This past weekend, the Columbia University Performing Arts League (CUPAL) presented The Simon Suites, an original contemporary-theatrical dance performance with music by Paul Simon.

I first heard about The Simon Suites when I attended the CUPAL Showcase in February. The cast put on a captivating dance performance of Paul Simon’s “Wristband,” telling a story of an artist who can’t get into their own show because they don’t have a wristband. I was left completely amazed by the end of their piece, determined to see the full show. 

This past Friday, April 7, I attended the opening performance of The Simon Suites in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre. Upon walking in, I felt immediately transported to the 1970s. The set featured colorful artwork and vintage furniture, complete with posters of artists such as Patti Smith and The Doors. The cast was also dressed in 70s attire, from colorful blazers and headscarves to flowy dresses and matching two-piece sets. Although the songs featured in this production spanned several decades of Simon’s career, the 70s is the era Simon is most often associated with. 

As I watched the production, I was surprised by the level of innovation that was involved. For example: while Paul Simon’s songs were being broadcasted on the speakers, a drummer (Mikey Manasseh, CC ’23) and bassist (Terry Foley, GS ’24) provided supplemental instrumentation. The incorporation of live music was a tasteful choice, highlighting another art form to augment the dancing, soundtrack, costumes, and set design. Speaking of, the set was often changed in order to reflect the stories being told by each song. Each small detail of the set was deliberately chosen and creatively altered to reflect the nuances of the songs. The audience was further impressed by the frequent costume changes, which occurred extremely quickly.  

The Simon Suites was a collection of 12 Paul Simon songs curated to illustrate the ups and downs of two tumultuous relationships. The first song, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” was a magnificent start to the show, introducing the character of Lorraine (Melañia Horowitz, CC ’26). Attention to detail was apparent—Lorraine had actual diamonds glued to her shoes, attracting much cheer from the audience (along with impressive ensemble coordination). “Wristband” was again a major highlight, drawing attention to the solo fortés of Polly (Annika Voorheis, BC ’24) and Frank (Milo Docher, BC ‘23). Each small prop and set item was chosen to fit the lyrics’ story, such as the physical wristbands, fake cigarette, and stage door. 

The main relationship the show focused on was that of Polly (Voorheis) and Peg (Pimprenelle Behaeghel, BC ’24). “Have a Good Time” illustrated the beginning of their relationship. Polly’s magnetic dancing and imitated guitar solo charmed Peg, leading to their engagement. Throughout their time together, Polly seemed to have become suffocated by the relationship, asking for help in “Allergies” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” In “Allergies,” Voorheis shined as Polly, reflecting a simultaneously terrified and infuriated look in her eyes that she managed to convey in tandem with her complicated choreography. In “You’re the One,” Polly and Peg reached their final straw, culminating when Peg returned her ring for good. The audience let out sighs of despair when the ring was returned, which unfortunately was undercut by laughs let out moments earlier when Peg angrily blew her hair out of her face. 

Peg watches Polly.

The second main relationship was that of Frank (Docher) and Lorraine (Horowitz). After falling for each other in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and getting married, Lorraine doubted the relationship and decided she wanted to leave Frank (“Darling Lorraine”). It’s intriguing that The Simon Suites portrayed the courses of two failed relationships, verging away from the typical successful romantic narrative that stories tend to tell. 

Throughout the performance, I and the rest of the audience were highly impressed by the innovative and energetic choreography. Julia Ruth Patella (BC ’25) not only directed The Simon Suites but choreographed it as well. Each movement was extremely fluid; everyday actions were made eloquent and artistic. The dancers seemed to be truly enjoying their choreography, creating a greater sense of community and fun for the audience to join in on. 

Cast dancing.

About halfway through, the musicians and dancers left the stage, creating space for an audio recording where Paul Simon explained his creative process during the making of the album Graceland (“The Story of Graceland”). This interlude felt a bit out of place, as the curated songs ranged from Simon’s entire discography, and the recording took away from the focus on the dancers. Additionally, it felt like the implementation of Simon’s voice broke the fourth wall, intruding on the fictional story that was being told through his music. Nonetheless, this recording definitely still provided greater context to the impressive caliber and complexity of Simon’s music—it just may have been better placed at the beginning of the production rather than in the middle. 

Overall, it was fascinating to watch a narrative dance performance that drew solely from Paul Simon’s songs. This made me wonder: Why did they choose the Simon songs that they did? How did they come up with these particular stories? I would have loved to have read an explanation of the creative process behind The Simon Suites and the motivating factors behind its conception. In the end, this production was extremely successful, highlighting incredible dance performances, impressive artistic design, and powerful music. The Simon Suites calls attention to the remarkable intersections between music and dance, as well as the vibrant stories that can be told through them. 

From top to bottom, left to right: Annika Voorheis (BC ’24), Rosalind Jewett (BC ’24), Kiley Malloy (BC ’24), Milo Docher (BC ‘23), Melañia Horowitz (CC ’26), Quinn Manning (CC ’25), Olivia Kuan-Romano (BC ’26), Pimprenelle Behaeghel (BC ’24).
Cast during “Dazzling Blue.”
Cast during “Wristband.”
The Simon Suites promotional photo.

The Simon Suites Set by Deputy News Editor Emma Burris

Other Photos by Emily Lord (SEAS ’23)