FlyPeople Fall Showcase: The Spirited Revival of In-Person Performances

Image courtesy of Lavanya Manickam

They had been practicing for weeks. From the moment they returned to campus from Thanksgiving break, to the day of their fall showcase, the members of the student-run dance group Flypeople rehearsed daily, refining their choreography to perfection. The notable time commitment—especially during finals season—was indeed fruitful, as not for a single moment was there a lull in the audience’s enthusiasm last Friday night. The entirety of the Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater knew it—this show was spectacular. 

On Dec. 3, 2021, Vassar’s oldest student-run dance group performed in front of a school-wide audience for the first time in two years. While an in-person FlyPeople show was able to be held at Walker Field House last spring, capacity was extremely limited due to COVID-19 protocols. Last academic year, FlyPeople operated mostly virtually, but held in-person socially distanced practices. Although the pandemic restricted the ability for the group to interact with the Vassar community physically, they ensured they would remain an active presence within it—recording, editing and posting music videos on their social media weekly. The members’ clear dedication to dance and to each other not only allowed the organization to continue to thrive during the pandemic, but is undoubtedly what made their showcase shine.

Image courtesy of Lavanya Manickam

Although the dancers’ talent is evident through the screen, there is nothing like seeing them perform in person. Finally, they were able to release the energy and expertise that had been accumulating over the year of being detached from large live audiences, a palpable liberation felt both on stage and in front of it. “I hate to say that it was surreal, but it truly was,” said the group’s artistic director Zoe Bauland ’22. Bauland is responsible for leading the company rehearsals every Sunday, while her right-hand partner Sofia Baah ‘21 handles the bigger picture responsibilities. “Even though we were in tech all week, every night, and even all day Friday leading up to the performance, it didn’t feel real until we were standing onstage in costume in the hours before the show. It brought back very familiar excitement and nerves like no time had passed at all,” she shared. 

Yet, any nerves that were felt by the performers were not observed by the audience at all. Only their excitement was reflected in the crowd, as the family members and friends watching were noticeably eager to see their loved ones dance again. Even prior to the theater’s beautiful and effective spotlights falling on the silhouettes on stage, the spectators cheered and hooted, keenly anticipating what was yet to come. 

The showcase consisted of eight performances, all choreographed by students themselves. For the powerful opening piece, Baah chose a piece named “Kinfolk.” It began on a dark stage, illuminated only by three golden spotlights distinctly set on three dancers. One by one, they allowed the music to carry their bodies, folding in and out with every guitar strum. As with many of the following pieces, dancers flitted on and off the stage as it continued, evoking new emotions with every set of students who commanded the floor. “Kinfolk” was created by the secretary of FlyPeople and a member of VRDT (Vassar’s Repertory Dance Theatre),  Lily Gee ’23, who has been dancing since the seventh grade. She originally created the piece in the spring of 2020, forming an unfinished virtual version of the dance, and revived it for the fall show. “I tried my best to keep all of the original choreography unaltered, even though there were some aspects of the piec e that I wouldn’t have made if I were to choreograph it from scratch today,” said Gee. “Setting the piece was a nice practice of channeling love, respect, and devotion to the person I was two years ago,” she reflected.

The show continued with “Drumming Song” and “Our Spot,” both named after the songs they were impeccably choreographed to. Florence and the Machine’s “Drumming Song” evoked a chaotic rapidity, which was replete with frantic running movements, dancers holding their heavy heads and expressions that mimicked the manic frenzy that the song maintained. “Our Spot,” choreographed as a collaboration between the dancers according to the showcase’s program, emanated the same fun and laidback energy of the popular song. 

Opposing the sunny and friendly atmosphere curated by “Our Spot” was “Don’t Recommend,” a piece that could only be described as wonderfully sexy. With their confident demeanor and fluid movements, the dancers flirted with the audience throughout the performance. As with all of the pieces, the intentional lighting and expansive stage in the Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater was utilized to its full potential—an additional factor that was not possible to access during the group’s pandemic performances in the Kenyon Hall dance studios. The glowing fuschia background contrasted against the dancers’ red and black costumes heightened the provocative themes of the piece, and not once did the stage seem crowded by the fourteen dancers on it. 

Image courtesy of Lavanya Manickam

The slower dances were “gone to the dogs,” which used “Saint Bernard” by Lincoln as its soundtrack and “God Only Knows,” which invoked the Beach Boys—a pleasantly surprising choice. Gee, who dances as if the moves are autonomic activities like breathing or blinking, starred in “gone to the dogs,” finishing the piece by leaping towards the company that lay huddled towards the front of the stage. In “God Only Knows,” the motions began slow and fragmented, complementing the calm sweetness of the first verse. Yet, soon, the solely upperclassmen group match the colorful amusement of the song, shuffling across the stage in unison.

 In both pieces, Gee exhibits a strong familiarity with the soundtrack, a characteristic reminiscent of her choreographing technique. “I usually listen to the song over and over again to familiarize myself with its musical nuances,” said Gee. “When listening to the song I’m also imagining the piece, trying to envision what my gut tells me should be happening on stage according to what’s happening musically,” she continued. While dancing to a piece designed by a fellow member of the group, it is easy to see that she follows the same practice, her body exuding an effortless harmony with whatever song it is moving to. 

Prior to the finale was a seductive hip-hop piece, directed by FlyPeople’s technical director Yoshi Sanders ’24. Sanders, an emphatic dancer who has magnetic chemistry with anyone he brushes past on stage, channeled his mastery of the art into this piece, “Till the Last Dime.” Various groups of dancers emanating a cool composure took on the stage, using their facial muscles as much as their bodies to converse with the audience. “Yoshi’s upbeat and energetic choreography came to life on stage, with each dancer taking their own turn to shine and showcase their individual talents,” said Hannah Dagen ’25, whose measured movements and emotive expressions captivate each performance she is in. “The audience definitely enjoyed this number the most, shouting and yelling at top volume. It really fueled our dancing up on stage. I had the best time,” she said. 

The final piece of the performance was an ideal ending number—showcasing every group of dancers, and introducing new ones as well. The kind love of Bauland, who served as choreographer for her company, shone through the piece, as she reserved time for every dancer to exhibit their dexterity. She steered them all onto the stage at moments as well, allowing spectators to witness the true camaraderie shared in the troupe. “Flypeople exists in that really sweet spot where our members are selected through a two-day audition, so there is natural professionalism and dedication,” said Bauland in reference to what she believes makes her team of dancers unique. “Yet at the same time, we’re all a bunch of very creative, impulsive, un-self-conscious, booty-shaking, fearless goons. You’ll never meet a more hard-working, passionate, and loving group of people,” she gushed. “Directing, watching, [and] dancing in our show was definitely the most fulfilling experience I’ve had at Vassar yet. I absolutely cannot wait for the next one.” To that, I would say without hesitation, that the Vassar community cannot wait either. 

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