Young Choreographer’s Showcase 2017
The University of Oklahoma’s School of Dance is home to nationally recognized programs in Ballet and Modern Dance performance. However, its lesser known choreography program takes center stage every January as students come together to create the Young Choreographer’s Showcase. The 2017 YCS lineup consisted of 9 pieces choreographed, costumed, lit and performed by students.
The stage is barely lit. All you can see is a deep magenta backdrop. Suddenly quiet giggles and loud stomping fill the air as 5 silhouettes race across the stage, flowing dresses and loose hair flying against the movement of the running figures. A moment later another silhouette speeds by, chasing the first runners. Thus begins junior Modern Dance major Bethany Raley’s playful contemporary piece, “Who’s It?”
OU Modern Dance freshmen Joi Yvonne, Hannah Knorr, Alma Cienski and Korinne Manjarres performed alongside junior Megan Watson and senior Meagan Feil in this bright narrative piece. The choreography took the conceptual movement of a commonplace event, a game of tag, and transformed it into a fun, fast-paced performance.
Junior ballet and math major Amber Bailey choreographed a haunting piece characterized by jerking movement and menacing music that rose in pitch and tempo throughout the balletic piece. The jerky port de bras contrasted the neat and constant bourrées creating the eerie semblance of limbs working independently of bodies.
“Entropy” is well named as the piece begins with five ballerinas in pointe shoes, piled haphazardly together in the middle of the stage, only to rise and spread out, their synchronized movements becoming more syncopated throughout the duration of the piece, until they finally collapse back into the position they began in when the music concludes its frantic climb in a sudden volta that leaves the audience breathing just as hard as the dancers.
The Giving Tree
Modern dance senior Tessa Gidesh received the 2017 OU School of Dance award in contemporary choreography for her piece “the Giving Tree” featuring Modern Dance sophomore Gianna Hagnell and senior Billi Marder. The modern pas de deux sees the two women playing off each other, utilizing the entirety of the stage with contrasting movements and coming together for interesting and intricate lifts, one of which requires the dancers to balance back to back while shifting a fluid skirt from one to the other. The skirt served to differentiate the dancers who were otherwise dressed in matching lace floral leotards. As it switches from one character to the other, the piece takes on a mirror-like aspect seeming to reverse in on itself and take the audience through the looking glass.
Ballet senior Briget Polei choreographed “Migration” for three women after taking inspiration from Su Rynard’s documentary about birds. “The Messenger” unravels the relationship between people and birds and the long-term effects of man-made pollution on avian populations. Polei’s piece featured floating grand jetés and fluid port de bras, decisively birdlike movements, and choreography that was reminiscent of great ballets like Stravinsky’s Firebird and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Polei said her choreography combined “the gracefulness of ballet and the beauty of birds to personify the struggles songbirds face as they migrate.” Every creative aspect of the piece hearkened to the natural world, from the makeup and movement to the lighting’s cool colors and floating costumes.
Between the big hair, electrifying makeup, bright costumes, synth pop rhythms and literal disco ball, Modern Dance junior Ali Lane’s “Funky Fresh” promised to deliver a fun 70s vibe and upbeat choreography. The dancer/choreographer delivered on that promise, dancing alongside her peers in the modern dance department: seniors Tessa Gidesh and Meagan Feil, junior Infiniti Eaglin and freshman Korinne Manjarres.
The piece offered a sense of relief after the series of darker, more balletic pieces. Lane’s work showcased a mature blend of modern dance and pop choreography infused with era-inspired movement. Leading up to the showcase Lane not only worked on her choreography with OU’s Modern Dance professors, Austin Hartel and Roxanne Lyst, but at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow summer intensive as well. This extra training was evident in the work.
Ballet pedagogy senior Isaac Martinez’s contemporary ballet piece begins with 6 silhouettes lined up against a deep, oceanic blue. The dancers move their arms in positions reminiscent of Odissi, a classical style of ritual dance from eastern India. From the front, they look like one, many armed, performer. As the light rises, the row of silhouettes splits into three couples and the rest of the piece maintains a tight focus on a mix of contemporary and classically balletic partnering. Junior Robert Montgomery and sophomore Lauren Peterson pair on the right while junior Joseph Van Harn and senior Bridget Polei dance stage left.
The couples maintain mostly synchronized choreography and offer symmetry on either side of freshman Micah Bullard and sophomore Carlie Preskitt who pair beautifully at center stage. Toward the end of the piece senior Brittany Gillet turns through the couples as the cool lighting of the entire piece suddenly rises to deep, warm sunset colors.
“Dread” offers a switch from the mostly technical choreography that dominates the show as it offers some narrative through a heavily character driven approach to an emotional solo.
The piece was borne of collaboration between choreographer Amanda Evans and dancer Brittany Bonefas. The spare lighting and makeup leave only Evans’ exquisite, back bending choreography and Bonefas’ talented acting chops in the stark spotlight. Dread is the only piece in the show to use a prop, a generic gray, metal chair that adds to the cold, lonely atmosphere projected by an almost empty stage.
Where I Belong
Modern dance majors Megan Watson, Nicole Young, Korinne Manjarres and Bethany Raley came together in Kessa Fehring’s piece that made ingenious use of the marriage of choreography and costume. The dancers’ chiffon skirts came alive through choreography rife with grand battement’s and attitude pirouettes. Fehring’s piece is a collaborative work that takes the material art of fashion and presents it through the medium of movement. The natural movement is complemented by simple geometry as the dancers run to the corners of the stage and perform parallel to each other in a square before coming back together and linking hands in a circle raised into demi pointe. The deep colors of the dresses and dark lighting grant the piece an autumnal feeling and helps lead the show into its close well.
We Move Lightly
Ballet senior Ashley Coffin’s piece is a journey in synthesis. The 6 dancers represent an amalgam of the School of Dance. The piece features ballet and modern dance majors. The style of the choreography itself is indefinable, as it seems to utilize equal parts ballet and modern movement. The main coupling between Micah Bullard and Kessa Fehring itself exemplifies the coalescing of these styles of dance as Bullard, a ballet freshman, and Fehring, a modern dance senior, work together in a pas de deux that’s reminiscent of the push and pull of magnets as the dancers come together and separate throughout the piece. Coffin’s piece last year was set on 5 women, and this year, with the addition of Bullard, she has not only grown her cast, but done so with the added challenge of choreographing on a male for the first time.