How do we respond when confronted with dire news? Do we engage, or do we turn our backs when we are needed most? Those questions are central to a new dance performance titled Witness that will be performed by students from the Department of Theatre and Dance on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16, 17 and 18, 2018, in the College of Charleston’s Emmett Robinson Theatre.

A scene from Witness as rehearsed by student dancers.

According to Gretchen McLaine, who directs the College’s dance program, this performance should offer something for everyone, whether or not they’re specifically interested in modern dance.

“Part of our interest in presenting Witness grew out of a desire to develop a performance that underscored the Sustainability Literacy Institute’s theme for this year – social justice and fair distribution,” says McLaine, who is an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance. “But another impetus was our interest in wanting to connect with other initiatives on campus. That’s one of the reasons why, during one of the pieces, Rénard Harris from the Office of Institutional Diversity is included (as a narrator).”

Student dancers rehearse a performance for Witness.

A total of 35 students will perform in the production, which will feature dance pieces choreographed by members of the program’s faculty as well as a guest choreographer.

“Our guest choreographer,” McLaine says, “is Vincent Thomas from Towson University. He centers his work on social justice and issues surrounding race. I knew that he would be a good fit for our theme, but also for our dancers. A good many of our students are social justice advocates. That’s a really important piece of their lives.”

Dance performances from Witness will attempt to have audience members question their reactions to events.

McLaine was initially concerned that Witness might impress the audience as dark and depressing – two of the eight pieces were inspired by lynchings – but she says the production also includes several dances that are inspiring and uplifting. And one piece will be performed to live jazz.

“There may be some moments in Witness that people aren’t expecting,” McLaine says. “But that’s purposeful. We want the audience, when they witness something, to ask themselves ‘what should I do?’ We want them to be reflective and ultimately we hope that they learn about themselves and the world around them as well as something about how we all interact.”

Three performances of Witness will take place from Friday, Nov. 16 through Sunday, Nov. 18. For tickets and additional information, visit the program’s website.

Photos by Heather Moran