Author: Sam Byrne
Several hundred students waited in line on Friday, March 18, for Dance Production — Occidental’s most anticipated and well-attended performance on campus. The Thorne Hall doors opened to a video montage of rehearsals and the booming songs of Britney Spears and J-Lo.
The first piece included 22 performers paired into primarily male-female combinations. Their stark, silhouetted figures danced boldly against a solid red background, executing quick and sharp movements to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “LoveGame.” The performance incorporated spins, dips, lifts and elements of acrobatics in an aesthetically energizing celebration of movement, synchronization and athleticism.
In a dramatic change of tone, president of Dance Production Alyssa Cuervo’s riveting “Strong” involved 17 women, including the choreographer herself, dancing to Shontelle’s “Impossible.” This piece portrayed a meaningful story as hinted by “Strong’s” dedication to Cuervo’s mother, who she describes as her strongest support system.
“‘Impossible’ became about relationships… I have had friendships that started out good and then turned to bad. I have had people break my heart, and I have broken a few hearts too,” Cuervo explained. “Through it all, I have had my family, especially my mother, by me the entire time,” she said, identifying the root of the dance’s emotional undertone.
Explaining what the dance meant on a personal level, Alyssa said, “‘Impossible’ represents the hard times I have had and the strong relationships I have built. My mother taught me to be a really strong person.” This source of strength and her relationship with her mother inspired Cuervo’s song selection and choreography, as she said, “There are strong moves through the entire dance, and it takes an extreme amount of passion to perform it well.”
In order to connect with the other 16 dancers and inspire them to exude this same level of rhythmic passion, Cuervo asked all of her performers to relate her story to any part of their own lives. “Our first practice, I turned off the lights and had them all lie on the ground and just listen to the song twice. After the second time, I made them think about their own story.” Adding this personal connection to the individual dancers contributed significantly to the dramatic and emotional quality of the dance. “They were able to bring so much passion into this dance,” Cuervo said.
Caitlin O’Morchoe and Santiago Alcantara’s “Once Upon a Dream” was another pivotal piece in the production. It was theatrical, elegant and refined without losing its modernity. It exhibited a thoughtful marriage of classical dance with a more contemporary style. The piece began with female dancers performing traditional ballet before the stage was taken over by male dancers performing hip-hop. The contrasting styles soon molded into one, piecing together a thought-provoking juxtaposition to the tune of B.o.B’s “Don’t Let Me Fall.”
Several unexpected elements were incorporated in many dances throughout the night, making the point that dance doesn’t have to be confined to a monotonous mold of predictability and regulation. Dance Production challenged the audience’s preconceived notions of dance formalities and what is considered acceptable in a performance. As soon as the audience was content to accept a dance as a ballet performance, elements of hip-hop emerged and integrated perfectly into the piece.
Other interesting combinations and artistic choices within the dances were seen throughout the night. Chris Monteith, Dayna Chikamoto and Caroline Kim choreographed a piece that involved dancers using oriental fans while waving them gracefully to a Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani mash-up. Another dance included a traditional hula style, but incorporated live singing from a row of dancers at the front of the stage. A spirited tap number defied traditional expectations of a tap performance, including seven females and one male dressed in colored hoodies dancing to Baby Bash’s “Sugar Sugar.”
Co-publicist and dancer Kim Gibbons (first-year) attributed the success and creativity of all the dance pieces to the choreographers who ran intense rehearsals. “First semester, everyone had one practice a week, just to learn the choreography,” Kim said. “By the second semester, we had two rehearsals per week for two hours each. Spring practices were very rigorous.”
Kim explained that one of the dances she participated in, Ricah Rejano and Michelle Metzler’s “Bigger ‘N’ Better,” was a highly difficult piece with tough practices. “In the very first rehearsal… we all wanted to run away in terror because of its difficulty.” As time progressed, the advanced choreography seemed easier, but Kim still remarked, “It was frustrating that even though I knew the choreography, I just couldn’t execute it.”
The frustration and effort put into the dance was worthwhile, however, as “Bigger ‘N’ Better” became a greatly technical and advanced piece. The dance began with 15 dancers standing motionless in center stage, wearing black track suits and hoods to mask their faces. From the start the audience anticipated a minimalistic piece, but the performers soon broke out into an active and aggressive dance that caught everyone by surprise. The action-filled dance involved quick and sharp movements, along with intricate motions and steps. The heart of the dance’s success stemmed from the energy it exuded and the tightly executed dance moves of all 15 performers.
Cuervo described the program as an “opportunity for all students to grow and learn,” adding, “There are so many opportunities for students to be dancers, choreographers and to hold leadership positions,” which allowed even the more experienced dancers to engage in challenging tasks and take on important positions.
“My favorite part about doing Dance Production is the friends, or what I like to call family, that I gain from it. All of the dancers in Dance Production become so close. It i
s a really great community.” The friends she has made over her four years dancing at Occidental have been some of her strongest. Cuervo noted that Dance Production serves as an environment based on trust and respect. “I am so proud to be a part of the Dance Production community… [It] has given me so much my four years at Oxy. Being able to be president this year has given me a chance to give a little back of all that I have gained from this organization,” Cuervo said.
The night ended in a finale that included the entire cast of 200 dancers. The performers flooded the stage and aisles of the auditorium, dancing and cheering in celebration of all the time and dedication devoted to making the show an unforgettable production. The audience stood in applause, commending the dancers and joining them in their excitement. As the curtains closed, concluding the night, a lasting impression and sense of awe was left on everyone who attended the event.
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