Obama will be speaking at the commencement on May 14th and Emery LeCrone is choreographing for the dance department show this weekend. I navigate my way towards both Barnard College topics by descending into the basement of the main building just past the gates, walking down a dank, chemical smelling hallway, past a pool, to a dance studio where chairs are needed and Emery is at odds with the stereo. Once chairs are found and the bit of slipping-off-and-on high heel choreography is discussed, I am treated to a run of Emery’s newest work, Unchained Melodies.
“Unchanged melody?” I ask. “No. Unchained Melody, like the Righteous Brothers’ song,” Emery clarifies as Patsy Cline croons the first number and the women begin seated, with a port de bras phrase that serves to introduce them and their individual tendencies towards aberration. The playlist continues mining 60’s hits such as Roy Orbison’s “Crying” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”. Dabbling in popular music of any era marks a first for Emery, who has spent the last year in a major Bach phase.
The ladies take a five minute break and Emery graciously answers a few uncomfortable questions. She tells me of how the work evolved from movement phrases and a happy coincidence of an interesting chair in the rehearsal room and a desire to push her own musical boundaries. Then the high heels entered and she began to notice the inherent drama in the simple action of putting on and taking off the shoes.
“Do you ever feel self-conscious as a female choreographer, making a piece about women? There seems to be commentary here on all kinds of relationships women have,” I ask. Emery answers my question with another question, “I wonder, would a man ever make this piece?” She smiles. “He would probably get even more criticism because it would just change the perception of the audience.”
She did not set out to make a piece about women, even knowing her cast would herald from an all-female, liberal university. Back in January, in the studio, it was also not on her mind that her musical choice would have a kindred spirit in the prime time of today, enjoying a little nostalgic return to the tumultuous sixties (aka Mad Men). Nor was she conscious of the current online vitriol between Columbia University and Barnard College over President Obama choosing to give a commencement speech to the women this year. But, she acknowledges the power of all these current factors swirling around her and is truly interested to see how they will affect the perception of her dance.
Coincidentally, “Stand By Your Man” was a cross-over hit for the country singer Tammy Wynette in 1968. The song launched her into the next stratosphere of fame even though it was later derided for being anti-feminist. Chlorine greets me on my way out as I contemplate the possibility of another woman caught in the slipstream between her own artistic moment and the magnifying lens of larger cultural forces.
Barnard Dances at Miller
April 27th @ 7pm/April 28th @ 2pm and @7pm
The Miller Theatre 2960 Broadway