Months of hard work debut in two performances

GVL / Emily Frye  
Dance Festival Rehearsal

GVL / Emily Frye Dance Festival Rehearsal

Shelby Pendowski

The muffled conversations of the audience at the Grand Valley State University’s Louis Armstrong Theatre fell to whispers as the room fell dark at the Fall Dance Concert on Dec. 6. Those whispers quickly subsided into silence as the spotlights upon the stage ignited to reveal the first piece of the night – “Concerto.”

“It really comes together on like the day of the first show,” said Dustin Schonhard, a junior dance major at GVSU. “Before then, things might not be going right, but it is almost guaranteed that if things go wrong at the last rehearsal, they go well opening night.

“It is a lot of nervous, nail biting moments, but when you get on stage everything just comes together.”

Every student that is in the dance department, that is physically able, is a part of the fall concert. The students, faculty and guest choreographers begin preparing for the show at the beginning of the fall semester.

“I think it went really well. It is always a huge build up because we spend all semester working on it,” said GVSU assistant professor of dance Carrie Morris.

Each semester, faculty of the art and music department come together to select guest choreographers to instruct the dance students. This semester, dancers worked on pieces with choreographer Mike Esperanza, founder of the BARE Dance Company; Samantha Shelton, a teacher from the Rochester School of Dance and the Michigan Ballet Theatre; and Takehiro “Take” Ueyama, who has worked with other dance departments such as the Juilliard School and the Marymount Manhattan College.

“We invite people who are professionals in the real world to come and work with our students,” Morris said. “We try to bring in people who are very different from the faculty specifically so that they have new experiences. We are a small department, so it is helpful to have more voices than just ours.”

Esperanza’s piece, “Door: Open: Enter,” impacted many of the dancers such as Sarah Byington and Schonhard.

“It is a 22-minute long piece and he is the nicest choreographer I have ever worked with,” Schonhard said. “He wanted to give everyone a solo or duet because he wanted to show everyone’s talent. He didn’t work for his own agenda, he just wanted us to look good.”

The guest choreographers designed one piece, and all together the fall dance concert featured 11 numbers. Along with the choreography, costumes are also specially designed for each piece.

“In the dance world, costumes are always a challenge because they have to fit well,” said costume designer Cat O’Callaghan. “The guest choreographers come usually with a pretty good idea (of what they want for costumes). I might help with the aesthetics about what will work and what will not work when it comes to color and the design.”

The 11 pieces individually took the audience on a journey of different emotions. Pieces such as “(farewell) Company” gave light to not only happiness, but also fear, sadness and anger through lifts and turns. Choreographer Judi Jaekel choreographed a whimsical, stimulating number in “Space/Travel/Time.” And each dancer’s smile turned to pure joy as they jazzed to the tunes of Duke Ellington in Stephen Sanford’s “River Vite.”

“Rehearsal time for the concert was a challenge,” Morris said. “Students had to be responsible for keeping the choreography clean because we couldn’t run every single piece every week. They had to keep it really fresh in their heads.”

Many of the pieces not only included a vast number of cast members, but certain dancers were highlighted throughout the night.

Camille Frye held the spotlight among her male classmates in “Pulling at Need.” Senior Charlie Clark and fellow dancer Alison Mosher performed a Pas De Deux, which is a duet found in many classical ballets in which a male and female perform ballet steps together. Mosher, alongside senior Dan Wentworth, portrayed a whimsical tale through their duet in “Salaryman (excerpts).”

The scuffing of worn dance shoes accompanied the musical tunes that filled the Louis Armstrong Theatre this weekend, and following each number the heavy breaths from the dancers harmonized with the silence providing the audience a glimpse into hard work that each of the performers exerted. That glimpse and witnessing it all come together after months of preparation makes it all worthwhile, said many of the dancers.

“It was very fulfilling,” said dancer Chris Tallmadge. “I think a lot of work, hard work, was paid off. There was a lot of ups and downs, and all just is peaking at this up and that is where it should stay.”