Orchesis Dance Company's collaborative "Suspension"

Cal Poly dancers work with guest choreographers on dance concert

Special to The TribuneJanuary 30, 2013 

Each year the dancers of Cal Poly’s Orchesis Dance Company choose a title for the next year’s performance. They are asked to select a word that embodies some aspect of dance. “Suspension” is the title of the company’s 43rd anniversary concert.

“ ‘Suspension’ has a literal meaning as a dance movement, but suggests emotion as well, the sense of suspension in space that we all love as dancers,” explained Orchesis director Diana Stanton.

This season’s concert features a variety of styles, with pieces by guest choreographers who came to Cal Poly this fall to work with the dancers. Wade Madsen, from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Keith Johnson, from Cal State Long Beach, and David Capps, from Hunter College in New York, are recognized professionals who worked with the dancers in a collaborative process, Stanton said.

Johnson didn’t have a preconceived piece when he began his Cal Poly residency.

“He started working with movement ideas and seeing a vision develop as he worked with the dancers.” He figured out on the second day what form the piece would take. Titled “A Tentful of Marks,” it is danced to “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” by the Scud Mountain Boys. Johnson says it is about “bullying, name-calling, and hypocrisy.”

Capps had only four days of in-person collaboration with the students in January, but he sent a list ahead of time from New York of four movement phrase assignments, which were recorded on video so that he could see what the dancers did with them. He was then able to put the movements together and tailor his choreography to the dancers’ creativity, Stanton explained. His piece, titled “Night Flight,” is performed to a Chopin Nocturne.

Madsen created “Water,” which Stanton said is “a lyrical and thought- provoking piece. With subtle shifts in expression, sequences of movement mysteriously appear and transform throughout the dance.” The music is “Jeu,” by Robert Normandeau.

There are a dozen pieces in the show, with choreography by faculty and students as well as the guests. Faculty members Stanton and Michelle Walter will present classical works in collaboration with Cal Poly’s Music Department. The pieces will premiere in this concert, and on March 9 will be performed with a live orchestra as part of the Cal Poly Symphony’s Winter Concert.

Lisa Deyo, formerly a Central Coast choreographer and dancer, returned from her current New York home to choreograph this production’s finale, “Elementary,” danced to the music of Earth, Wind and Fire.”

Christy McNeil is a new faculty member who came from Seattle this fall. Her piece, “Rhythm.mhtyR,” fuses classic jazz with contemporary rhythms and style, Stanton said. Other pieces by faculty and students reflect current dance trends, she noted, explaining that each generation adds its own style and energy to choreography. In today’s contemporary dance, the genre of “modern dance” is infused with “hot, commercial dance that is emotionally expressive, with use of body energy and gesture.”

There are 26 dancers in Orchesis, selected by auditions, as well as 15 guest “repertoire dancers” from dance classes. Cal Poly doesn’t offer a major in dance, but dance is taught as a minor in the College of Liberal Arts. Among the dancers are future architects, CPAs, sociologists, teachers and engineers, Stanton said. She and Christy are the faculty members who will dance. Five pieces in the program are by student choreographers, Stanton noted.

“It seems every year the work of our student choreographers grows in its depth and artistic commitment.”


8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 7, 8 and 9; 2 p.m. Sunday
Spanos Theatre, Cal Poly
$10 to $13
759-4849 or pacslo.org

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