From WWII to the clubs
Greensboro College presents world premiere of new dance-theatre piece, which takes audiences from WWII through 1990.
A tribute to the recordings of The Manhattan Transfer, a new dance-theatre performance comes to the Triad as part of a collaboration between William Perry Morgan, director of musical theatre, and Ashley Hyers, professor of theatre and dance, both of which are a part of the Greensboro College faculty.
“In the genre of recent Broadway musicals Come Fly Away and Movin’ Out, and even Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, we have created our own unique dance-theatre piece,” said William Perry Morgan, director.
The piece, which will have its world premiere this weekend, tells the story of war through dance, and Morgan says it was inspired by the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer, which was introduced to Morgan by his sister in 1972.
“They were the slickest, coolest vocalists ever,” Morgan said, “smooth jazz, tight four-part harmonies, crazy costumes; it was great.”
The group progressed over the years until Tim Hauser, the founder of the group, passed away a few years ago. They were scheduled to perform at the Carolina Theatre just a few days later. “I went to the concert,” Morgan said. “It was an emotional experience for those of us in attendance. I wanted to do some sort of tribute, personally, to Tim and the rest of the group. And I came upon this idea.”
The performance uses only dance and movement to convey its storyline, taking the audience from traditional WWII dance styles to the more “hip” moves of the 90s.
“Because there is no dialogue, all the choreography must convey the story,” said choreographer Ashley Hyers. “The choreography is a mix of swing, jazz and contemporary styles.”
“The beginning of the show takes place during WWII, so I chose to use a lot of swing dance,” Hyers added. “By the end of the show, we have moved forward to the 1990’s, so the choreography has more ‘club’ dance moves. There are several duets throughout the show that demonstrate the various relationships between the characters, and we have moves that represent war, love and loss.”
The cast of 12 has been in the studio creating and rehearsing since January; five Greensboro College alum are participating in the project, as well.
“I had seen Bob Fosse’s show Dancin’ on Broadway in 1977, and had always been fascinated by the way movement and dance can tell a story, with no words,” Morgan said. “Then Twyla Tharp brought Movin Out to Broadway and Come Fly Away—dance to soundtracks and songbooks, and I thought, ‘If they can do that in New York, why can’t we be doing that kind of theatre, too, here at Greensboro College?’”
Morgan approached Hyers, who he has worked with on several other creative projects. “We started with a list of songs from the album Tonin,’ and then I decided to go back through other albums from Manhattan Transfer,” Morgan said. “I found my favorite numbers and then a story just began to develop.”
“What is so wonderful is that we are continually developing and creating in the rehearsal space,” he added. “The storyline has moved in ways we never really imagined. The dancers/actors we are working with really have added to the storytelling just by being in the room and saying ‘yes’ to the ideas that we toss out over at them.”
Morgan says the original piece “confronts war, nightmares of war, being separated by way, the effects on people…it spans generations.”
“We are really acting, still, and telling a story, just not using words.”
Wanna go? Tonin’ runs Friday through Sunday in the Gail Brower Huggins Performance Center in Odell Building on the Greensboro College campus, 815 W. Market St. Tickets are $10 adults, $8 seniors and non-GC students. For tickets or more information call 336-272-7102, ext. 5242, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.