Modern Moves Keep Dance Company Contemporary

The oldest Harvard-Radcliffe student dance group celebrates 35 years.

A scene from the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company (HRMDC) anniversary show, <i>35: Thirty-Five Years of Dance</i>
The evening started out with a group improvisation.
A scene from the dance "just thinking," choreographed by Megan Murdock ’14.
Another scene from "just thinking"

Taking a big fall while dancing normally isn’t a good thing. But when Bridget Scanlon ’15 climbed atop her fellow dancers’ shoulders, put her hands to heart, and fell backwards into awaiting arms several feet below, it was as graceful a “trust fall” as you’ll ever see.

Her descent, fittingly choreographed to the Mumford and Sons song lyrics, “But you are not alone in this…we'll hold your hand,” culminated a night of modern dance in celebration of the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company’s (HRMDC) thirty-fifth anniversary. 

HRMDC is the oldest student-operated dance organization at Harvard, and last weekend’s performances, entitled 35: Thirty-Five Years of Dance, featured nine different student-choreographed works, some showcasing as few as three dancers, others boasting as many as 14. Friday night’s show at the Harvard Dance Center was so packed that audience members had to sit in the aisles.

History concentrator Salena Sullivan ’12, who choreographed the final work, “communion,” said putting on such a detailed show in six weeks was a challenge—but well worth it. “The show came so early in the year, a lot of people were hesitant to sign on because of the time crunch. But it really came together in the end.”

“My piece focused on the question: ‘How do we celebrate things?’ Not necessarily just anniversaries, but any kind of celebration,” she said in an interview. Although each dance had the idea of “celebration” loosely tied into its theme, Sullivan said the student choreographers were free to explore their own ideas. The evening started out with a group improvisation: dancers wearing brightly colored tops and black pants darted out from different corners of the stage, their sinewy bodies contorting in various positions as they rolled on the floor, overlapped limbs, and leaped in the air to tribal-sounding music. The formal program kicked off with “Security,” by guest choreographer Stella Gaitani of MIT, featuring black-and-red-clad dancers balancing on chairs to Coldplay’s hit, “Fix You.”

Highlights of the show included sophomore Megan Murdock’s “just thinking,” set to the James Blake song “The Wilhelm Scream,” in which eight dancers wearing white and purple whirled and fell rhythmically to the lyrics: “All that I know is/I'm fallin’, fallin’, fallin’, fallin’./Might as well fall in.”

“It was a loose theme, but it was basically thinking about what you want and being pulled in two directions for two different dreams that you have,” said Murdock, who first heard of the Blake song in one of OFA dance director Jill Johnson’s classes earlier this semester. “It’s about where do you want to be, versus where you are.”

“He Went Off a Bridge,” choreographed by Christian Rivera ’13, reflected on drug abuse in the music industry and featured dancers stomping in perfect unison to Ryan Lewis’s rap song “Otherside.”


HRMDC began in 1976 as a small program, consisting of just a handful of dancers and two student leaders; today it boasts almost 50 members and has choreographers from all over the Northeast come in every week for a one-time guest teaching stint.

 “I love working with HRMDC, it’s one of my biggest commitments outside of school,” Sullivan said. “We have weekly class on Mondays and it’s a great time for everyone to take a class, but also see each other. We’re really focused in the company on performing, but also on creating a community of dancers.”

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