by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
Dickinson’s theatre & dance department cuts to the heart of current affairs with its fall 2023 Dance Theatre Group (DTG) concert. The Dinner Party: A Dance Concert focuses on women’s bodies and rights—issues that have risen to top of mind for many in the U.S., due to recent related decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The concert is inspired by The Dinner Party, an artwork by feminist icon Judy Chicago. Attracting some 100,000 visitors during the past year to the Brooklyn Museum, where it's resided since 2007, The Dinner Party is a testament to the octogenarian artist’s intensifying draw and influence in the current age.
Through it, Chicago sets a place at the table, literally, for 39 women figures in history and legend, and incudes plates painted to represent female anatomy. The women represented in the work exemplify a significant aspect of women’s history or provide a role model for a more egalitarian society. These 39 figures span the ages, from a mythic primordial goddess to an ancient Greek poetess to a Medieval saint to a Native American princess to early Suffragettes, abolitionists and Civil Rights leaders. The names of 999 additional women mythological figures, religious figures, government leaders, entrepreneurs, writers, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers, architects, scholars, historians, educators, military figures, athletes, physicians, scientists, explorers, philanthropists, activists and suffragettes are inscribed on tiles that comprise The Dinner Party’s floor.
Students in the Dance Theatre Group (DTG) perform in the fall 2023 concert. Photo by A. Pierce Bounds '71.
The DTG concert likewise hearkens to women figures in fiction, legend and history and to the contributions of women of the past and present. The choreographed works also address issues around women’s bodies—autonomy, body image—and women’s rights and status in our contemporary moment.
Performed by student dancers, the works were choreographed by Sarah Skaggs, director of dance; Erin Crawley-Woods, lecturer in dance; and guest-choreographer Colleen Thomas, director of Colleen Thomas Dance, co-director of Bill Young/Colleen Thomas Co., and a professor at Barnard College of Columbia University. One of Skaggs’ dances deploys audio from the movie version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” referencing the British woman author, who earned a place at Judy Chicago’s famous table. Thomas’ dance, “If You’d Just Smile,” addresses a much-lamented gendered experience that launched its own hashtag in 2017, #stoptellingwomentosmile.
While addressing a heated contemporary issue, the concert is not a collection of protest dances, clarifies Skaggs, who directs the production. Instead, Skaggs describes it as “a celebration of the women in our lives—their trials, tribulations and gifts.”
The Dinner Party: A Dance Concert comes to the Mathers stage Nov. 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets may be reserved, through a $5, $10 or $15 donation, at https://our.show/thda-dinner-party.
Published November 16, 2023