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Classical 101

Columbus Modern Dance Company performs in global water initiative

Seven dancers in a dance studio kneeling and leaning backwards onto their left arms while curving their right arms overhead
Jennifer Hambrick
Columbus Modern Dance Company rehearses Doris Humphrey's 'Water Study' at the Dublin Dance Center

The banks of the Scioto River will be the venue for a performance of a water-inspired modern dance masterwork this weekend in Dublin.

The Columbus Modern Dance Company (COMO Dance) will perform a unique restaging of modern dance pioneer Doris Humphrey’s Water Study Saturday, June 17 at 10 a.m. outdoors on the lower plaza of Riverside Crossing Park, near the Dublin Link bridge.

Created in the early years of modern dance, Humphrey’s Water Study (1928) is remarkable in many ways. In a thoroughly modern movement language, dancers make themselves into shapes evoking waves and move together in gestures that call to mind the movement of the sea.

Perhaps most striking, the work has no musical score. The dancers’ movements and the sound of their breathing evoke the ebb and flow of the tide.

The breath is a big part of the artwork and kind of what made it so revolutionary – to not have music and do this literal interpretation of water,” said Laura Comana Puscas, artistic director of Columbus Modern Dance Company. “You’ll see the waves and the ebbing and the flowing, and the breathing helps to tell that story. It’s water personified.”

The June 17 performance takes place with grant support from the Dublin Arts Council, which is co-producing it, as part of Global Water Dances, an international movement to raise awareness about challenges to clean water access. The initiative encourages dancers and dance companies worldwide to teach communities the Global Water Dance choreography and to perform it and other water-themed dance works.

In Columbus, Dr. Loren Bucek is founder, director and cultural producer of Global Water Dances Columbus. She urged COMO Dance and other local dance organizations to perform unique water-themed programs to bring awareness to local and statewide water issues, including pollution from fertilizers and other waste in rivers, lakes and streams.

“How do we deal with human-made and nature-made problems that exist not only locally but around the world? Dance, as a universal language in movement, is a way to do it,” Bucek said.

The version of Water Study that COMO Dance will perform was tailored for the company based on the sources of Humphrey’s original work. Puscas secured performance rights for Water Study from the New York City-based Dance Notation Bureau, which owns the rights to several of Humphrey’s works, in partnership with Humphrey’s son, Charles Woodford. Dance Notation Bureau referred Puscas to dance notation expert and restager Valarie Williams, professor of dance at Ohio State University and director of the Dance Notation Bureau’s Extension for Education and Research, based at Ohio State.

“When I connected with (the Dance Notation Bureau), they said, ‘You have an amazing resource right in Columbus at Ohio State, a dance notation expert who could read the score and be your restager,’” Puscas said.

Williams restaged Water Study at Ohio State during the fall of 2022 and applied her knowledge of the work’s history – one closely linked to Ohio State – and of today’s dancers to craft a unique restaging for COMO Dance. The original score for Water Study was notated in 1972 by Odette Blum, OSU professor emerita of dance and head of education at the Dance Notation Bureau in New York. Blum notated the work based on a staging at Ohio State by OSU Dance Professor Emerita Lucy Venable, who had studied with Humphrey and founded the Dance Notation Bureau Extension for Education and Research at Ohio State.

Michele Varon and Karen Barracuda created a second notated score after the 1976 restaging of Water Study by Ernestine Stodelle, a former dancer with the Doris Humphrey-Charles Weidman Company.

Drawing on both earlier scores of Water Study, Williams selected the sections of the work she thought best suited COMO Dance. She then consulted on her restaging with Dante Puleio, artistic director of New York City’s Limón Company, which Humphrey co-founded with José Limón in 1946.

“Together we made sure that it was the artistically true version for what is current for today and what is fitting for the dancers,” Williams said. “It’s an integration of both scores approved by an international authority on Humphrey.”

Williams’ restaging of Water Study gives the work new relevance for today, especially in the context of the Global Water Dances movement.

“We can never recreate the dance as it was in 1928. The audiences aren’t the same. Our own bodies aren’t the same. Our training isn’t the same. We don’t eat the same way,” Williams said. “I think you have to work with what you have. And so in that way it really becomes current for our audiences and our dancers.”

And with choreography and movement effects that were groundbreaking in its time, Water Study remains a revelation for today’s audiences.

“This will be so cool for an audience to experience,” Puscas said, “because they will have never seen anything like it.”

The Columbus Modern Dance Company will perform Valarie Williams’ restaging of Doris Humphrey’s Water Study on Saturday, June 17 at 10 a.m. on the Lower Plaza of Riverside Crossing Park, near the Dublin Link bridge. Free admission.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.