For members of Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT), the ever-evolving creative and technical processes that go into choreography are given equal levity to the performance itself. For their debut performance of the year, VRDT will premiere original works of student choreography followed by a dialogue between the dancers, professors and audience members regarding the choreography exhibited.
VRDT’s “First Showings” will shift the company’s season into high gear. In their debut performance, VRDT will solely exhibit pieces of student-based choreography. First Showings pays special attention to these student choreographers, who will be able to workshop their pieces in an informal setting. Alaina Wilson ’16, who will be debuting a piece at the show, said “For First Showings, it’s important for the audience to remember that they are seeing works in progress. First Showings is a time for the student choreographers to show small pieces of their work, discuss their ideas and get feedback for moving forward.”
The feedback the dancers will receive after the performance is crucial to the 2014-2015 repertoire of original student choreography. Nate Wulff ’15, who will be debuting his piece, said, “First Showings allows audience members to see the process of creating pieces. The student choreographers show a segment of their work without costumes or lighting and follow that up by discussing the themes, moods or concepts they’re approaching with their work. The dance department and audience members can also offer questions or comments to the choreographers.”
First Showing’s interactive approach allows students to develop their pieces before they are necessarily ready to be performed in a more formal setting. Kerri-Anne Bell ’17 will be exhibiting “Xamayca”—her second ever work of choreography—at the show. She said, “I’m still figuring out all the logistics of creating a piece. I call it a piece because to me it’s not just a dance. It’s me being able to showcase my thoughts or feelings on something through the use of wonderfully talented dancers. My process was simple: think of a concept, find a song that matches it and play with what my body does naturally to that music.”
For her piece, Bell intends to give VRDT dancers equal footing within the creative process. She said, “When working on special parts, solos, duets, etc., I like to develop that choreography with the dancers because it is theirs. Although it’s my choreography, it’s their moment on stage so I want it to feel natural for their bodies. I’m also very organized, so I have a plan for each rehearsal and, luckily, rehearsals have been going seemingly productive[ly].”
Each piece that is to be performed at First Showings involves an entirely creative process. While Bell utilizes a collaborative approach to creating her piece, Wulff leaves his choreography organic. “While I enter into the process with a vision for tone and spatial composition, my pieces develop through workshopping movement with my dancers through improvisation or creating movement on the spot,” he said. “I also try to avoid choreographing to counts or words, so that the dance engages the music in a dialogue that, hopefully, creates an interesting synthesis. For these kinds of works, my casts depend on their bonds to experiment with movements and to perform in unison with minimal musical cues.”
In addition to serving to the choreographic process, First Showings will display what is to come for VRDT’s 2014-2015 season. “VRDT this year has a more exuberant overall energy in the company. The student choreography pieces encompass a broad spectrum of emotions expressed through movement and display our dancers’ versatility,” said Carmen Kloer ’17.
Due to the constant ebb and flow of VRDT members, the company will look quite different than it did just a semester ago. In addition to losing seniors and gaining freshman dancers, a large number of last year’s VRDT dancers are currently abroad. This makes for a company that displays different styles, experiences and approaches to dance than seasons past. “Because of those changes, the tone of the group is completely new. More of the works have a contemporary and ballet dynamic than previous years. And we have two pieces with Caribbean dance influences, created by Kerri Bell and Ally Hamilton [‘15], so it’s definitely not the same VRDT show people have experienced the past few years,” said Wulff.
Although seeing dancers come and go is not always easy for VRDT members, it allows for new members to try on different hats within the company. For Bell, getting the chance to choreograph allows her to explore her identity through dance: “Dancing is a big part of my life. Actually, it is my life and being an international student it’s nice to have found a home away from home within the dance community. I’m a member of the Company Dance Theatre in Jamaica and being able to be a part of VRDT, to still have a feel of ‘the company’ life, reminds me so much of home,” she said.
VRDT’s First Showings will take place Wednesday, Oct. 15 at 4:30 p.m. in Kenyon’s Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater.