously in the same hall, “music flows and all students’ voices interact.”

Learning the steps from different styles from classical Indian Bharatanatyam and the New York Club, he recalled, “we held shows in the basement and sold out completely,” treasuring memories of courses in “dance forms”. His students.

“It is always exciting to see students doing research from their written theses and their creative activities,” Smith added. “The way they think and the way they live in their bodies are interconnected.”

Ye Feng Photo: Photo by Stephen Texira

Students entering history as the last class at Old Mills College were eager to witness the wild exploratory atmosphere.

“The first thing I learned from Mills was to relax and make room for myself,” said Ye Feng, whose solo concert, which included rolling himself on parchment paper, was called “Work 19 – Journey.”

Feng was no stranger to the stage – in her native China, she was chosen as a “National First Class Dancer” and contributed dance and performance at three Olympic events. When she got the green card for this, she jumped at the chance to come to the US and moved to San Jose in 2016.

“My experience when I was in China was that my body was not mine, I was a Chinese citizen, I had to dance for the audience, for the country and for politics, but not for me,” she said. “The teachers at Mills gave me a second life in dance. This part is my new life.

Her classmate, Wade Reynolds, performed an intense quartet containing scrambled voicemail messages, entitled “I Ride.”

Please give me a pizza Photo: Photo by Stephen Texira

Whether the new Mills College Mills dance tradition at Northeastern University remains a mystery remains to be seen. The current faculty has years to develop suggestions for a new program, and it will take years to implement such a program. As the new Mills Institute Northeast promised, “I’m very confused as to what it will be like,” Smith said.

But he knows that Mills’ influence will continue in other ways, and that its alumni, such as Nora Chippomier and Molisa Fenley, embody its values ​​and teach other graduates in programs across the country.

As Smith sighed, “Mills Diaspora is spreading around the world.”

“Code: The Final Curtain”: Mills Dance MFA Thesis Candidates’ Last Concert. Saturday, April 9 at 7 p.m .; $ 15 donation is encouraged. Marilyn McArthur Holland Theater, Leisure Hall, Mills College, 5000 McArthur Blew., Auckland.

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