When the critically acclaimed modern dance company H.T. Chen & Dancers performed at Hamilton on Nov. 5 some members of the troupe probably looked familiar. Five Hamilton student dancers joined the company in their original performance of South of Gold Mountain, which combines traditional Chinese music and Deep South blues to tell the story of immigration and civil rights through a fusion of two cultural styles of dance.
While it’s unsurprising that the College brought innovative performing artists to campus—each year, the campus hosts nearly 1,000 events, many of which offer cultural enrichment like this—the event was remarkable in its inclusion of Hamilton students as well as members of the surrounding community. Hamilton performers were Katie McMorrow ’20, Elie Doubleday ’20, Sarah Sull ’17, Alex Blomfield ’20 and Kate Gwydir ’18.
Gwydir, a double major in dance and literature, reflected on the experience. She began dancing at age three, and now 17 years later, she had her first experience sharing the stage with a professional dance company. Even with her extensive experience in a myriad of dance styles and her successful audition that earned her a place in the performance, learning the choreography with the company presented new challenges.
“The style is a little different from what I’m used to,” Gwydir explained. While she generally starts to dance by focusing on the music, the company had the dancers work in silence until the very end of teaching the choreography. Without music as partial guidance, Gwydir had no choice but to focus more of her attention on the specific moves, which incorporate martial arts poses with modern dance.
The fast-paced choreography schedule compounded the stylistic challenges. The company rehearsed with the Hamilton students in October for a long weekend of lengthy rehearsals and did not return until the weekend of the performance. Despite these obstacles, “The company has been really welcoming and so patient with relatively inexperienced dancers,” she noted. “That’s made it surprisingly easier.”
The backstory of the performance, a reflection of Chinese-American experience and culture, has been fascinating for Gwydir, who is not Chinese-American. She doesn’t see this racial difference or lack of cultural knowledge as a limitation on her performance, but as a possible asset. “I think if I were to do the research and see it as a political or social piece it would disconnect me further,” Gwydir said. Instead, she explained, “I feed off of their experience, so I’m more involved and in tune with it.”
For Gwydir, dance offers a “surreal” experience that both transcends and is rooted in the body. While dancing, “being out of yourself and playing a character is liberating and humbling.” But at the same time, “The movement is in a different mindset: there is a history behind how your body and how bodies before you have moved in a certain way.”
After graduating, Gwydir knows she will continue to dance. “I definitely want dancing to stay in my life, and ideally, I’d love to find a career that combines dance and literature,” she said. “No matter what, dance will always be there—just to what level is undetermined.”