Three alumni returned to Sarah Lawrence this fall to help transform the Cannon Theatre into a seedy German club. Christopher Williams '99 provided original choreography for the student production of the musical Cabaret, while Nehemiah Luckett '04 was responsible for musical direction and David Moyer '04 took care of costume design. Theatre faculty member Allen Lang directed the show, which ran for three nights in December.
Christopher Williams said that being on campus as a professional reminded him of how he felt in his first choreography classes at the College. "In some ways it feels like I'm doing exactly what I did then-I'm working with a bunch of zealous students who are totally excited about what they're doing."
The main difference is that Williams is accustomed to working with professional dancers. He is an award-winning contemporary choreographer whose works have been performed at City Center, Dance New Amsterdam, and Dance Theater Workshop as well as in other cities, both nationally and internationally.
For the Sarah Lawrence production of Cabaret, Williams was working with actors instead. "Actors bring unique things to the table. Each character brings a nuance linked to their character's personality and those elements need to be connected to the movement," he explained.
Fitting the choreography to the piece was a unique experience because Williams is usually in charge of entire artistic productions. "It's quite different making movement materials for a musical. I have to dovetail my own ideas with something that already exists in its own prescribed world," Williams said.
Though music director Luckett has returned to campus to work on several student productions, Cabaret was a challenge because the nine-piece orchestra was one of the largest bands he has worked with at Sarah Lawrence. A music teacher and assistant music director at Asbury Methodist Church in Tuckahoe, Luckett said the amount of dancing in the campus production necessitated a different approach.
"I'm very exacting when it comes to dance numbers, because they require a level of specificity from the musicians. Dancers need to hit the same movement each time, so the music needs to be the same," he explained.
Luckett described the process of working on the show as a collaboration that worked in part due to shared experience: "David Moyer and I were in the same class. Christopher is older, but we have a common history because we know some of the same professors and took some of the same classes."
For the alumni, the best part of the production was working with Sarah Lawrence students. Williams became especially enthusiastic describing the process. "I saw them growing in leaps and bounds and experiencing things that I can remember learning: awareness about other people on stage, having to think about the effect of an ensemble, seeing oneself as part of a larger organic whole rather than as a solo entity.
"It's really a metaphor for life. Performers have to learn to make the power of their individuality shine in the more global picture." By returning to campus to help with the production, Williams provided an example of that metaphor in action.