Emotions Fly High: PDG’s “Vitality”

Bishop’s students perform “Vitality”


Lisa Pan

PDG dancers glided across an enchanted pink stage in their opening number, “blink.” This piece included striking music with color-changing backdrops that reflected the mood of the dance. Seen above are Isadora Blatt (‘24), Eliana Birnbaum-Nahl (‘23), Riley Brunson (‘25), Andrew Perkins (‘24), and Izzy Tang (‘23).

Watching “Vitality” was like watching an intimate conversation with the heavens. From each strum of a violin or the delicate flick of a poised hand, the theater became an enclosure; a thought bubble, in which one could think about nothing but the raw emotions being emitted from the stage.

On November 3, 4, and 5, The Bishop’s School Performing Dance Group (PDG) performed “Vitality” in the Taylor Performing Arts Center (TPAC). This performance was the first PDG show since Dance Teacher Ms. Donna Cory’s passing in September. Ms. Cory had pitched the idea of a dance concert exploring vitality last spring, Dance Teacher and Director Ms. Cresence Birder said, “We have pooled our creativity, our intellects, and our love for expression and one another to create this dance concert, as an offering in memory to the woman who taught us and inspired us. Through these pieces, we explore human vitality,” Ms. Birder wrote in her Director’s Notes.

The show began with an enchanting opening: “blink.” With mystical shades of blue and smooth yet sharp twirls, it was truly unique. Dancers on stage bent knees and flexed feet, unlike traditional ballet performances. Sabrina Li (‘24) noted that, “the piece is intended to create an atmosphere of otherworldliness — aliens, sci-fi, that kind of vibe.” Dancers were spread out across the stage like pieces on a chess board. It was organized chaos in an abyss of blue. Bela Gowda (‘24), who was unable to perform in the show due to an injury, expressed her favor for the opening number. “I really loved this piece. I think it had such a wide variety of movement and it was also so intense in terms of music and movement which made it a great opening piece.”

Another highlight of the show was a piece called “Echo Chamber,” choreographed by Cresence Birder and performed by Ellen Wang (‘25) and Sabrina Li (‘24). The music, “Unhinged” by Mike Lazarev, amplified the echoes in the theater, creating a cinematic experience rarely seen in dance recitals. The piece, according to Sabrina, reflects how the Bishop’s community felt after the tragic loss of Ms. Cory. “The movements range from more emotional and elegant to convey that sense of sadness and loss to very frantic. I would have wanted the audience to feel a sense of being lost, a feeling we’ve all been experiencing lately,” she said.

While many pieces in the PDG recital were choreographed by Ms. Birder or PDG students, some were choreographed and discussed with Ms. Cory. “Muddy Water,” performed by Shirley Xu (‘23) and Sabrina Li (‘24) at the end of Act I, was one such piece. Sabrina recalled choreographing the piece last year, saying that Ms. Cory had told them to create the dance using an object in the dance studio. Shirley and Sabrina had chosen a cushion pin. Sabrina reflected, “I think it’s amazing how a sort of jazz-ish style dance was born from the theme of a pin cushion. I think this dance embodies how much of an artist Mrs. Cory was. She was truly one of the most creative people I knew.”

Amidst the many heavy-hitting numbers seen throughout the show, one rather amusing piece at the start of Act II caught the audience’s attention. While the piece, “Tee Party!” was being performed, the theater was erupting with laughter. “Tee Party!” was choreographed by both Ms. Birder and the performers: Bela, Sabrina, Sanskar Lohchab (‘24), and Mira Singh (‘25). Bela explained that the number had been made as a solo, then turned into a quartet, and a trio after Bela couldn’t perform. “Acting was a big component in this piece. It was important that the audience could understand what we were trying to portray since the uses of the golf balls were more untraditional,” she said. Sabrina Li added, “Our ultimate goal was to make people laugh. There are a lot of very heavy pieces in this show, and this piece was meant to bring some humor.” Sabrina paused, narrowing her eyes deep in thought. “I suppose this relates to Vitality in bringing laughter to people.” 

Another piece in Act II was “Even Now,” performed by Izzy Tang (‘24). In the middle of the stage was a white table, which was the centerpiece of the number. Bela, who was originally also performing this piece, said that Sebastian Garma-Nieto (‘23) had made it a duo, but turned it into a solo after her injury. “Initially, it showed a relationship between two people and the table was used as a sort of center piece, but after the change, it was more about one person being moved by an invisible force,” she said.

At the end of the show, members of PDG performed “Painter’s Palette,” choreographed by both Ms. Birder and all of PDG. The full-cast performance was accompanied by “Walk Alone to Hear Thoughts of Your Own” by Laura Misch. Bela described the creation of the piece, saying, “Ms. Birder gave us several individual movements, and in small groups we created our own choreography based off of those movements. We did this exercise twice and then sewed the different pieces together into one big piece.” Sabrina Li added that, “it was like using a palette to create our dance. The dance style was definitely more flowing, although there were some sharper movements to provide contrast. We wanted it to look like a lovely landscape painting.”

“Vitality” was a show full of emotion, memories, and some light-hearted, humorous pieces to balance out the heavy-hitting scenes. Sabrina, thinking of Ms. Cory, said, “I think Ms. Cory would have wanted to see us dancing. Not as dance robots or machines, but as artists who have our own ideas and thoughts and convey them through dance.” As the dancers bowed, lights shining on their faces, smiles wide, Ms. Cory was surely watching proudly from the clouds.