Go Deeper

Le Grand Rehearsal Director: Sarah Gladwin Camp

Posted September 6th, 2012

Blog contributor Marina Kec talked to Sarah Gladwin Camp this week about Le Grand Continental, the energetic dance extravaganza taking to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the 2012 Live Arts Festival. Over 150 performers from different walks of life and with varying levels of dance experience will band together this weekend, and Sarah’s been responsible for helping Sylvain Émard make this a reality. Here’s what she had to say, both to Marina, and in an interview with, after the jump:

Hostess of the Rehearsals

“I work very closely with Sylvain Émard, the choreographer, to learn all the sections and help him prepare videos to send to everyone so they can practice at home. Since he is based in Montreal, Sylvain is in Philadelphia on-and-off throughout the two-month project. I am responsible for preparing and leading rehearsals while he is away, as well as teaching the choreography during those times. I’ve also thought of myself as the hostess of the rehearsals. It was important to me to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for the project.”

A Community in Sync

“There are 155 performers right now, but throughout the process and the recruitment sessions, we have worked with over 250 participants. I have never worked on this scale before. I usually teach movement classes to groups of eight young kids at a time, so this is a big change!

“I think the sheer scale is certainly a unique factor of the project. It is rare for dancers to perform in sync with that many people at one time, especially with such specific and practiced steps. Watching the whole group dance together, I am incredibly moved. I find it beautiful and surprising. I also think the community spirit fostered through the process is really fantastic. Everyone feels like he or she is on a giant team that supports and cheers for its teammates. It’s a huge accomplishment for each person—some of whom have never danced—to learn, remember, and perform 30 minutes of tough choreography.”

The Super Sexy Chicken Cleans the Table
“We started the project with two separate groups so that we could teach about half of the choreography to a smaller group at first. Please keep in mind that “small” meant 75-90 people. It was key to break the choreography down step-by-step, show it, and explain it in easily digestible language. We named moves things like: monster, clean the table, peanut butter, crocodile, open your heart, take off your hat, super sexy, chicken, wave, and Broadway.

“For added support, we offered movement clinics—times when the participants could come to the rehearsal room to ask us questions and work on problem spots in a smaller group or one-on-one. This is where the eight professional dancers were especially helpful. These Rehearsal Assistants [from whom we’ll hear in this space tomorrow -NG] were able to give more personalized attention and make sure that each person really knew the choreography.

“Once the group had all the steps, we focused on small details: transitions, gestures, and the feel of each distinct section. This is where the real performance quality came in and where it started becoming especially fun and demanding!”

Grandparents, Bollywood Dancers, and Lawyers

“We have a huge range of participants, which has definitely contributed to the uniqueness and the quality of the group overall. There are lots of families: moms and dads with their kids, aunts, uncles, grandparents. There are college students, Bollywood dancers, lawyers, figure skating champions, writers, comedians, teachers, singers, engineers, and so many more. Regardless of background, everyone comes together for rehearsal, and we are 155 dancers for those few hours.

“I would call working with untrained dancers a mixed blessing. It means that we cannot just use formal dance terminology to teach the moves. Seeing movement and being able to execute it in your own body is a skill dancers work on for years. Remembering those movements is a whole other challenge. It is a learned skill that slips away quickly if you are not actively using it. Seeing this group of participants grow over time has been very exciting. They learn much faster now than when we started. You can tell by the questions they ask that their bodies are becoming more and more comfortable with picking up basic steps. They are also able to think about the qualities and dynamics sooner. People are discovering that they love using their minds and bodies in this way, and that’s super exciting to see evolve over time.”

How to Cure the Dance Bug

“It’s never too late to dance! We have dancers from 8 to 70 years old in this show! The best way to discover your unrealized passion for dance is to come watch Le Grand Continental this weekend, find your feet shuffling along with ours because it’s irresistible, and join the dance party afterwards and find pure joy in moving your body to fun music next to lots of other people.”

Le Grand Continental runs September 8 at 4:00 and 8:00 pm, and again September 9 at 4:00 pm, Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, 26th Street at Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Free!

Photo by Robert Etcheverry.