Dancers perform choreographed routines at Shaker Village’s inaugural event

  • Amanda Whitworth dances in the rain at the back fields of Canterbury Shaker Village on Saturday, during the performance of Plymouth State University dancers and alumni. Whitworth runs the dance program at the university. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Dancers perform during the “Shaker Inspirations: A Day of Music and Dance” event in Canterbury on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Molly Henry of Concord performs a dance at Canterbury Shaker Village. ALYSSA DANDREA / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, August 06, 2017

A combination of beloved classical songs, demanding contemporary movement and humorous interludes delighted attendees of an inaugural event Saturday at Canterbury Shaker Village.

People of all ages got a taste of ballet, tap, theatrical and modern dance during afternoon performances choreographed by Amanda Whitworth and Mariah Rasmussen, both of whom have ties to Plymouth State University. Past and present university students, ages 19 to 34, entertained in solo, small group and large group dances showcased as part of “Shaker Inspirations: A Day of Music and Dance.”

Whitworth also performed a solo toward the end of the roughly-hour-long show, which was held on an outdoor stage adjacent to a flower garden and roughly 100 feet from a pasture where cattle roamed.

“Being in the village itself, to dance in the space, feels really spiritual – not in a religious way, but in a deeply connected way, said Whitworth, who is the artistic director of Plymouth State’s dance program. “You feel like you are moving in the presence of something bigger than us, as you take in the landscape, the history and the architecture, and the spirit of innovation that the village holds. That’s a pretty tremendous feeling.”

Shaker Village is a national historic landmark dedicated to preserving the Shakers’ 200-year legacy. Last year, the village launched the Shaker Dance Revival Project, a program that honors Shaker dance while adopting and rethinking those traditions for today’s dancers and audiences.

In advance of Saturday’s performances, choreographers were tasked with finding their own connections to the Shakers’ history. Many built upon basic Shaker principals, including simplicity and symmetry, as they drew inspiration from the location’s vibrant history.

“Generally, I love to choreograph works that are influenced by multi-disciplinary artists, and I usually do it in a collaborative landscape,” Whitworth said. “For the village, I switched my focus to really allow people from all different dance backgrounds and educational levels to find the work accessible.”

The dance event was full of costume surprises, including baroque dresses and pantsuits with cowgirl hats. Whitworth’s choreography to the musical classics of “William Tell Overture” and “Flight of the Bumblebee” drew many laughs from attendees who were determined to see the entire show, despite the arrival of a steady rain shower.

Dancer Molly Henry, a Plymouth State junior and Concord resident, said she came ready for anything and was not deterred by the unpredictable skies. Henry said she had participated in a summer dance intensive at the village last summer and welcomed the opportunity to perform on the grounds Saturday.

“The sky is our ceiling,” she said. “It gives the illusion that we’re jumping higher and that we’re one with nature.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)