Choreographer’s Workshop wows

By Hillary Martter

This past weekend, The University of Akron Dance Program hosted their Choreographer’s Workshop at Daum Theater.

The performance, which happens twice a year (once in the fall semester and again in the spring), is “a chance for choreography students to articulate their artistic vision into a fully produced stage work,” said Robin Prichard, the workshop’s director.

The students not only choreograph the dance pieces, they are also involved in the other elements of stage production. The workshop, as a whole, was one of the strongest I’ve seen in recent years. Excellent costumes, variation of dance styles, technical strength and lighting combined with Daum Theater’s recent updates in presence, lighting and sound boards contributed to an overall pleasant evening. The choreographers really showed promise with their well-organized pieces:

Choreographed by Emily Koch
The opening number began with five dancers onstage, moving in silence. The costumes were white and flowing, giving the artists an ethereal look. The music, by Yann Tiersen, began and was a stark contrast to the silence that had engulfed the theater. Then the dancers burst into movement. Tiersen’s choreography featured movements reminiscent of Martha Graham’s style and was very strong technically. “Phoria” was an excellent number to introduce the rest of the show.

Choreographed by Kristen Weibel
This piece had twelve dancers on stage, all wearing different, brightly colored leotards with black tights. The repetitive movements included the dancers walking stiffly and parallel, their arms making them look like Barbie dolls, unable to straighten completely or flow naturally. The intricate steps mixed with the meticulous timing were very well done, and the dancers moved in a way that made them appear uniform and geometric.

Choreographed by Alyssa Deskins
This attractive little number focused on the sensual appeal of competitive-style dance. The performers’ sultry gazes and Prohibition-era costumes enticed the audience and turned up the heat in the theater. Deskins’ choreography made effective use of the stage and employed aerial leaps and tricks. A lineup of two men and four women from upstage to downstage wowed the crowd as they executed splits in succession, closing out the number with a bang.

“Isn’t It Normal?”
Choreographed by Lauren Sprowls
This piece began with an all-female cast dressed in black bottoms, white shirts and pearl necklaces while holding picture frames in front of their faces. They displayed megawatt smiles as the words of a female monologue about coping with womanhood filled the theater.

This piece was the most powerful and my favorite of the night. Sprowls’ use of props and inclusion of the monologue were extremely effective in drawing emotion from her audience. This piece also featured five of the program’s strongest dancers. Controlled turns and glorious extensions of the legs prevailed. The costumes, the music, the dancers — it all meshed so well to create a very strong piece both technically and intellectually.

“Po l ar”
Choreographed by Shannon Evans
This piece surprised me. Rarely have I seen pointe pieces featured in the Choreographer’s Workshop. Evans gave us three ballerinas en pointe and the result was excellent. The music by Armin Van Buuren and Mercury Quartet had a Hitchcock-meets-film-noir vibe and the movements, as well as the excellent lighting, coincided with the eeriness of the score.

The use of only three dancers was effective in helping the audience to concentrate on the movements. Lots of wide fourth positions made the dancers appear to always be on the verge of falling over their pointes, but they never did. The result kept me on the edge of my seat.

“Crash to Emerge”
Choreographed by Jennifer Lehaney
This was a visually pleasing piece to end the first half before intermission. The music, “Near Light” by Ólafur Arnalds, was haunting and beautiful, just like the choreography itself. The lighting used the spotlight effectively, and two dancers — a man and woman — closed the first half locked in an embrace as the lights faded out.

“Visceral Repercussions”
Choreographed by Joy Elizabeth Gross
“Visceral Repercussions” was my second favorite of the night. The music pounded from the speakers into my chest, and the dancers’ desperate, strong movements made me wish I were up on the stage, thrashing and leaping and tearing my own (gorgeously designed) black, trash bag-like costume to shreds alongside them.

Choreographed by Mary Moore
This piece played on the styles of famous dance movies “Save the Last Dance” and dancer favorite “Center Stage.” Moore had her dancers in traditional ballet attire with hair in buns, light blue leotards with matching wrap-around skirts, and pink tights. They did simple ballet movements with a R&B-infused “Angel” by Natasha Bedingfield booming from the system. The idea of the juxtaposition was great — I was just hoping for at least one of the dancers to break out and give us a little hip-hop.

“Damier Passé”
Choreographed by Kitty Demith
This piece had half of the cast in all black and the other half in all red. Their staccato and quick arm and feet movements combined with the formations onstage throughout brought to mind a checker board. The dancers battled it out to the end. It was a very intriguing performance.

Choreographed by Veronica Nolletti
This wild piece, with music by Hans Zimmer and Christina Aguilera, played out like a deranged circus. The costumes were instrumental in setting the scene and showed two scary ballerinas in tutus and plenty of terrifying clowns in sequined outfits. The inventive makeup, hair and costumes were very elaborate. The dancers finished by crawling towards the audience. “Catatonia” was “Walking Dead”-meets-ballet.

Choreographed by Lauren Dangelo
This equally sweet and seductive piece played out like a game of adult musical chairs. Three women vied for the attention of the male lead. Beautiful choreography, pointe work, some Michael Bublé, and ’50s-inspired costumes quickly landed this piece toward the top of my list.

Whitney Szabo
This powerful piece featured music by Delta Rae. Very Depression-era, Southern chanting with the sound of chains resonated in the background. The dancers wore plain leotards with full skirts and socks, and the focus was on the music. The movements were explosive and primal, and this piece again employed some of the company’s strongest dancers.

The University of Akron’s Dance Program has a lot going for it right now. Strong dancers and choreographers fill the program and the students show invested interests in other areas of stage production. They all work together to create an overall cohesive and delightful show for their audiences. They work on stage management, lighting design, costume design, casting and marketing as well as perform on the stage.

Kristen Weibel, a senior in the Dance Program, was the workshop’s stage manager and assistant lighting designer and had her work featured in the line up as a choreographer.

“Akron really embraces the arts,” Weibel said. “They have a lot of factory and industry available.”

She goes on to explain how, with that appreciation, the program hopes to draw more ticket sales for future performances. These dancers put so much work and passion into their productions, and their audiences will not be disappointed. So, grab some friends, get dressed up and enjoy a night at the theater.

The University of Akron’s Dance Program will be having their fall concert again at Daum Theater from Nov. 21-23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. General admission is $12, $10 for senior citizens/faculty/staff/alumni, and $6 for students with a valid Zip Card.