Author: Alison Kjeldgaard
Last Friday and Saturday night an energetic group of students, professors, family and alumni packed Thorne Hall to support student dancers in one of Oxy’s biggest spring events: Dance Production.
While waiting for the curtain to rise, shouts of encouragement for students in the performance rang out over the buzz of audience members discussing their excitement for the show.
Dance Production is one of the most widely attended and anticipated events on-campus, and for good reason. Every year, the production showcases an eclectic variety of dances, ranging from traditional to contemporary, and choreographed by Oxy’s own talented students.
Though choreographers generally have prior experience dancing, choreographing, or both, the dancers vary greatly in their expertise. Everyone who shows up for auditions in the fall is guaranteed a spot in the spring production, and are placed in the performances according to their dance skill levels.
“I think this is one of the most important aspects of Dance Production. Every year, a significant portion of the dancers have never been onstage before,” said MacKenzie Israel-Trummel, the Occidental Dance Theater’s Executive Board co-president. “I think the incredible variation in dance and performance experience actually strengthens the club and the performance.”
Indeed, though advanced dancers definitely stand out, audience members could hardly guess that many of the performers had never danced before training for this production.
“Its fun to see the number of people on-campus who get involved in Dance Production,” audience member Olga Overmyer (senior) said. “It turns out there are a lot of talented dancers out there.”
This year, the show boasted a wide cultural scope, sharing traditional Mexican, Arab, Polynesian, West African, Irish and Hawaiian dances with the audience.
A lively Polynesian-style performance opened the show to the enthusiasm of audience members.
“I wanted to make this year’s Tahitian piece extra special for my co-choreographers, Mara Hosoda and Evan Nakatsuka’s, senior year,” said choreographer Chahati Leslie (junior). “Mara is responsible for bringing the popularity of Tahitian to Dance Production her freshmen year and has established Tahitian here at Oxy.”
Among the most original performances was choreographer Sammy Suboh’s (junior) piece, titled ” Al-Wilada Al-Jadeeda Li-Raqisna” which means “The Rebirth of Our Dance” in Arabic.
Suboh has been practicing traditional Arab and belly dance since he was 15, so he utilized his training and choreographed traditional dance moves to contemporary music. To the sound of M.I.A., performers belly danced across the stage in brightly-colored sequined costumes.
“Seeing the dance come together – with such beautiful people – into a new conception of what Arabic or belly dance meant, was truly an enlightening experience,” Suboh said.
The audience continued to enjoy unique performances after intermission.
Samantha Figueroa (junior) choreographed the Mexican folkloric dance, which featured four female dancers dressed in long, colorful traditional dresses, and three male dancers wielding short swords.
“I was rummaging through the ICC for costumes and I found a bunch of Machetes, so I thought to myself, ‘hey, why not. Let’s throw some knives on stage,'” Figueroa said.
Figueroa also co-choreographed the tango-salsa performance with Teddy Zou (senior).”We wanted to come up with something that was sexy, hot, aggressive, and most importantly, fun,” Figueroa said.
Audience members were stunned by the level of difficulty in the salsa dance, watching as male dancers lifted their female partners off the ground numerous times throughout the number.
The second half also featured a Hawaiian dance, co-choreographed by Haley Rosehill (senior) and Karie Nickle (sophomore).
“When coming up with the idea for the sole female number, Karie and I tried to find a song that would showcase the gracefulness of a female,” Rosehill said. “We chose a love song because it’s one thing that everyone can relate to and when you can relate to the song it shows in the dance. When choosing the co-ed number, we tried to find a song that was fun and flirty.”
The beginning of the dance transfixed the audience with the lilting melodies of the music and graceful movements of the dancers. Eventually, the piece moved fluidly into a more lively dance between the male and female performers.
The last act was Jennifer Phan’s choreographed dance to the Lion King soundtrack.
“When I first heard the Broadway version, ideas just kept popping into my head for dance moves and it was clear after maybe the second time of listening to the music that I wanted to choreograph my Dance Production piece to the Lion King,” Phan explained.
The performance was an uplifting end to an evening full of outstanding choreography and dance.
“I could not have imagined a more perfect way to end my senior year,” Phan said. “We have worked so hard for a year and seeing the dance come together the way it did makes all our efforts and creativity worth-it beyond belief.”
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