A student cramming before a math exam rabbit–holes into a calculator, like Alice falling into Wonderland. He meets "Derivative", "Sigma", and "Integral," each representing the past, present, and future respectively in a mathematical parody of the Three Ghosts in "A Christmas Carol." He pleads with them for advice in his search for infinite wisdom; each responds with cryptic math puns that draw laughter from anyone who has ever had to come in contact with calculus. Failing in his search for endless knowledge, he lays down to sleep as members of Penn Glee come on–stage, belting out a live band rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. "Is this the real life, or is this fantasy..." bounces off the theater walls and echoes among the rafters, as if to comment on the mind bending quality of its preceding act. As absurd as the number was, it encapsulated the core of this two–hour performance presented by Penn Dance and Penn Glee Club.
Titled Recalculating, the show was the 17th annual collaborative performance between the two performing arts groups. According to the brochure, this year focused "on the sense of adventure that invariably strikes us all at some time or another." An artistic commentary on traversing time and space, be it "road trips with friends, journeys of the heart, walks down memory lane, or travels through time...", Recalculating called into mind our own quests for direction in life, the way a compass needle scrambles in search of reorientation to the North. Unsteady, unsure, we spin; in this respect, the show served as a reflection of our own ups and downs through a performance of a capella, instrumentals, and choreographed dance.
Act One was the "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" by Penn Glee Club. Sung in commemoration of the late Bruce Montgomery, a former director of Glee Club described as "one of the most influential" and who arranged the piece, the song was a blend of genres, as "some consider it a Negro spiritual, many consider it a gospel song, and others consider it a folk song." Regardless of classification, the music was equally chilling. The singers stood in beige pants and dark blazers, lined in rows with heads bowed low but voices ringing, their layered vocals flowing over the audience in waves. "I'm just a–going over home" they sang, slow and resigned like a road weary traveller might, dragging out a sigh from deep within his bones. Even as the last lamenting notes are drawn out, they hung in the silence.
The next act saw "When I see an Elephant Fly" from "Dumbo" by the Penn Pipers, a subset of Penn Glee. A challenging piece of music that was originally sung in the movie by "anthropomorphized crows that some believe to be a stereotypical representation of African Americans," the song outlives its prejudiced context and remains a valued work of art. Unaccompanied by instrumentals and unadorned by dance, Penn Glee's take had a casual, almost conversational quality. While one singer dragged out a note, others joined in with harmonized snippets. As this note ended, another would spring up, loud and clear. There was never a moment when only one uniform word or note was heard. Like scattered pieces of dialogue, each strand of vocals was inconstant and seemingly nonsensical on its own, but together they fit like pieces in a puzzle; they made sense, they made music.
A work by both Penn Dance and Penn Glee Club Band, "Adventure across the floor: A kitchy tale of four" was a comical piece of well—choreographed music and motion. Dressed in suits, three dancers pushed, pulled, and posed their way across stage, their motions jaunty and comedic to the soloist's lulling rendition of "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien." "No, I regret nothing...", he exclaims in French, accompanied by the band's boisterous riot. Sporting a bow tie and sunglasses, he stands separate from the three members of Penn Dance, whose choreography calls into mind a coordination of clockwork—one's movements tip off the motion of another, who in turn reacts on the third, each ticking in time to the song's humorous rhythm.
Drawing the show altogether was the final piece "Dancing in the Moonlight" by both Penn Dance and Penn Glee. Dressed in jeans and brightly colored T–shirts, all of them came onstage in one last vibrant riot. Together they sang, loud and resonant. Together they danced, grins on their faces as they broke out in grand jetés, needles, and back flips. The show, like all adventures no matter how big or small, had come to an end. Everyone linked arms together onstage, raised their hands up, and took a bow to our strident smattering of applause.