For the past two terms, six dance students, sophomore Kilee Vega, juniors Angela McNeal, Valencia Short and Hannah Steele, senior Abby Kravis and post-baccalaureate Jmaw Moses, have been laboring rigorously in the Choreographer’s Workshop, the capstone experience for Knox’s dance minor. The two-term-long class culminates with a main stage dance concert entitled “States of Existence.” The concert will be held in Studio Theatre from May 21 to the 23 and will also include piece by seniors Dushawn Darling, Juan Irizzary and Bryan Valencia, who have been choreographing pieces for their senior seminar.
For the past two terms, the Choreographer’s Workshop has aspired to emulate a professional setting as closely as possible. Early in Winter Term, the choreographers selected the dancers they were to work with through a series of open auditions. The student dancers who auditioned for the workshop hailed from a wide array of performance backgrounds.
“The dancers come from all over the place. That’s what I love about the Knox dance program,” Moses said. “You get dancers who started dancing their freshman year of college, but you also get dancers who’ve been dancing since they were three years old. The dancers are a really diverse group of people.”
Along with rehearsal time outside of the classroom, the workshop process has included production meetings, presentations and peer critiques to allow students to fully realize the potential in their choreographies.
“When you’re making something or creating something in general, you’re approaching your work from the perspective of the creator. Having that outside eye is really an invaluable resource,” Moses said.
For many of the student choreographers in the workshop, the act of choreographing an original piece has been an emotionally exhaustive process.
“When you’re creating art, be it a dance or a poem, it’s hard because you have a lack of confidence sometimes. You don’t know if you’re good enough. You don’t know if your story or your piece is going to touch someone or grab the audience’s attention. [Dance professor Jennifer Smith] had us read books to help guide us through the emotional stress,” Short said.
But while the workshop has been an exhaustive process, the students in the class have been able to use the process to reflect on their careers as students, dancers and artists.
“During the class, we’re coming to an understanding of who we are as artists and what it means to be an artist in college and what it means to be an artist-in-training and, in our case, what it means to be a dancer. Who am I as a dancer? What is my aesthetic? What do I look for in dancers? What do I look for in myself? We’re coming to terms with what defines us as artists and what separates us from everyone else,” Short said.
In the end, the tedium of the workshop process has resulted in an experience that is both cathartic and reflective.
“There is some difficulty in using other dancers’ bodies to express yourself. I think each body has its own language because people hold tension differently and people have different body types. People use their bodies in different ways and they see their bodies in different ways. Trying to decipher each bodies’ individual unique language is so inspiring to me,” Moses said.
Choreographers gained inspiration for their pieces from a variety of sources and each choreographer approached his/her piece differently. In the case of Juan Irizzary, his piece grew out of his academic background in Anthropology and Sociology.
“My piece attempts to emulate the stereotypes and taboos that surround the masculine and feminine roles of dance and combine them into a homo-sensual duet,” Irizzary said.
“It’s very interesting to see from an anthropological perspective how gender norms and the gender binary apply to dance and how social constructs relate and translate into the artistic and creative world,” Bryan Valencia, Irizzary’s dance partner, said.
As many of the choreographers and dancers involved in the concert are graduating seniors, the choreographic process has allowed them to reflect on their dance careers at Knox.
“I never had any formal training before coming to Knox,” Valencia said. “To be able to look back and see exactly why I dance the way that I dance and to remember the reasons that I create is a very humbling experience.”