When Cal Poly student Misty Moyle joined Orchesis Dance Company last year, she initially worried that her studies might suffer.
Instead, she said, “My grades went up.”
“It’s just a really great outlet — physically, emotionally,” Moyle said of Orchesis, an elite dance company comprised entirely of Cal Poly students. “Dance is just a wonderful thing. I think everybody should do it.”
Created more than four decades ago by Cal Poly professor Moon Ja Minn Suhr, Orchesis gives student dancers the opportunity to perform challenging new works by nationally acclaimed choreographers. The company presents its annual showcase, “Immersion,” starting Friday at the Spanos Theatre.
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According to Orchesis Director Diana Stanton, an assistant professor of dance at Cal Poly and co-founder of the Variable Velocity Performance Group, the show’s name refers to the all-encompassing nature of dance.
“When you’re immersed, you don’t think about anything else. You’re completely overtaken,” she said. “You’re immersed in the art of dance.”
This year, 27 Cal Poly students are participating in Orchesis. All but five are new to the company.
Stanton and assistant director Michelle Walter said they’re thrilled to work with so many fresh faces.
“They’re full of energy. They’re full of youth. They’re excited about what they’re doing,” Stanton said, noting that the new members include several freshmen and sophomores. All must balance dance duties with school and work; their majors range from business to kinesiology to recreation, parks and tourism administration.
Science-minded students inspired Stanton’s piece “Torque,” which opens the show.
“It’s been really fun figuring out ways I can make the body move,” Stanton said of her modern dance piece, which incorporates such elements as energy, momentum and the Fibonacci number sequence. (The title, a physics term, refers to a force that tends to cause twisting or rotation.)
Other pieces choreographed by Cal Poly faculty members include Suhr’s “Whale Song V,” a solo piece inspired by humpback whales, and Lisa Deyo’s Spanishflavored “Plaza de la Vila,” a contemporary ballet set to music from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.”
Walter’s classical ballet, “Hinterland,” features nymphlike figures dancing en pointe in a mysterious forest. Jean Sibelius’ “Serenade No. 2 in G Minor” accompanies the dancers.
“Immersion” also features three works choreographed by students, including “Poursuivre” by Danielle Dahlerbruch.
Moyle’s dance piece, “1 Corinthians 13:4-13,” focuses on a lesbian couple and their interactions with the church.
Moyle purposely chose a title with religious overtones: the popular Bible passage that begins with the words “Love is patient, love is kind.” As she pointed out, it’s often used in wedding ceremonies.
“It’s a statement about equality,” explained Moyle, a biology senior minoring in dance and women’s studies. “I feel it’s important to use art as a means of expressing yourself and (your) activism.”
Fellow student choreographer Ryan Badilla calls attention to schizophrenia in “Coexistence,” which fuses breakdancing and modern dance.
Dancers sporting emotionless red masks — the kind worn by hip-hop dance crew Jabbawockeez —use awkward movements to convey the isolation experienced by those coping with mental illness.
Badilla, a senior studying computer science, said his piece was inspired by seeing one of his mother’s mental health patients experience an outburst.
“I wanted to re-create what she was probably feeling,” he said.
In addition to showcasing Cal Poly talent, “Immersion” will expose local audiences to professional choreographers from across the West Coast.
“These guest professionals are always amazed at how self-disciplined, how open, how dedicated and how responsible these students are,” said Stanton.
Seattle choreographer Markeith Wiley presents an excerpt from “City Council 02.64.010,” which explores themes of social hierarchy and political manipulation through hip-hop, breakdancing and urban dance forms.
Leann Alduenda, based in Southern California, offers the rhythm and blues-informed tap number “Metric.” And Holly Johnston, whose Ledges and Bones Dance Company has bases in Los Angeles and San Francisco, presents “The Fall We Know.”
“It’s a little tragic in a way. It’s a little hopeful in a way. It’s the most mature and sophisticated piece we have in the show,” Stanton said of the athletic, lyrical piece, which was created especially for Orchesis.
“Immersion” closes with “Our Plan” by Mike Esperanza. He directs Southern California’s Bare Dance Company.
“It’s not our usual big, bold rock-’em-and-shake- ’em-in-the-seats (finale),” Stanton said. “It’s more tender.”
The uplifting piece is paired with three songs by The Beatles and John Lennon performed by biology senior Monica Mills. (Live music at Orchesis performances is rare, Stanton said, due to space and scheduling conflicts.)
“I feel like this show has a huge variety, an athletic spewing of energy,” Stanton said. “We’re just hoping that people will find something that enriches them.”