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Ballet, Deconstructed – Dance Concert 2018




The annual BFS Dance Concert on Friday and Saturday, March 9 and 10, was greeted with joy, love, and rave reviews.  An annual school tradition going back 39 years, the Dance Concert has the largest number of performers of any student production at the school.

The all-original choreography was by junior and senior International Baccalaureate (IB) I and II classes, Middle and Upper School students, and guests artists, all under the direction of Middle and Upper School Dance Teacher and BFS alum Jesse Phillips-Fein ’97.

The theme of this year’s production was deconstructing ballet.  Ninth grader and BFS newcomer Joelle V., who also takes classes at the Joffrey Ballet School, broke down the particular piece in which she performed.  “This is about showing people the difference between ballet and modern and post modern dance styles, and moving ballet away from its classical form,” she said.  Joelle appeared in the opening piece choreographed by IB Dance student Alyssa W.  “The opening is a recreation of a ballet class. It then moves into modern dance.”

“A lot of different cultures are represented,” added ninth grader Garance S., also a BFS newcomer.  “We shift into different styles. The whole show encompasses that.”  Garance is a student at Cobble Hill Ballet and often dashes off to JV softball practice after Dance Concert rehearsals.

Director Jesse explained the show’s theme and purpose.  “Often after the Dance Concert, audience members will comment on how they enjoyed the cultural dances in the show,” she said.  “This raises the question, what makes a dance form to be perceived as ‘cultural’?  Why don’t we see every dance in the show as a cultural one?”

An annual school tradition going back 39 years, the Dance Concert has the largest number of performers of any student production at the school.

Ballet, in particular, she elaborated, is often taken for granted as the universal foundation of all dance, against which all other dance forms are measured. “It is this Eurocentric presumption and paradigm that this year’s Dance Concert seeks to challenge,” explained Jesse.  “By learning about and being inspired by dance artists and companies that challenge some of Ballet’s toxic norms — a thin body image, light and white skin privilege, restrictive gender norms, sexist and heterocentric plot lines — we have considered what it means and what it takes to reclaim a dance form for the purposes of our own liberation.

“We’ve also examined the unexpected synergies between Ballet, a dance form emerging from European aristocracy, and Flex, and various forms of Hip-Hop from Brooklyn’s Black Caribbean community, and Jookin’ from Memphis..”

These styles may seem wildly different at first glance but Jesse makes a stark point.  “What these different forms share is the use of bodies to create illusions of gliding, floating, and hypermobility.  The theme of illusion runs through this year’s show even as the dancers reveal their realities and share their truths.”

Choreographer Alyssa has performed in every BFS Dance Concert since eighth grade. She talked about creating and presenting her own original work as a part of this year’s performance.  “I just started doing it,” she said of her choreography.  “You take your own moves and put that onto other people,” she said of the impulse.  Outside of school, Alyssa is part of the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center youth ensemble as well as a former member of the Brooklyn Ballet youth ensemble. She also plays varsity softball and is a member of the BFS Model UN team.

“The concert is about exploring the length to which ballet can take you,” said Alyssa. “It’s a great demonstration of our sweating, working and crying. We have Middle Schoolers performing for the first time, twelfth graders doing it for the last time. It’s a great representation of everything the BFS Dance department stands for.”