“The Narcoleptic Countess” on Friday and Saturday

A preview of the Spring Faculty Dance Concert by Allison Hurd ’11.

This Friday and Saturday, Patricia Beaman’s Repertory and Performance class will premiere the result of its semester-long choreographic process, “The Narcoleptic Countess” at 8pm in Wesleyan University’s CFA Theater.  Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to talk with Patricia and two students in the class about the piece and the experience of its making.  Their discourse informed the content of this post and allowed me to enter into the creative process.

During my conversation with Patricia, Nik Owens ’12 and Christina Burkot ’11, the questions that I asked were primarily driven by my fascination with the idea that eighteen students have spent the semester immersing themselves in the technique and tradition of Baroque dance.  While I have seen Patricia perform a Baroque ballet every year in the Faculty Dance Concert, this is the first time, in my four years at Wesleyan, that students have also taken part in this art form. Based upon my understanding of the Baroque technique, it seems that it requires the embodiment of a different time and place, which, in many respects, are far outside the scope of our current reality. Performing at such a level would be difficult for any dancer.  Thus, I think it is particularly remarkable that this class has brought together a group of students, of varying levels of dance experience, into a full-length production. No one in the class had been exposed to Baroque dance before and many were also new to ballet (its stylistic descendent), but my impression is that each student’s engagement with the material honored his or her distinct movement history.  Speaking towards this point, Patricia said, “Humor helps.”

After asking Patricia about her primary inspiration in writing the ballet’s synopsis, she answered, “Based on my years of Baroque dance, in general, it’s not always that funny.  It’s always about love and betrayal and mistaken identities, but humor is not always the predominant element.  So, I was inspired by the plays of Moliére, which all had fantastic music and dance; there was no difference between a unit of dance music and play-acting.  And they’re just so funny. So, that’s what I embarked upon in the making of this Baroque ballet.”

Thus, “The Narcoleptic Countess,” is a ballet of love and lust in a sleepy French chateau, filled with mistaken identities, a ghost, and gender switching.  Reflecting upon her experience of playing a man’s role and the development of her character, Christina mentioned, “Well, it’s definitely been new to be a man.  It’s been helpful observing the other guys in our class and trying to imitate them.  Patricia also sent me a link of one of the premiere Baroque dancers doing a variation and I’ve tried to copy his style. Nik inspires me too.”  Nik expanded upon Christina’s statement by remarking, “The idea of the character helped us all know how to carry ourselves. I definitely think that learning the Baroque technique around the character helped me pick it up more easily.”

As I brought our conversation to a close, I asked Patricia what she hopes the audience will experience as they watch the ballet, and she responded, “I want to take people away from this time of computers and cell phones and texting and yelping and twittering and have them go back to a more atavistic time.  And they’ll walk out of here, hopefully, feeling uplifted.”

So, I encourage you to come to the CFA Theater this weekend and allow yourself to be taken away, for a little while, by the costumes (that the students helped construct!), the staging, the music, and, above all, the performances of your peers.

Spring Faculty Dance Concert
“The Narcoleptic Countess”
Friday, April 22 & Saturday, April 23, 8pm
CFA Theater
$6 Wesleyan student, $8 all others