Innovative, diverse, and relevant new works by CSU dance faculty and student choreographers are featured throughout the 2019 Spring Dance Concert, directed by dance professor Chung-Fu Chang and showing at the University Center for the Arts April 26-27.
The in-house showcase of student-performed solo, duet, and group pieces represents a wide range of topics, from anguish and distress to immigration to the joy of dance.
The compact process of creating, auditioning, and selecting student choreography takes place the first month of spring semester as students choreograph as much of a complete piece as they can and then present it to faculty.
“Faculty deliberate the auditions, and if accepted into the concert, the students are assigned to a faculty mentor,” explains Emily Morgan, director of dance. “The mentor works with the student to help them realize their vision and make the strongest piece they can in this moment.”
Topics include immigration
A very special student-created work is La Migración es Hermosa by Samantha Lewis, who strove to make her piece about a clear current issue. The junior dance major interviewed immigrants, both documented and undocumented, creating movement material to accompany the narrative, even weaving interview audio into her music. “She’s been very thoughtful about her approach to it, and it is very reflective of her international background,” Morgan says of the powerful and very personal piece.
With Morgan as her mentor, Lewis’ work benefitted from her professor’s feedback. “As a choreographer, it’s important to receive feedback from a third party — it helps you gauge how your piece will read to audience members,” she says about the dance inspired by the “Keep Families Together” march Lewis attended at the state Capitol last semester.
“I saw a pin with a monarch butterfly that read, ‘Migration is Beautiful.’ It got me thinking about our current political climate and the way people view immigrants, especially immigrants of color,” she explains. Because Lewis’ parents emigrated from South America — her dad is Guyanese, and her mom is Colombian — she feels especially connected to the stories and challenges immigrants face. “I hope to use this piece to challenge the way people view Latinx immigrants and offer an alternate perspective from the people we don’t always hear from.”
Additionally, the dance is a celebration of the rich and beautiful Latin culture. The core of Lewis’ music is an old Colombian folk rhythm layered with portions of her interviews with Latinx community members. “Four brave, generous people agreed to let me record an interview with them regarding their migration from their various Latin American countries to the United States. I did my best to artfully arrange sound segments that stood out to me into a sort of sound collage. And voila! My score was born.”
“I’m so excited to see how the piece is received and can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve been working on,” says Lewis.
Something for all
Over the years, dance concerts have often incorporated a theme, yet this time, the absence of a pre-planned thread has yielded “something for everyone,” as the concert and pieces are very diverse. “I think it’s exciting that in terms of emotional content, there is a wide scope,” says Morgan. “Modern dance can be so dark and angsty and dramatic — and we have some of that — but we also have some very lighthearted pieces. Add to that dances that are addressing current issues, like immigration, and there is quite a range here.”
For more than 30 years, original faculty choreography has been a much-anticipated component of CSU dance concerts.
Reconfigure, by ballet professor Madeline Harvey, is a 21-minute, performed by 15 dancers in total, set to the music of Bobby McFerrin. “It’s very upbeat and perky and also very thoughtful,” comments Morgan, who particularly enjoys a trio section with quirky movements and unexpected interchanges and exchanges between the dancers.
Dance instructor Matthew Harvey choreographed Pendula, a piece constantly transitioning between chaos and order. Morgan is taken with the range of influences from jazz and social dance to ballet. “The piece really shows off Matthew’s unique background and incorporates an interesting range of music, from jazz to contemporary, in there,” Morgan adds.
For her second work choreographed for CSU dancers, Morgan is excited to present Grit, a piece set to contemporary music composed by Paul Wiancko, and performed by the Aizuri Quartet, called LIFT Part I. The large group of dancers performs to the chaotic and fragmented music holding 10-inch square welded boxes covered in plexiglass. “Throughout the piece, the dancers manipulate the gorgeous boxes. They create barriers and openings and opportunities with them,” says Morgan.
The group performed Grit at the American College Dance Association regional conference in March “That was the first time we performed the pieces, and they gave us excellent suggestions about the ending and an idea about how to make it more cohesive. It is exciting that we had the chance to come back and make it better and give the dancers more time to use the boxes.”
Morgan also recalls how much the adjudicators loved the design and construction of the boxes but were surprised about their weight. “The boxes are extraordinarily heavy,” says Morgan. “There are moments when I’m watching the dancers and you would have no idea that they are lifting such heavy objects and dancing with them at the same time.”
According to Morgan, the first time they ran the piece, by the end, the dancers were panting, and looked exhausted. “Since I am showing raw perseverance through the piece, it really speaks to their own perseverance, determination, and grit that they can dance with those heavy boxes.”
Additionally, Madeline Harvey coached the dancers on segments from the Classic Russian Ballet Don Quixote. Harvey’s interpretation after the choreography of Marius Petipa, the father of classical ballet, includes both the male and female variations, but the female role is sometimes shared as a duet or performed as a solo. “It’s a very exciting ballet…strong and accented,” adds Morgan.
A deeper look reveals how the concert reflects the current state of the dance division itself, as multiple large group works in the same concert would not be possible without recent growth and range of diversity. “We hit 50 dance majors this year,” says an enthusiastic Morgan. “And we have had more than 40 students audition for the fall semester, which is really exciting and reflects the expansion of the program and the overall excitement about studying dance in higher ed right now.”
In the course of the coming year, CSU Dance will experience substantial changes in the curriculum and the addition of new degrees. “I’m shooting for 75,” Morgan says of the number of students she expects to have in the major in the next couple of years.
Come be inspired by the versatility, athleticism, and expressiveness of the CSU student performers at the University Center for the Arts on Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Tickets are available at csuartstickets.com. Evening performance ticket prices: $18/adult; $16/seniors; $8/youth (under 18). Matinee: $10/general public anniversary price.