On Friday, June 25, Trenton Arts at Princeton held their Music, Movement & Monologues virtual showcase on YouTube. The exciting event highlighted performances from all four Saturday Morning Arts groups: Trenton Youth Dancers, Orchestra, Singers, and Theater.
For the inaugural year of Trenton Youth Theater, director Victoria Davidjohn ’19 and co-student leaders Faith Iloka ’21 and Tanaka Dunbar Ngwara ‘24 emphasized directing, acting, choreography, and lighting design. The showcase featured their students’ accomplishments in all of these areas.
In the choreography component, students danced in front of a disco floor-like background of Zoom screens to “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen.
“What is progress?” asked a student during the monologues section. “I think there’s something to be said about people who proudly think they’ve made progress for the world at large.”
Finally came the lighting component. Students chose the song “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman to represent their hopes of continuing to honor their full selves throughout the year. At first, there was darkness. Then a wash of blue light, illuminating the interior of a theater. Other colors rippled across the floor to the beat of the music, and then the stage blazed with light and joy.
"I think by creating a space in which these students had to be creative, in which we were working up to a showcase, gave a lot of them as well as myself a sense of creative purpose which I feel is incredibly important for all artists, especially in the middle of a pandemic," said Dunbar Ngwara.
And, Michael, you would fall
And turn the white snow red as strawberries
In the summertime.
As the Pentatonix song drew to a close, the students’ faces faded to reveal a brilliant orange sunset.
“I think what TYS was for us and our students was more than a place to make music because of the virtual aspect, it was a place where we could just check in with each other and all learn about music together,” Corichi Gomez said.
“Yikes” involved a student dancing to Nicki Minaj as the background changed colors. With hand-movements alternatively smooth and abrupt, the dance was very energetic and lively.
Another dancer performed “Powerful” by Empire Cast. The camera focused on a patch of grass, slowly rising to reveal a student, who rose from her knees and danced on a football field at sunset.
At the end, the TYD students and volunteers appeared onscreen, occupying their individual Zoom boxes.
“Thank you for watching our showcase. Let’s dance, TYD!” said one student, before Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” came on and everyone broke out into dance.
“It was such a joy to watch the Trenton Central High School dance students flourish in the presentation of their solos,” said Elizabeth Zwierzynski, the TYD teacher partner. “I was able to witness the emergence of new personal aesthetics and nuance from each of our students.”
“Remember the Name” began with students banging books against desks, then using zippers, drinking straws, and other unique forms of percussion to serve as the background to the coaches’ rendition of the melody. The song crescendoed to a solo violin performance from concertmaster Ashanti Ross, before the screen went dark.
Next came the film scores. In one, music trilled as Aladdin and Jasmine flew across the screen on their magic carpet. They dove under an arch, and the music swooped along with them. The pair shot into the night sky. As they glided majestically among the stars, the music soared up with them, as if the melody itself gave them the power of flight.
TYO finished with a poignant rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Adagio. Jeniffer, a violinist and rising junior, said that this was her favorite piece to perform.
“It was long, and it was one of the hardest pieces we played. I think I did fifty retakes,” she said.
Reflecting on a full year of Zoom rehearsals, TYO faculty fellow Anna Lim shared, “Every other week we started rehearsals with an ice-breaker—some of them were pretty goofy, and others more creative. It helped us to stay connected to each other even through the remote medium of Zoom.”
According to Chen, who also serves as TAP Program Manager, the showcase “serves as a reminder of the resilience of the arts and of our community. In a post-pandemic world, we will look back on this performance as an artifact of an incredibly difficult, yet still creatively generative time.”