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Rowland Hall Dancers Honor Marginalized Voices in (R)evolution

Arts Department Chair and Director of Dance Sofia Gorder readily admits that history classes didn't appeal to her much in high school. "It was mostly a white-centric narrative about wars," she recalled. It wasn't until she got to graduate school and started studying the history of movement that she developed a powerful connection to past generations. "In the history of movement," Sofia said, "when people didn't have a voice, they'd use their bodies. All these marginalized voices emerged through movement that was then commodified and adopted by mainstream society."

When planning her annual dance concert this year—Rowland Hall's sesquicentennial—it made perfect sense to use the history of movement as an opportunity for students to explore the silenced voices of the past 150 years. "Asking kids to dive into those marginalized stories and then connect them to the stories we're taught in normative history has been really fruitful," Sofia said. "They're learning that disco and the twist evolved from slave dances, and that Jazzercise stemmed from the empowerment women felt after watching gay men dancing in clubs during the AIDS epidemic."

(R)evolution, as the concert is titled, ran Thursday through Saturday—February 8, 9, and 10—at the Larimer Center for the Performing Arts, and delivered both a celebratory retrospective of dance in America and a rumination on how history learned through words and images doesn't tell the whole story. Senior Sophia Cutrubus described the show as tracing the evolution of mainstream dance while demonstrating how the art provided "an outlet to express ideas and emotions that were taboo and threatened power structures in each time period." Approximately 120 students in sixth through twelfth grades performed renditions of period pieces ranging from the minuet to hip hop, with mixed-media transitions giving contextual cues, and narratives to aid the timeline.

Many of the students learned archived dances rather than developing original choreography, which made the process for this concert more educational than creative, according to Sofia. However, the research and practice of embodying highly respected artists from other generations can inform students' artistic voices in the future. Among the handful of students staging original work was junior Katie Rose Kimball, who teamed up with senior Sydney Rabbit to choreograph a piece about the history of body contact in partner dance. Sophia also had an original piece in the show: she and senior Rowen Kenny created a sequence of five dances based on the work of Merce Cunningham, and audience members will unwittingly have a hand in how these dances are performed each night.

Junior Tori Kusukawa oversaw a cluster of dances that will pay homage to major stars from the 1990s, such as Whitney Houston and Prince. While he copied choreography for Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" from music videos and live performances, he had to improvise when it came to mimicking David Bowie. "He didn't really dance much," Tori said. "So I had to capture his attitude and feeling." He relied on Sofia for guidance, as all the dancers do. "She lets us try and fail," Sophia said. "But she's always there at the end to make sure it goes well on stage."

Whether students are perfecting a replica of historical dances or producing original content, their engagement with the past helps them draw connections to the present. Sophomore Grant Dacklin choreographed a piece to showcase a style of movement from the 1970s called locking, which he referred to as hip hop's disco. While he's excited about the sharp, detailed nature of his own piece, he also recognized that this show has required him to embody roles that he's not familiar—or comfortable—with: as a straight, white male, he depicts the role of the oppressor in history.

However, Grant believes that Rowland Hall students are in a prime position to communicate about discrimination and the need for greater awareness, especially since so many revolutionary movements of the past were youth driven. "I hope that the teenage perspective has power for people," he said. "Even though these dance pieces are founded in history, we are bringing our modern-day voices and identities to them."

While Sofia and the dancers hoped the audience would enjoy the high-energy, community-oriented theme of the concert, they did not shying away from the show's messages about cultural appropriation and the historical biases that viewed bodily movement as low class. Katie Rose emphasized the influence dance has on society, and Sophia agreed, adding "dance is an integral piece of culture shifts." The art form also provides a unique historical lens, Sophia reflected: "Because your body is your medium in dance, there is nothing to hide behind. People can't escape their identities while dancing. You're seeing the most pure expression of who they are—their stories, their struggles."

Dance

Embodying the Past to Understand the Present

Rowland Hall Dancers Honor Marginalized Voices in (R)evolution

Arts Department Chair and Director of Dance Sofia Gorder readily admits that history classes didn't appeal to her much in high school. "It was mostly a white-centric narrative about wars," she recalled. It wasn't until she got to graduate school and started studying the history of movement that she developed a powerful connection to past generations. "In the history of movement," Sofia said, "when people didn't have a voice, they'd use their bodies. All these marginalized voices emerged through movement that was then commodified and adopted by mainstream society."

