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Ohio State drums, dance to combine, move to beat

Drums Downtown is set to run April 5-6 at the Riffe Center at the Capitol Theatre. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Fancher

Drums Downtown is set to run April 5-6 at the Riffe Center at the Capitol Theatre.
Credit: Courtesy of Nick Fancher

For the last decade, Drums Downtown has brought an annual tradition of collaboration in the arts to the heart of downtown Columbus. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, this year’s performance is slated to remember the past by playing pieces from the previous nine years.

“We are bringing back at least one piece from each of the previous nine events,” Susan Powell, director of percussion studies at Ohio State, said in an email. “We are also inviting back alumni from the past nine events to join us, which will be very special.”

Complete with a “Timeline” theme, this year’s Drums Downtown is scheduled to feature performances from the Ohio State dance and arts departments.

“It’s truly a multi-disciplinary performance,” Powell said. “There are works with dance, video, film and computer animation. It’s all about retracing, revisiting and re-imagining what all of these performances have meant to all involved.”

Powell, who has been a part of Drums Downtown since its beginnings in 2004, said the event gains a cleaner sound every year.

“Each year, the program gets more ‘produced’ — better sound, lighting, better video,” Powell said. “The event has evolved so much, from a one-night performance with 300 people in attendance, to a two-night run that played to over 1,000 people.”

While the title of the show might largely promote the work of Powell and her percussionists and the location of the performance, there is a dance element to the show as well.

Ann Sofie Clemmensen, a lecturer in the Department of Dance and a choreographer for Drums Downtown, said in an email she has seen professionalism among students in different art disciplines while preparing for the show.

“I see a lot of artistic growth and newfound respect in the communal exchange that happens between the students across disciplines,” Clemmensen said. “On both sides, they are asked to make adjustment quickly, and through this process our students get a much better understanding of the individual art forms.”

In the rehearsal stage, Clemmensen said she evaluated several different pieces of music to find one she wanted to choreograph a dance for in Drums Downtown. This is Clemmensen’s first time choreographing a piece for the performance.

“Before I began my rehearsal process in early January, I was given five different music pieces to choose from. The one music piece that stood out to me was a work by the American composer Christopher Adler titled ‘Signals Intelligence,’” Clemmensen said. “Learning the complexity of the music score for ‘Signals Intelligence’ was a bigger challenge.”

The song, she said, draws upon the ideas of thought and wonder — aspects she tried to incorporate into her piece.

“A human body in motion will at some level always generate meaning — the interesting part is that a gesture or shape can have multiple meanings or references, depending on the individual viewer,” Clemmensen said. “Together with the dancers, I generated movement material that is referencing both codified dance movement as well as gestures and shapes from areas outside dance, playing with the idea of structure alongside with randomness.”

While the performance is the main aspect of Drums Downtown, Susan Hadley, a former professional dancer and current professor within the OSU Dance Department, said she believes there is another aspect to the show that doesn’t get enough attention.

“‘Drums’ means everything to me as a teacher because I think it is the consummate experience for these students,” Hadley said. “It’s like putting all of the stuff they learn in the classroom into professional practice and in a professional setting, which completes the circle of the learning process.”

Hadley said Drums Downtown is a tremendous opportunity for the students involved, and for OSU as a whole, to showcase their excellence.

“Ohio State dance is regularly ranked in the top of the nation. The percussion ensemble regularly wins national contests. It highlights that and it allows the university and larger community to see what we’re doing,” Hadley said. “Here we have these centers of excellence on campus and students are able to collaborate with exemplary musicians in a huge theater downtown in front of sold out audiences. It’s a thrilling opportunity.”

Whether an opportunity for the performers or the audience, Powell said, Drums Downtown is a perfect balance, suitable for anyone involved.

“There are some ‘serious’ pieces, but also quite a bit of levity and fun throughout the program,” Powell said. “I think it’s an event that carries a lot of artistic integrity, while also finding the balance of being incredibly entertaining.”

Drums Downtown is scheduled to take place at the Riffe Center at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Columbus for a two-night run on Friday and Saturday. The shows are set to start at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available for each night, starting at $20 per ticket. Student tickets start at $10 per ticket.

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