Lois V Vierk and Anita Feldman
with choreographic contributions by Rhonda Price
Swash is one of six music/tap dance works co-created by tap dance choreographer Anita Feldman and composer Lois V Vierk during the 1980s and 90s. From the very beginning, choreographer and composer worked together on all major aspects of each piece. They have always felt that in their work, music and dance are one. It's impossible to say where one leaves off and the other begins. The piece was named for the movement of water splashing up from an ocean wave onto the sand of the beach. This concept of "swash" inspired a wide variety of visual and sound ideas in the creation of the work.
Besides the above, some of the movement/sound materials are influenced by Hambone, an African-American music and dance form that uses the whole body as a percussion instrument to be slapped, brushed, etc. with one's hands. Hambone was originally developed by enslaved Africans in the US, Guyana and the Caribbean. In the US, use of percussion instruments by slaves was banned in most places, starting in the mid 18th century. This was done out of fear that people would be able to transmit messages via drum patterns that would incite revolution against the system of slavery. Hence the body itself became the source of percussive sounds.
In Swash the slapping, clapping and sliding of the hands not only contributes to sound rhythms, but also propels the body’s movements. As the piece progresses, the action of one foot hitting the other both contributes to the rhythms and propels the foot movements of the tap dancing in a similar way. The costumes in Swash were designed by Denise Mitchell. They were sewn from a vinyl type fabric, which permits hand slaps and brushes to be clearly audible. Dancers also wear hand “instruments” made of velcro to further augment the sound.
Some of the vocal sounds in Swash derive from the South African Zulu language, which is rich in musical slides and in a variety of tongue clicks. Adelaide Ngoneni Cele was the language consultant. The two singers in the piece, one on either side of the stage, are amplified, so that their percussive sounds blend with the dancers' taps and body slaps, and their sustained sounds and long glissandos can be heard flowing over the taps, enveloping the stage. The American folk form Eephing, a folk form that developed in the Appalachians during the 19th century, is also an influence in this piece. Eephing, incorporating both exhaled and inhaled sung syllables, was used to holler to farm animals. The last part of Swash brings out four women's names, American and Zulu: Anita (for Anita Feldman), Nokuthula (for Ms. Cele's mother), Nora (for the composer's mother) and Ngoneni (for Ngoneni Cele).
Swash was premiered at Woodpeckers Tap Dance Studio in New York City in 1994. Subsequent performances include Dance Theater Workshop (NYC), SUNY Albany, SUNY Buffalo and Columbia Festival of the Arts (MD). The tap parts have been performed by Anita Feldman, Rhonda Price and Sheri Laroche. Vocal parts have been performed by Dora Ohrenstein, Susan Botti and Lisa Bielawa.
Swash was made with a New State Council on the Arts Composer Commission and a New York Sate Council on the Arts Company Grant. Special thanks to the Foundation for Contemporary Arts for additional support.