After over a week of social media hype, students gathered in a sold-out Thorne Hall Friday to witness one of Occidental’s most anticipated events of the year: Dance Production. Co-presidents Deon Summerville (senior) and Hilary Fitzsimmons (senior) took the stage to give their opening remarks as the lights dimmed and the buzz of chatter died down. After a few plugs by the emcees and several exclamations of “woo!” from the audience, the presidents exited the stage and the show began.
Co-publicist and second-time choreographer Flynn Aldrich (sophomore) kicked off the show with a hip-hop piece entitled, “The Heist,” which showcased a wild goose chase between a band of thieves and security guards as the thieves attempted their biggest robbery yet. Their target: the millionaire Sir Kensington. The piece was exciting, goofy, full of energy and emblematic of the artful balance between narrative storytelling and rhythmic physical movement that help make Dance Production such an engaging show.
Later, Tess Arrighi’s (junior) “Lights, Camera, Action” combined dance, sword fighting and musical scores from classic films such as Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean into a captivating showpiece. London Murray (sophomore) chilled the audience with her zombie-inspired choreography that had dozens of dancers swinging and strutting to the haunting rhythm of Róisín Murphy’s “Ramalama Bang Bang,” while third-time choreographers Clare Shuey (senior) and Declan Meagher (senior) made the crowd go wild with their Harry Potter-themed hip-hop dance, “The TriWizard TurnUpment.” The show also featured a number of slower modern and contemporary pieces such as “Spectrum” — a contemporary ballet choreographed by Mariana Martinez (first year), Elizabeth Hansel (sophomore), and Emma Wilson (sophomore) — and “Change is Everything,” a fusion of ballet, jazz, and modern dance choreographed by Michelle Levitt (first year).
Whatever the pace or the energy, the goals for the members of Dance Production 2016 was clear: to share their passion and enthusiasm for dance with the audience and to put on an electrifying show for the student body. Whether it was throwing out jazz hands to delight the crowd through “Hairspray” classics in Summerville and Jessie Fontana-Maisel’s (senior) Broadway piece, wowing audiences with front flips and breakdance moves in Scott Lew (senior) and Pavel Gladkevich’s (senior) “Part of the Crew,” jamming to old Keri Hilson songs in Onyekachi Nwabueze’s (junior) throwback hip hop dance, or putting their absolute all into Dalin Celamy’s (senior) high energy hip hop piece “#SQUAD,” the room roared and the dancers shined.
“My dancers have worked hard to not only understand the choreography but also have worked hard to put in so much effort to perform this dance for the audience,” Celamy wrote in the program description of his dance.
What was perhaps most striking about the show were the varied ways in which so many of the dancers and choreographers channeled personal narratives and utilized their own life experiences as inspiration for their work. Leah Nomkin (senior) and Melody Dahlgren’s (senior) contemporary piece reflects the choreographers’ challenging but meaningful journey through college, while choreographer Kiera Kox’s (junior) contemporary piece “Yellow Flicker Beat” was a reflective take on finding inner strength in the face of adversity, a relatable journey for dancers, choreographers and audience members alike.
“Every one of these dancers has done an amazing job of bringing their own feelings and interpretations to the choreography,” Kox said in the program notes.
Aldrich expressed similar sentiments.
“My dance tells the story of a heist,” he explained. “However, I took inspiration from my dancers, who have the most positive outlook and best energy, so I also based my dance off of a celebration of them.”
Wherever the inspiration came from, it is clear that the personal investment the members of Dance Production brought into their pieces helped these diverse performances come to life in a way that differs sharply from years past. Aldrich credited this to the influx of new talent this year.
“There are six first-year choreographers, which is rare, and so many of the dancers are first years who are incredibly talented and are bursting with new ideas,” he said.
First-year choreographers such as Zuleika de la Cruz refreshed the audience with a riveting dance that celebrated the historic art of flamenco dancing. Kelly Fitzgerald (first year) also accessed her heritage in her art, arranging a hula kahiko for a native Hawaiian community currently battling over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on sacred lands. Part call to stand up for one’s beliefs, part reminder of the importance of love and unity in the face of difference, Fitzgerald’s piece was a powerful ode to a community torn between pressure to support scientific infrastructure and the preservation of Native Hawaiian land.
The show drew to a close with Dance Production’s traditional finale piece. Over 300 members emerged from backstage in their multi-colored program shirts, overwhelming the stage and spilling into the aisles of Thorne Hall with one last piece designed by the executive board and choreographers. The night ended with audiences and dancers alike emerging from Thorne Hall with smiles on their faces, happy to have been a part of another triumphant Dance Production.