Taking the Show on the Road
This year, Whitcomb will be on sabbatical, and she will use the time to bolster the department’s overarching goals as well as her own. With Moorhead stepping back in as interim department chair and ballet instructor Crystal Nilsson teaching her courses, Whitcomb is spending time in New York City with her longtime mentor, Lynn Simonson, at the Simonson Contemporary Dance Center, and traveling around Latin America and the Caribbean basin exploring social and folkloric dance forms, which happen to be particularly well suited to Deerfield’s unusually gender-balanced dance classes; Whitcomb points out that upper-level dancers can incorporate the intricate handwork and “breathtaking” lifts into partnering choreography.
“I’d love to see the whole school doing salsa,” she laughs—but Whitcomb isn’t just looking for new moves. She’s also focusing on an arts advocacy program in Rio de Janeiro that is bringing artistic programs to high-crime, low-income areas—precisely the neighborhoods least likely to have artistic outlets. The Brazilian government believes that the arts knit communities together in surprising ways. “To create something, to give birth to a work of art, is one of the most satisfying things you can possibly do,” points out Whitcomb. “The curtain opens and there are people waiting to see you, and you are counting on the person beside you . . . it’s a sense of brotherhood, camaraderie, and connection.” Immersing herself in these programs, Whitcomb hopes, will ultimately lead to significant new course offerings, such as an interdisciplinary language, dance, and history course. It also harkens back to Dan Roihl’s theory: performing together “helps cement the feeling of communal bond, and binds students to the greater legacy and history of the institution,” he explains.
In that same vein, Deerfield is poised to do similar work in its surrounding communities—in places such as a new charter school in the economically depressed city of Holyoke, a mere half-hour drive away. “One goal is to build a service component into the dance program,” says Whitcomb. “I want to teach my kids to teach creative movement. We’ve got to get the arts back into the public schools, but it also illustrates the most practical elements of dance to my students—how dance can open up new worlds.” Catriona Hynds echoes this: “We will be taking beautiful children’s shows into local elementary schools and reminiscence projects into nearby care facilities,” she says. “I aim to keep reaching out to a wider section of the community who would benefit from our high-quality productions.”
But Deerfield will not simply be reaching out to the surrounding community. It will also be pulling the community deeper in. “One of the best ways to build enthusiasm for the musical arts is to focus on great literature, and one challenge is that much of the literature requires a critical mass in terms of players,” says Roihl. “In the interest of achieving that, I’ve started a community choir.” This fall Roihl is planning to take on Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Requiem, two famously ambitious works that benefit from a heavy turnout of singers. “I’ve turned one of the choirs into a ‘town and gown,’ and have had community members come in and join us.” When it comes to singing at Deerfield, the more the merrier.