When planning her annual dance concert this year—Rowland Hall's sesquicentennial—it made perfect sense to use the history of movement as an opportunity for students to explore the silenced voices of the past 150 years. "Asking kids to dive into those marginalized stories and then connect them to the stories we're taught in normative history has been really fruitful," Sofia said. "They're learning that disco and the twist evolved from slave dances, and that Jazzercise stemmed from the empowerment women felt after watching gay men dancing in clubs during the AIDS epidemic."

(R)evolution, as the concert is titled, ran Thursday through Saturday—February 8, 9, and 10—at the Larimer Center for the Performing Arts, and delivered both a celebratory retrospective of dance in America and a rumination on how history learned through words and images doesn't tell the whole story. Senior Sophia Cutrubus described the show as tracing the evolution of mainstream dance while demonstrating how the art provided "an outlet to express ideas and emotions that were taboo and threatened power structures in each time period." Approximately 120 students in sixth through twelfth grades performed renditions of period pieces ranging from the minuet to hip hop, with mixed-media transitions giving contextual cues, and narratives to aid the timeline.

Many of the students learned archived dances rather than developing original choreography, which made the process for this concert more educational than creative, according to Sofia. However, the research and practice of embodying highly respected artists from other generations can inform students' artistic voices in the future. Among the handful of students staging original work was junior Katie Rose Kimball, who teamed up with senior Sydney Rabbit to choreograph a piece about the history of body contact in partner dance. Sophia also had an original piece in the show: she and senior Rowen Kenny created a sequence of five dances based on the work of Merce Cunningham, and audience members will unwittingly have a hand in how these dances are performed each night.

Junior Tori Kusukawa oversaw a cluster of dances that will pay homage to major stars from the 1990s, such as Whitney Houston and Prince. While he copied choreography for Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" from music videos and live performances, he had to improvise when it came to mimicking David Bowie. "He didn't really dance much," Tori said. "So I had to capture his attitude and feeling." He relied on Sofia for guidance, as all the dancers do. "She lets us try and fail," Sophia said. "But she's always there at the end to make sure it goes well on stage."

Whether students are perfecting a replica of historical dances or producing original content, their engagement with the past helps them draw connections to the present. Sophomore Grant Dacklin choreographed a piece to showcase a style of movement from the 1970s called locking, which he referred to as hip hop's disco. While he's excited about the sharp, detailed nature of his own piece, he also recognized that this show has required him to embody roles that he's not familiar—or comfortable—with: as a straight, white male, he depicts the role of the oppressor in history.

However, Grant believes that Rowland Hall students are in a prime position to communicate about discrimination and the need for greater awareness, especially since so many revolutionary movements of the past were youth driven. "I hope that the teenage perspective has power for people," he said. "Even though these dance pieces are founded in history, we are bringing our modern-day voices and identities to them."

While Sofia and the dancers hoped the audience would enjoy the high-energy, community-oriented theme of the concert, they did not shying away from the show's messages about cultural appropriation and the historical biases that viewed bodily movement as low class. Katie Rose emphasized the influence dance has on society, and Sophia agreed, adding "dance is an integral piece of culture shifts." The art form also provides a unique historical lens, Sophia reflected: "Because your body is your medium in dance, there is nothing to hide behind. People can't escape their identities while dancing. You're seeing the most pure expression of who they are—their stories, their struggles."

Dance

Explore More Arts Stories

Phinehas Bynum performs in Candide
Winged Lions on the Rise—title page graphic featuring six alumni.

Editor's note: this is one of six profiles republished from Rowland Hall's 2018–2019 Annual Report feature story, "Winged Lions on the Rise." Millennial alumni are finding their voices and already shaping their fields and communities—from physics to film, music to medical innovations, and environmental policy to conservation-minded real estate. Learn how Rowland Hall impacted them, and how they’re impacting the world. From left, Jared Ruga ’06, Claire Wang ’15, Phinehas Bynum ’08, Jeanna Tachiki Ryan ’01, Tyler Ruggles ’05, and Sarah Day ’06.


