Rider Students "Collaborate and Innovate" with the Pros for Upcoming Dance Program

Rider Students "Collaborate and Innovate" with the Pros for Upcoming Dance Program


Watching a dance performance is a transporting experience for me. I am captivated by the mixture of music and movement, lighting and costumes, and the way it all blends together to create something that is worlds away from everyday life.

I really love it.

So, you can imagine how happy I was to be asked to cover the upcoming program “Rider Dances 2015: Collaborate and Innovate,” presented by Westminster College of the Arts of Rider University.

In her program notes, artistic director Kim Chandler Vaccaro explains how this year’s appropriately-titled program “celebrates unique combinations of faculty from both campuses, choreographers joining their talents, and students working with students and dancers with visual artists”.

And so it does.

“We have so many talented people involved with this,” Vaccaro said. “Ashley Alverez is a junior Dance major who stepped up when needed to help choreograph. Jen Gladney is a former Rider student who graduated in 2006 but has stayed on and created several works for us.”

“Our lighting director, Todd Lloyd, was trained as an actor,” she continued, “and he has a great sense of drama.”

“We are also thrilled to be able to work with people outside the Rider community,” said Vaccaro, “like visual artist Eva Flatscher, choreographers Ted Thomas and Frances Ortiz  of Thomas/Ortiz Dance and Laney Engelhard, as well as composer Luis Andrei Cobo. These interactions provide a real-life experience for our students,” Vaccaro said, “and inspire them to work at a high level.”

“And then,” Vaccaro said, after a pause, “there is ‘Nightmoves’, a ballet that was created just for us.”

This original piece was written by Ron Hemmel, a Rider professor of music and composition, and is interpreted by dance artist Dawn Cargiulo Berman with Kim Vaccaro.

“The concept for this piece of music has been in my head a couple of decades,” Hemmel told me. “And I’ve known Kim (Vaccaro) for several years. I thought it would be fun to work with her on this.”

It was then up to Dawn Cargiulo Berman to put movement to the music.

I asked her if she had an idea what Hemmel was going for in the piece. “I knew very little,” she said, “but I talked to the dancers, which is what I always do first.”

Berman doesn’t discuss technique or staging, but instead tries to discover what is going on in each dancer’s life.

“The conversations tend to start out conservatively,” she said, “but the more I stick to it, the more likely it is that people will share.”

The exercise isn’t meant as invasive, but is a way for Berman to relate to her dancers and to learn what she can do to help them move in a more authentic way.


Several things came out of the conversation Berman had before getting to work on “Nightmoves.” “There was a generalized feeling of anxiety, of being emotionally overwhelmed,” she said, “and we talked about how people act when there is something heavy going on and they don’t know how to express it.”

Using this insight as a basis, Berman constructed the four movements to loosely correspond to the seasons. “Spring starts out cold, you pass by people, but you’re in your own world. In summer, there is lightness. It’s almost like a dream. In fall, the transition begins. Real relationships start to develop. There are many layers. And in the last section, the dancers return to the beginning – they are again moving by others, but they are more ready to reach out and share.”

This kind of collaboration is at the very heart of what makes Rider Dances, and the performing arts program at the university, so special.


Dance was originally part of the university’s Fine Arts Department. But a reorganization that joined WestminsterChoirCollege with Rider created the WestminsterCollege of the Arts, and within that structure are departments devoted to music, theater and dance.

“The theater department was growing, too,” Vaccaro told me, “and many on staff believed it was important for the actors to have access to dance training.”

A partnership with nearby Princeton Ballet School was forged, and movement classes for theater students became a reality.

Now, 10+ years later, the university offers students a full range of the arts. And opportunities to see performances like Rider Dances are also abundant.


“It is a very rich program,” Vaccaro says. “If you wanted to, you could attend something at Rider any time between September and May. You don’t have to go anywhere else.”

Enjoy "Rider Dances 2015: Collaborate and Innovate" on Saturday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 8 at 2:00 p.m. at the Bart Luedeke Center Theater, Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ.


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