Barjche, you say? The history of the modern dance production at ISU

Tonight Orchesis I, ISU’s modern dance company, presents Barjche, the company’s annual modern dance production. The performance has a long history at ISU. Let’s see what we can find in the archives about it, shall we?

Program for first Barjche production in 1944. RS 10/7/3, Box 2, Folder 11.

Program for first Barjche production in 1944. RS 10/7/3, Box 2, Folder 11.

The first production

First things first. What’s up with the name?!? Barjche (pronounced “bar-shay”), came from combining the initials of the officers of the Women’s Dance Club in 1944, the year of the inaugural performance. The dance was initially performed as part of the VEISHEA celebrations, though later on it became a separate event, performed at different times over the years during winter quarter.  The first production included two original dance-dramas, “The Shakers” and “This Life.”

Inside of the program from the 1944 Barjche. RS 10/7/3, box 2, folder 11.

Inside of the program from the 1944 Barjche. RS 10/7/3, box 2, folder 11.

In a letter to the editor of The Iowa Stater from May 1987, Trymby Calhoun Stickels, the president of the dance club in 1944, describes her contributions to the production:

Letter to the Editor of The Iowa Stater, May 1987. RS 10/7/51, Box 3, Folder3.

Letter to the Editor of The Iowa Stater, May 1987. RS 10/7/51, Box 3, Folder3.

“I was a better writer than a dancer, so Miss Moomaw [the club’s advisor] asked me to write a story line and she did the choreography for one of our big numbers. It was based on the Shaker religious group, and, of course, had all the drama that a strict religious theme could offer. Men and women were forbidden to have any contact with each other so we had a forbidden love story and a big tragic ending. It was great fun!” –Stickels, Trymby (Tim) Calhoun. “The ‘c’ in Barjche.” The Iowa Stater May 1987: 9.

Betty Toman

Betty Toman dancing, 1988. Betty Toman Papers, RS 10/7/51, box 4, folder 12.

Betty Toman, 1988. Betty Toman Papers, RS 10/7/51, box 4, folder 12.

One person who has had a significant impact on Barjche is Betty Toman. Toman came to ISU in 1948 as a dance instructor and later became a professor in the Department of Physical Eduction. She served as Barjche’s director for 22 years, eventually expanding the production to include students from three departments: theater, dance, and music. In 1965, she took over advising the dance club, which became known as Orchesis. Orchesis I continues to produce Barjche today.

Barjche production, 1967. University Photograph Collection, box 804.

Barjche production, 1967. University Photograph Collection, box 804.

Although most of the dance pieces in Barjche were choreographed by students, over the years Betty Toman also brought in well-known professional dancers as guest choreographers. One of these was Bill Evans, who was commissioned to choreograph a piece for Barjche 1975 called “Salt Lake City Rag.”

Photograph and program for "Salt Lake City Rag" by Bill Evans, 1975. From RS 10/7/3 and RS 10/7/51.

Photograph and program for “Salt Lake City Rag” by Bill Evans, 1975. From RS 10/7/3 and RS 10/7/51.

More information about Barjche and Orchesis I can be found in the Orchesis Records, RS 10/7/3, and in the Betty Toman Papers, RS 10/7/51. Stop by Special Collections to check them out!

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