Phinehas Bynum makes “whizbangs and gizmos” to automate mundane things in his Minneapolis house. A motion sensor on his washing machine messages him when the washer stops. Between loads, he composes and plays music in his DIY home-recording studio. It’s a delightful showcase of his two biggest passions.

Phinehas—Phin, for short—holds a music and computer science degree from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. By day, he works for software company Jamf on a technical-implementation team that teaches and trains clients. But the renaissance man has also been a lifelong singer—performing with the likes of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as a fourth grader, the renowned St. Olaf Choir as a college student, and operas around Minneapolis, including the Minnesota Opera (MNOp), since college.

You can make someone's day better by fixing their computer, or by singing them a song. And both of these involve compassion, creativity, logic, and technique.—Phinehas Bynum ’08

“I was just about born singing,” said Phin, whose parents prophetically gave him a name that means, among other interpretations, mouth of brass. “Every time you say ‘Phinehas’ a trumpet gets its wings,” the alum quipped. Naturally, young Phin also dabbled in reverse engineering. “Mama and Papa stepped on clock springs and screws on the daily because I took everything apart to see how it worked,” he said. “Computer science was an extension of tinkering for me because you could change how something worked just by telling it to change, no take-apart required.” 

Phin has deftly balanced singing and computing, which he said similarly fulfill him. “You can make someone's day better by fixing their computer, or by singing them a song,” he said. “And both of these involve compassion, creativity, logic, and technique.” And he continues the balancing act, in part, because of Rowland Hall. “I was always encouraged to spend time doing what I was passionate about, and that goal has stuck with me,” he said. “Ultimate frisbee, robotics club, cross country, choir, jazz band—most of the things I am doing now, I was also doing in some form in high school.”

Actors on stage in front of orchestra.

Phinehas Bynum, second from left, stars in VocalEssence and Theater Latté Da’s March 2019 production of Candide. (Photos by Bruce Silcox, courtesy of VocalEssence)

Now, Phin’s arts life is expanding. The singer made his theatrical debut in March to rave reviews. Two Minneapolis arts organizations collaborated to present Candide, a reimagining of the Leonard Bernstein operetta. Phin landed the titular role. Tickets to the five-night, 505-seat show in the heart of downtown sold out early, so the final dress rehearsal became a sixth production. Phin called the performance—his largest to date—transformative. He described his character as an optimist whose misadventures make him wiser instead of bitter. “I'd consider myself a stubborn, but quiet optimist,” Phin said. “It was core-shaking to inhabit a character who lives his optimism completely on the outside, and it challenged me to let the rest of the world, the audience, see that element of me.” His months of practice paid off. In the Star Tribune, critic Terry Blain praised Phin’s performance: “Bynum cut a convincingly boyish figure, his light tenor imparting a touchingly artless quality to songs.”

Since Candide wrapped, Phin has spent more time making his own music—an exploration of jazz, pop, and electronic. He’s recording an album, a longtime dream that combines his musical and technical pursuits. He’s also excited to sing with MNOp again. “I get to sit in a room of wonderfully passionate and diverse folks and bring feelings and ideas and notes and rhythms off a piece of paper and into reality,” he said. “It's the best.” 

Phin credited Rowland Hall for a solid foundation, and expressed gratitude to teachers and administrators—particularly the late Linda Hampton, a beloved Upper School staffer who attended nearly all of his performances. “Linda called herself my ‘biggest fan,’” Phin said. “I’m blessed that my musical endeavors have always been supported by my family and friends, but Linda will always have a special place in my heart.”

Alumni

orchestra concert

Winged Lion musicians enjoyed a banner school year dotted with captivating chapel and morning-meeting performances, well-attended concerts, a visit from a Stradivarius-playing concertmaster, and glowing reviews at competitions.

Highlights for the year, according to music teachers Sarah Yoon and Jeremy Innis:

  • On October 16, our Advanced Chamber Ensemble (ACE) performed at Primary Children's Hospital for the third year in a row; read our November 2017 story about ACE and their volunteerism. New this year, the hospital internally televised the concert for all patients to enjoy.

