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Rose Pilato, a junior from Redding, Conn., and a graduate of Joel Barlow High School, recently had the distinctive opportunity of collaborating with innovative and acclaimed choreographer and dancer Molissa Fenley in a performance at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Having performed at Lafayette in 1991 with Philip Glass, Fenley returned to the Williams Center Nov. 3 with a dynamic range of multidisciplinary ventures. Her performance combined post-modern choreography with world music, sculpture, and poetry. Among her guests was Senegal-born kora artist Foday Musa Suso, widely known in this country through his active touring schedule as a world music artist and award-winning recording projects with Glass and the Kronos Quartet.

Fenley’s program also incorporated the sculpture of Carol Hepper, whose exhibition of recent work Reverse Osmosis is on display in the Williams Center through November 19. Hepper’s shimmering design elements and Fenley’s elegantly organic movement ideas blended together in “Island,” one of the choreographer’s most accomplished works.

To cap off the evening, Fenley performed “Ceremony,” which featured Pilato reading the writings of the award-winning Native American poet Joy Harjo.

“It went really well,” says Pilato, an English major with a theater concentration. “I was definitely nervous to work with such a professional and acclaimed artist, but I was pleased with how things turned out.”

Harjo herself had been scheduled to collaborate with Fenley but was unavailable to read at the Friday evening performance. It was Ellis Finger, director of the Williams Center, who suggested a Lafayette student take on the role.

“Rose is very active in many productions at the Williams Center and came highly recommended,” Finger says. “I knew she had a background both in dance and theater. I was confident she would be able to rise to this unique artistic challenge in a professional way.”

To prepare for the show, Pilato traveled to New York to view a Fenley performance.

“I went to the city to see her perform and to become familiar with her style of dance,” says Pilato. “Then we did a run-through on Thursday, the night before the Williams Center performance. It was very rewarding.”

Working with Fenley gave Pilato a first-hand view of a professional artist’s vision and work.

“This was my first time working in a professional production and my first chance to branch out from college theater,” she says. She was particularly pleased to “push the boundaries” of her conventional theater background through working with an artist with an eclectic vision.

“To work in the atmosphere created by Molissa was really incredible. Even though I knew I wasn’t the focus of attention – I felt more like a musical instrument accompanying her – the experience made me re-think the whole concept of acting and roles and what constitutes a performance,” she says.

“She didn’t have a big ego, but she clearly is talented and has led an incredible life,” Pilato continues. “During the rehearsal, her attitude was, ‘Let’s get to it, let’s go to work.’ It was definitely a growing experience.”

Pilato, who has future aspirations to pursue acting and the performance arts, found this experience and her time with theater at Lafayette to be beneficial training ground for future forays.

“I feel honored to have been selected for this role. The relationship I have with the Williams Center staff is really a gift. I have nothing but praise for the theater department at Lafayette. All of the staff are complete professionals. I think that is evidenced by the fact that Working was singled out in a competition which included colleges from Washington, D.C., through New England,” she says.

Lafayette College Theater’s 1999 production of Working, a musical adapted from Studs Terkel’s prize-winning book, was selected to participate in the 32nd annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, which recognizes the finest work produced in college theater programs nationally.

Directed by Michael O’Neill, Lafayette’s director of theater, Working was one of only five productions chosen from among more than 90 shows at mid-Atlantic schools to participate in ACTF’s Region II festival in January.

While Lafayette does not have a theater department (the English department offers both a drama/theater concentration within the English major and a drama/theater minor), Pilato sees this as no drawback. In fact, she says, the school’s breadth strengthens the theater program.

“It’s true that Lafayette isn’t as big as other schools in regard to theater, but there are a lot of smart actors here,” she says. “I think the students’ diverse backgrounds, say as history or engineering majors, play into the performances here.”

In addition to work with the theater department, Pilato is scholarship chair at Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

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