Former Pilobolus dancer Mark Santillano in concert

Dance Practice- Katy Tice and Courtney Sammut practicing for the upcoming performance

Kate Kaurich

Dance Practice- Katy Tice and Courtney Sammut practicing for the upcoming performance

Elijah Brumback

It only takes a couple of YouTube videos to realize the extraordinary nature of the kind of dance now taught at Grand Valley State University.

Mark Santillano, former Pilobolus dancer and leader of SoMar Dance Works, supported by the 50th Anniversary Arts Committee and the music and dance departments, has taken a position as guest artist-in-residence at GVSU. Along with teaching classes, Santillano will perform a piece with his dance company.

“It’s a repertory concert,” Santillano said. “Its featuring primarily myself and my wife.”

The performance will be held at 7 p.m. Friday in Studio Theatre 1600 at the Performing Arts Center.

“This is a pretty amazing year for dance at GVSU,” said Shawn Bible, assistant professor of dance. “First the (Martha) Graham piece ‘Appalachian Spring’ and now a Pilobolus guest artist-in-residence.”

While in residence at GVSU, Santillano will teach classes in advanced modern dance technique, intermediate modern dance technique and partnering. Each class will consist of movement phrases and warm-ups reflective of his choreographic voice.

“Santillano comes from a strong background of modern dance in which physicality, stamina and artistry are paramount,” Bible said. “SoMar Dance Works has a national reputation around the states due to his previous training as a professional dance company member of Pilobolus.”

Pilobolus is one of the foremost professional modern dance companies out of New York City. It has toured all over the world and most notably has performed in several television commercials, at the Emmys and on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Many dance enthusiasts will recognize this dance company by the forms/shapes the dancers make.

“The dancers will make huge sculptures by stacking on one another and creating large scale objects,” Bible said.

As well as making large forms, the dancers also move up and down stage to create the illusion of increased or decreased size depending on nature of the shape. In one Youtube clip, pairs of dancers come together to form waddling penguins. In another instance they mold to form the bust of late-night television host Conan O’Brien.

“SoMar Dance Works brings exactly this kind of contemporary partnering and athleticism to their dances,” Bible said. “While in residence at GVSU, they will be creating this ground-breaking choreographic vision on our students. They are known for morphing their bodies into natural and organic shape structures that seem impossible to the average human.”

For those not familiar with Pilobolus or dance, Bible said the non-dancer will still be able to identify with the sheer physicality of the performers.

“This type of modern dance demands strength and artistry,” he said. “Every human will kinesthetically understand the physical requirements of this type of concert dance.”

Santillano continues to add to his storied career as a professional dancer, teacher and choreographer. He has earned several honors and has performed with many prestigious dance companies in the U.S. and abroad. He is a member of the Actor’s Equity Association, a troupe that performed on national tours of “The King and I,” “West Side Story” and “A Chorus Line.” His choreography has been honored at the American College Dance Festival’s National Gala Concert and has been featured in several dance companies across the country. He has served as the artist-in-residence at his alma mater, Southwest Missouri State University, and he currently serves as associate professor of dance at Mercyhurst College.

While his residency at GVSU is relatively short, Santillano is working primarily with one small group of students.

“I’m choreographing a dance for them, on them and that will be premiering Friday night,” Santillano said. “They will also be participating in couple of smaller pieces on the concert as well.”

Santillano said in light of his short residency, he’s not concerned with making any revelations, but because he comes from such a unique world of the dance, students here will still be able to come away with more perspective.

“In the world of the arts and dance, the more exposure you have to different styles the better,” he said.

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