  • On April 23, Pacific Symphony Concertmaster Dennis Kim visited Rowland Hall for a masterclass, brown-bag lunch concert, and Q&A session. Dennis worked with our musicians in small groups, giving them direct, practical pointers—particularly on playing their instruments with passion. He also shared personal anecdotes, including the story of his career and how he acquired a Stradivarius violin, one of the most celebrated and valuable instruments in the world.

  • On May 2, ACE and the Upper School Orchestra performed music from Schindler’s List at the Jewish Community Center for Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. “It was very powerful to be among Holocaust survivors and family members,” Sarah said.

  • On June 1, choir students performed Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” along with our jazz band and dance company at the Salt Lake City Pride Parade; participation was driven by middle and upper schoolers in LGBTQ+ advocacy and allyship clubs.

Competition Highlights

Sixteen Rowland Hall students competed at Regionals on March 26. From there, one choir and all eight ACE students moved onto the Utah High School Activities Association’s State Solo and Ensemble South Festival held Saturday, April 27, in Provo.

At State, all of our competing students (listed below) received a “superior” rating, the highest on a five-point scale. View a full PDF of all results.

Solos

  • Cora Lopez, contralto singer, La fleur que tu m'avais jetee by Bizet
  • Claire Sanderson, piano, Chopin Nocturne
  • Ziteng Zeng, violin, Mozart Rondo from Serenade in D minor "Haffner"
  • Jake Bleil, string bass, Koussevitzy Valse Miniature
  • Augustus Hickman, violin, Bach Concerto in A minor

Duets

  • Austin Topham and Zach Benton, violin and viola, Handel Halvorsen Passacaglia
  • Patrick McNally and Ziteng Zeng, violin, Vivaldi Concerto in D minor
  • Augustus Hickman and Atticus Hickman, violin, Bach Double Concerto

Music

students performing on stage
Middle and upper school actors, dancers, musicians, and visual artists derived their own absurd, whimsical, haunting, and comedic version of Alice in Wonderland, performed April 11–13 in the Larimer Center for the Performing Arts.

The innovative show featured large-scale murals, traveling props, a costume menagerie, every style of dance, and integrated orchestral, vocal, and jazz music.

theater

dancers on stage

Every arts performance is a collaborative event, and in recent years we’ve had a large contingency of alumni return and contribute their time and talents to our programs. This January’s dance concert, Home: The Monsters We Run From, The Refuge We Seek, featured a film by Oliver Jin ’18 and a piece choreographed by Laja Field ’08. Also assisting: Max Jacquin ’18 worked on the lighting design and Sophia Cutrubus ’18 trained dancers in the Middle School Arts & Ensemble program.

Oliver’s film served as an introduction to the dance concert, framing the themes of migration and departure in scientific terms and providing audience members with a foundation to aid their interpretation of the dancers’ work. “The film is a message that says migration and movement and departure are an integral part of our humanity,” Oliver said. He credited Rowland Hall with showing him how the arts are intertwined. Now in his first year at Sarah Lawrence College studying photography, Oliver frequently attends art installations, dance lectures, and other performances to support and learn from fellow artists.

Laja Field ’08 enjoyed coming back to Rowland Hall and collaborating with the current group of students and artists. She said the school feels like home to her: “The teachers and experiences I had there I hold very close to my heart.”After graduating in 2008, Laja Field earned her bachelor’s degree in modern dance at the University of Utah and went on to dance professionally, eventually founding the physical dance theatre company LAJAMARTIN with her partner, Martin Durov. She said studying dance at Rowland Hall—and the opportunity to complete a distinction in dance—helped her envision a career in the field. Laja was thrilled to return and create a piece on current students, which  was partly inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story.

“I believe that, if we tell more stories, and we’re able to invite another perspective through dance, there’s an opportunity to see something in a new way,” Laja said. She described her piece as a mish-mash of cultural influences, which asks people to consider their roles in any given community. “Who are we? Are we the ones who open our arms? Are we the ones who listen to new stories and open up our perspectives and take them in? Or are we stuck in our ways?”

Rowland Hall’s arts department chair Sofia Gorder celebrated the desire of our alumni to collaborate with other artists and stay engaged with their alma mater: “The school breeds this idea that we come back and we give back. That’s part of the culture.” See clips from the concert and hear more from Laja and Oliver about what giving back to the arts means to them.
 

Alumni

You Belong at Rowland Hall