May 29, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford athletes are familiar with performing in front of crowds, but not like this.
On Wednesday night, the Cardinal men's volleyball team will perform in front of a much different audience than the boisterous and eccentrically-costumed contingent that often shows up at its home games at Maples Pavilion. This one will be much quieter and much better dressed.
On the stage at Bing Auditorium at 8 p.m., the 18 players and one coach of the men's volleyball team will be among 70 faculty, staff, and students to perform in The Body Symphonic: Stanford. They are part of a movement-based orchestral work directed by visiting artist Ann Carlson.
The performance is made up of gestures used in the daily lives of those in the Stanford community, choreographed into a free-flowing synchronized manner. Men's volleyball is the only athletic team performing, and it is doing so with 100 percent participation and even an assistant coach, Daniel Rasay, taking part.
"Stanford offers us so much," Stanford men's volleyball coach John Kosty said. "And when we have opportunities to go outside our comfort zone, we have to take advantage of them. That's how we grow as people and as a team."
The inclusion of the volleyball team actually was a mistake. Carlson walked into Maples for what she thought was a basketball game. Instead, she walked into a men's volleyball match ... "and loved it," she said.
"At the time, I wasn't thinking about the Symphonic Body," she wrote in an e-mail. "But as soon as I watched them play and the movements/gestures they did between plays, or on the bench, or listening to their coach or coming on and off the court, I was hooked.
"I was enamored by their movements, the little twitchy things, the big slams and different shots, and the dives - but particularly the personalized gestures of camaraderie, the signs and signals that keep them united as a team."
The longer Carlson watched, the more she realized she would like to "mine" their gestures, paying attention to the movements that melt into others while adapting and adjusting during the course of the match - just like in the Symphonic Body.
"I was enamored with their movements. As soon as I watched them play, I was hooked."
- Director Ann Carlson
"I knew I wanted the audience to experience the energy and focus and twitches and signals that I had seen," she wrote.
Stanford athletics administrator Jenny Claypool helped connect Carlson to the team and Kosty was on board from the start. He invited her to practice, where she gathered even more ideas.
Together, they brainstormed on possible movements. She asked for them to demonstrate their routines from a typical match, and even a vocal call. Eventually, their original ideas led to others and the performance became a fluid projection of how they perform on the court.
Even when the team was gathering for its stretch run to the season, it began to meet for 30 minutes a week on the court after practice with Carlson.
"I want to say John Kosty was so enthusiastic from the beginning that he inspired me," she wrote. "He was fantastic in rallying the team, getting them comfortable with the possibility of participating - no one was required to participate. John was a tremendous force for me in this. Upbeat and enthusiastic, supportive, focused ... I couldn't ask for anything better."
Kosty didn't force every player to participate, but said they would have to provide him with a convincing argument if they chose not to. No such conversations ever took place, meaning all 18 players agreed to take part, including All-America hitters Brian Cook and Steven Irvin, and junior national team setter James Shaw.
What can one expect from the performance?
"It's unusual," Carlson wrote. "It's in silence. It isn't a play, or a dance or a piece of music. It's a small window into the activity and passion and work that makes Stanford what it is.
"I'm so pleased to have the Stanford men's volleyball team as part of it. I've so enjoyed them."
Kosty has a tough decision to make. His daughter is performing in a spring concert at the same time. Kosty, however, said he will be at Bing.
"I have two families," he said. "And I can't pass up the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see my volleyball family on the big stage."
-- By David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics