A dance lecturer, Gwyneth Jones started the semester on an exciting note as a dance consultant for the play “What Happened ?: The Michaels Abroad”, which premiered at the Frederick Loewe Theater at Hunter College on September 9th.
“What Happened ?: The Michaels Abroad” is a sequel to “The Michaels,” which follows Rose Michaels, a choreographer with ovarian cancer, as she chats with her daughters, her niece and her ex. husband. In the sequel “The Michaels Abroad,” Michaels’ daughter is in dance residency in France, and her attempts to come home to see her ailing mother are on hold due to COVID-19. Eventually, Rose Michaels died from COVID-19 rather than ovarian cancer.
Both pieces are hyperrealistic, centered on intimate family conversations, but dance also plays a major role. The choreography is a revival of the work of choreographer Dan Wagoner. Jones’ connection to Dan Wagoner was one of the reasons Jones was brought into the project as a choreographic consultant.
“Dan Wagoner is someone I danced with in the 1980s and playwright Richard Nelson has always truly admired Dan Wagoner’s work,” Jones said. “He wanted to use this work because he loved it and thought it would set the right tone… Especially in the new piece it’s a really fun dance to watch – it’s very lively and some are really silly.”
Although much of Wagoner’s choreography was originally created for his dance company, Jones said she liked to adapt it to a different medium.
“It’s really gratifying to see this dance repurposed in a play, because that’s not the way it would have been originally done,” Jones said. “Plays work very differently from dance concerts, so it’s pretty amazing to see these things come together.”
Despite the gratifying nature of this work, Jones noted the difficulty of translating Wagoner’s choreography into the form needed for the piece.
“It was very difficult to relearn things,” she said. “I had danced some things before, but other things that I had never danced – I knew them, saw them and loved them, but I hadn’t danced them. So it took a long time to get it all back.
As part of the process of memorizing and adapting Wagoner’s choreography, Jones worked closely with two Bowdoin students over the summer: Charlotte Doughty ’23 and Isabel Petropoulos ’23.
“It was kind of trial and error with us to see what worked and what didn’t – what we liked, what we didn’t like – just to feel it in our bodies,” said Doughty.
Jones pointed out that working with other dancers was extremely helpful as she relearned the choreography.
“It really helped me think about it having these bodies in space, and they were excited to volunteer and do it,” Jones said.
Jones also appreciated the opportunity to revisit a dance she learned and performed when she was younger and pass it on to a new generation.
“I think one of the best parts for me was reconnecting with this dance that I have always loved since I was a teenager and was lucky enough to have the chance to practice it myself” Jones said. “And now I’m going back to this world and teaching it to young dancers, so it was really lovely and rewarding.”
Over the next semester, Jones will continue her work with Dan Wagoner’s choreography as she works with a quartet of dance students including Petropoulos and Doughty, as well as Emma Dewey ’22 and Lou Sydel ’22.