Out of the darkness come six beats of wood against metal. Eight more progressively louder beats and the stage lights come on, revealing 13 percussionists and dancers. Philippe Celestin stands in the middle, dressed in the sweatpants he wears to soccer practice, powerfully drumming on two overturned trash cans. The capacity crowd erupts.
Philippe Celestin gathers the ball with his left foot in full stride. At full speed, he makes two touches with his right foot. He throws his whole body to the left and with his right foot quickly taps the ball to the right. One hard strike and the ball rockets into the back of the net. The capacity crowd erupts.
The roving spotlight certainly found the Swarthmore College junior this past weekend. On Friday, the center midfielder missed the second half of the Swarthmore soccer team's first-round NCAA Division III tournament game to perform a stomp percussion dance piece. The next night, he was back on the field, scoring the game-winning goal in sudden-death overtime - his first goal of the season - to send the Garnet to the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row with the 2-1 win over Hobart.
The team will face Transylvania University tomorrow at 5 p.m. at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. The quarterfinal game is Saturday at 6, with a trip to the final four at stake.
The soccer team has been integral to the tradition of the stomp piece in Rhythm and Motion. Yoi Tibbets, who graduated last spring, codirected the first stomp piece in the fall of 2007. There was no conflict that year, because Swarthmore didn't make the NCAA tournament.
Tibbets got fellow soccer players Chris Szeto and Dylan Langley to participate in a piece in the spring of 2008. Last year, in anticipation of a successful senior season, Tibbets decided to do a piece in the spring.
"I can't imagine doing stomp and soccer at the same time, not to mention academics," Tibbets said. "Philippe is super dedicated and hardworking, and his time and effort has clearly paid off."
Coach Eric Wagner has grown familiar with the dance group over the years because of his players' involvement. "I have strong respect and admiration for Rhythm and Motion," he said of the troupe. "It's a big deal, everyone on campus has been to a performance at least once.
"Philippe is so good at controlling tempo, that when he is in the game, the team calms down and possesses the ball better," Wagner said.
The move that created the goal was the body fake to the left. "The feint worked, because I put my whole body into it and did it in the rhythm of the game, just as the defender started to step to me," Celestin said.
For Celestin, the ball and the beat have always been intertwined. Celestin's father, Flaubert, grew up in Haiti, where he developed a passion for soccer and Caribbean music. At early father-son practice sessions, Flaubert Celestin taught his son to dance up and down the field, shaking his hips and moving his whole body with every step. "He taught me to move fluidly and to embrace the rhythm of the game," Philippe Celestin said.
Although he played in pep, jazz, march, concert and church bands during his high school years, the only instruments Celestin uses in the stomp piece are sticks, plastic buckets, metal trash cans, and his hands and feet.
"Stomp is a representation that music is accessible to anyone, anytime," he said. "Percussionists can make music anywhere."
It was the intense dedication to both groups that made the decision on Friday especially hard. In the end, Celestin chose to leave the game at halftime to get to Rhythm and Motion. "I had personally asked [the dancers] to help complete my dream and they had put in so much time that I couldn't back out on them," he said.
Despite the intense pressures to win, the team accepted the decision. Coach Wagner was at first concerned about missing a key player for the most important game of the season and tried to change the game time. When Rhythm and Motion pushed the performance back to allow Celestin to attend the first half, Wagner realized "we both got him for as much as we could. We both gave a little and allowed him to do both. I'm very happy for him."