The Tower Dancers’ 2016-17 season came to a close this weekend after their annual concert, which featured a dance set to music derived from radio signals of pulsars. Director Holly Hobbs said she was extremely proud of the dancers, choreographers, costume designers, and everyone else involved.
“I thought it was a wonderful show,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs, who choreographed the “Cosmic Resonances” and “Carmina Burana” dances, credited an extra week of rehearsals and expressive costume design as two of many reasons for the show’s success.
“I really feel the extra week made a difference for the dancers and choreographers,” Hobbs said. “They were able to take more time with their work, step back from it, and make changes.”
Costumes for dances choreographed by Hobbs and Jillian Hopper were designed by Bryan Simmons, but Ria Harju designed costumes for dances choreographed by students — seniors Sara Pezzella and Mikel Eatough and junior Sarah Elizabeth Casebeer.
“Harju did an amazing job matching the theme to the design of the costume, and it made the dance more accessible to audiences because it painted such a clear picture,” Hobbs said.
“Cosmic Resonances,” the first dance of the evening, was one dance that emphasized visual expressiveness. Set to music composed from tones based on radio pulsar emission, “Resonances” featured dancers imitating the stars themselves. Some dancers held flashlights, and a projector displayed celestial images associated with the sounds.
“Taking a scientific idea and abstracting it into movement was just very rewarding, and something that I’d never attempted before,” Hobbs said. “It was sort of a fun exploration for me.”
Pulsars are neutron stars that emit a beam of radio waves from their poles. Since the star itself spins on an axis, the beam has a lighthouse effect, seen from the Earth as regularly repeating pulses. The bursts are predictable, and follow, for the most part, a set period of time. One pulsar’s wave, for example, reaches Earth every 1.37 seconds.
The music comes from Dawn Erb, an associate professor of Physics at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who used the audible expression of a pulsar’s radio beam as the inspiration behind several musical compositions. One such is “Lighthouses II,” the musical piece used in the Tower Dancers concert.
Assistant Professor of Physics Timothy Dolch, who was a technical advisor for Hobbs on the pulsar dance, said he first discussed the idea of setting Erb’s music to the Tower Dancers after a talk on finding beauty in academic fields.
“I really loved the dance,” Dolch said. “It was very dark and otherworldly, like the music is and like pulsars are; it was just so intriguing.”
Dolch explained that parts of the dance, like pairs of dancers interacting with one another, accurately reflected the real-life nature of pulsars which helped synchronize the science of pulsars with the art of dance.
“Choreography is all about taking an idea and distilling it to an essence, which allows me to choreograph about anything,” Hobbs said. “Each dance sort of evolves, and when you have that sense of wonder about a topic, it helps propel you in the future.”
Eleven dancers are graduating this year, and senior Tower Dancer Corianna Baier, who danced in “Resonances,” as well as “Femininity” and “Out of Ash (Excerpt),” said she will miss the troupe after leaving Hillsdale.
“As a senior, the show was exciting but bittersweet,” Baier said. “The rehearsal process was long, but I, and all the other seniors, loved every second of it because we knew it would be the last time we rehearsed for a show. This year was extremely dynamic and each piece was unique and beautiful in its own way. It was a great show to have as my last.”