Talk is cheap for choreographer Jenny Sawyer; dance is her language of choice.
Sawyer grew up in State College taking dance classes from the age of 4. That passion carried her to Philadelphia, where she started her own dance company.
Luckily for State College, she is accompanying two of her dancers, Lee Fogel and Lora Allen, to town over the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts weekend. The troupe will perform at noon and 1:30 p.m. in the waters of Spring Creek on July 11 and 12.
Sawyer first choreographed the dance, UPSTREAM, for the Wissahickon Creek in Philadelphia, and has since adapted it to suit the rocky bed and frigid water of Spring Creek.
One of the challenges of site-specific work Sawyer has learned to adapt to is the unpredictable nature of nature.
Practices have had to be canceled due to sudden rainstorms and temperature fluctuations, but even in perfect conditions, dancing in water presents challenges.
“You can’t travel the same way in creeks with a lot of rocks,” Sawyer said. “You have to change the whole way you approach locomotion.”
This has impacted the movements of the dance, but in a positive way, Sawyer said.
“There are definitely slow, meditative elements to the dance,” Sawyer said. “Part of it is the reality of trying to move in a creek, but I also think there’s just something about it that looks so beautiful in that setting. It lets you rest into the place along with the dance.”
Fogel, one of the dancers in UPSTREAM, has come to appreciate these obstacles.
“It can be challenging to move on a stage with such variation of height, shape and texture,” Fogel said. “But ultimately I love how it awakens my body’s curiosity and causes me to move in new ways.”
As a State College local, Sawyer has always been a passionate attendant of the summer Arts Fest. Now she hopes to add to its tradition of creative performances.
“(Arts Fest) has always been my favorite thing about State College,” Sawyer said. “I’m excited to share this work that I’m really excited about and really proud of with my hometown where I grew up and first learned to love nature.”
After noticing and becoming concerned about the severe disconnect between “what is considered human and what is considered wild,” Sawyer set out to choreograph a dance that would blur that line.
For Sawyer, UPSTREAM is a way to reconnect with nature, both for her and her audience.
“There’s this way that we’re separated from (nature) which is a very strange dichotomy to live with. I’m trying to find what human wildness would look like. That’s the question I’m asking,” Sawyer said.
On a simpler level, Sawyer said, she hopes people, after watching the performance, will want to splash around in the creek and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Most of Sawyer’s work revolves around this question of how humans interact with nature. Instead of being a passive observer of the environment, Sawyer asked, why not interact with it?
After previous performances of UPSTREAM, Sawyer said there has been unique audience reaction to the exploration of this question.
Instead of a typical ‘congratulations’ or ‘well-done,’ Sawyer said “there’s just some kind of magical quality that happens” while watching the piece.
“I’m really excited about performing in Spring Creek and bringing experimental dance exploration to State College,” Sawyer said. “I’m excited to share my work and see what the response is like.”