Backstage passes and behind the scenes tours allow people to see what they normally do not have the chance to: the inner workings of a performance or event. This is the idea behind AU’s spring dance concert: "Upside Down/Inside Out."
The theme of "Upside Down/Inside Out" is showing the audience how a dance performance is designed. The dancers created a video blog and opened rehearsals so that the public can see how dances are created. During the performance, there will be a display in the lobby of the theatre of renderings of costumes, lighting plots, and concepts for each of the dances. “It is a journey into making the process transparent,” says Professor Melanie George, director of the AU dance program. “That also means, metaphorically, we are taking everything we are feeling inside of us and putting it out for everyone to see. It means turning the way many choreographers work on its head.”
Eighteen dancers will perform eight pieces, including three world premiers. The choreographers, both students and professionals, include Christopher K. Morgan, Elizabeth Naro, Melanie George, Vladimir Angelov, Rachel Hoopes, and Ralph Glenmore. Leanne Schmidt and Joan Meggitt, special guest choreographers, were also brought in to help with the show.
Leanne Schmidt is the artistic director and choreographer of the New York-based Leanne Schmidt and Company, and she serves as dancer-in-residence here at AU. For this concert, she decided to recreate “Sugar” with the AU dancers. “Sugar,” the very first piece performed by her company in 2006, gives the audience a look into the psyche and sensitivity of a woman. “It’s interesting, because my works in general are created for the people who are dancing them,” says Schmidt. “‘Sugar’ has a structure behind it, but most of the material within that structure has been generated for the specific dancers who are in it here at American University. The piece acknowledges the struggles women face and, hopefully by the end of it, we see a genuine decision to face what is bothering us and make a conscious decision to go in a new direction.”
The other guest choreographer, Joan Meggitt, is the founding artistic director of Antaeus Dance, a professional modern dance company in Cleveland, Ohio. She is also an assistant professor of dance at Kent State University and director of the annual Allegheny College Summer Dance Intensive. Though her training is in the modern dance technique of Erick Hawkins, a twentieth-century dance artist who created a somatic-based technique that focuses on functional movement of the body or “right” movement, Meggitt worked with the dancers on a more classically oriented piece, “Coming Up for Air.” “The emphasis is on flow in the dance,” she explains. “No matter what the dancers are doing, they are to move with a sense of ease, whether dancing slowly or moving quickly. The movement should flow like water and they should move with and around one another like water flowing downstream—it keeps going, no matter what it runs into.”
Both guest choreographers marvel at how quickly the dancers picked up their work. Though each artist had limited rehearsal time, the dancers learned the work with plenty of time left over to focus on the artistry of it. “What a wonderful set of young women!” says Meggitt. “They worked hard, asked great questions, gave their attention to the details of the movement, and ended up really fulfilling the intentions of the work. While it is a big push to get that much work done in a short amount of time, their commitment made it happen. I was impressed by their professional demeanor and willingness to go, go, go.”
“I was absolutely impressed with the caliber of the dancers, their ability to pick up the material so quickly, and their willingness to explore a type of work that they were unfamiliar with,” says Schmidt. “Because the process was so smooth, we were able to really investigate the intricacies of the piece while diving deep into their individual characters and overall theme of the work. The result is four dancers who are human, vulnerable, and honest, making the journey they take us on in ‘Sugar’ enjoyable every second.”
The presence and tutelage of the guest choreographers added great value to the students’ education. “Having guest choreographers challenges students to learn in new ways—new movement, new processes, new teaching styles—as well as allowing them to make professional connections with notable artists in the national dance community,” says George. “Additionally, the visibility of our program grows through these connections.”
As a result of Schmidt's residency this semester, the students have been invited to perform in Schmidt’s concert in Brooklyn, New York, on April 20.
The spring dance concert: “Upside Down/Inside Out,” will be performed on Friday, April 13 and Saturday, April 14, at 8 p.m. in the Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre. Tickets are $15 for regular admission and $10 for the AU community and seniors. For more information, visit the AU Arts website.