Traditionally, schools with strong dance programs offer the art form as a major. Students take classes, rehearse, perform and often live together. But Vassar’s program is different. Its company, the Vassar Repertory Dance Theater (VRDT), functions like many other extracurriculars on campus. But it also functions like many professional dance companies. The result is a dynamic company of student-performers, whose upcoming Final Showings explore a vast range of styles.
For company member Anna Beeman ’18, this balance between dance and school drew her to the group. She explained, “I wanted to be at a school where I didn’t have to be a dance major, but still could take advantage of the resources of a dance program like those of more conservatory based schools. This means…I can freely be taking classes or doing anything I really want in the dance department without having to be a major.”
Another company member Kibi Williams-Brown ’18 echoed Beeman’s appreciation of the program. “VRDT provides me with a space to pursue that passion [for dance] while still taking into account my academic studies. VRDT has gone above and beyond as to make me feel like I have a home at Vassar.”
Not having a dance major with its own requirements, also creates a strong bond between dancers and allows for more student creativity. Beeman continued, “We’re in the company because we love to dance and we want to spend time doing it…So it generates a community that is really supportive and here for the same reason. We’re not all just here because we’re on a track… it’s more about us really wanting to be here, and we were here because we were volunteering ourselves to do this more than saying, ‘oh, we have to be in this piece because it’s a requirement’…It gives us a lot of freedom with what we get to do.”
This freedom can be seen in the constantly-evolving company. Because members who go abroad can’t be a part of the company, VRDT’s membership changes greatly each year. “There are always turn-arounds,” said Beeman. “There are always new people in the company…You get to see new talent and different kinds of movement. So I think that’s really a great thing that it’s a rotating company. It’s not like a real company where you get hired and stay for eight years…It’s always changing. And if you’re a choreographer and want to do a certain piece, every year is going to be different, so you can see who’s there and look at the new talent of freshmen and be like, ‘wow, I’d really like to do a piece based on this.’”
For company member Kelsey Greenway ’16, having so many different dancers at her disposal was both a blessing and a curse when she set out to choreograph a piece for the upcoming Final Showings. She explained, “Choreographing for VRDT this year has been daunting and invigorating; daunting because we have a company of over 30 brilliant dancers at our disposal who we can choose to work with, and invigorating because they each bring such life and vigor to the work that they produce.”
Coupled with an emphasis on student talent, the group’s dynamic makeup leads to very different showings each year. The company performs First Showings earlier in the year and then spends the semester tweaking routines and practicing for Final Showings. At the end of the year, the company performs at the Bardavon Theater as a final showcase of the year’s work
For company member Juliet Weis ’18, VRDT’s showings provide a valuable opportunity for dancers and audience members to watch a piece come together. She explained, “In the First Showings, you just get a little taste at first and can really see the process. Continuing on with Final Showings and then going on to Bardavon next semester, you can really see a sort of evolution. People always say, ‘oh, you do the same pieces,’ but it’s actually a really great way to work on a piece and get it to a place where the choreographer wants it to be. With this showing, you can see it kind of three-fourths of the way there and then you’ll have the opportunity to see it even more finessed later on.”
The upcoming Final Showings will feature, among many other acts, a Modern Rep piece and music composed by Emmy award-winning artist Jeff Beal, who is also set to lecture on campus. “Everyone has worked so hard to put on a fantastic show. We’ve been working since early September to choreograph and clean pieces to perform,” explained company member Turner Hitt ’18.
Hitt continued, “Something different about this coming show is that because Steve Rooks is on sabbatical this semester, [Visiting Professor of Dance Miriam Mahdaviani-Goldstone] is choreographing the modern faculty piece alongside [Assistant Director of VRDT Katherine Wildberger], so that’s going to be something nice and unique about this show.”
Each year the company invites a choreographer to set a piece. The dancers in this year’s spent the majority of October Break on campus rehearsing. “We rehearsed from 10:30 to about 4 or 5 every day straight, one 30-minute break for Monday through Sunday so basically seven days. It was really intense and a lot of work but it was a great experience,” said Beeman.
“I wish I had stayed over break to be a part of it,” said Weis. “The Modern piece is really fascinating.” She joins performers in other faculty and student-choreographed pieces, ranging from contemporary ballet to hip-hop.
For her piece, Greenway said, “My piece this year is quirky, primal, a little over the top…and my cast has been so willing to delve into the quirks and eccentricities. We created a little world together and I’m excited to share that world with the audience.”