Orchesis performers prepare for dance tradition

The Orchesis Dance Company is more than just a club that puts on an annual dance show at Allegheny College. It is an organization that allows people to express themselves, find freedom, explore their passions and be heard within a community comprised entirely of their own peers.

At least, that is the consensus of current Orchesis members this past week as they geared up for the opening of their highly anticipated annual show.

This year, Orchesis raises its curtains at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, for the 76-year tradition at Allegheny. This year, the theme of the show is “Circus.”

Orchesis has been in the works for the current choreographers since spring 2018, and auditions and rehearsals started almost immediately in August for company members.

Rachel Lynn, ’20, is the president of Orchesis this year after serving as vice president last year. She shares her perspective on why Orchesis is something that wastes no time getting the ball rolling early in the semester.

“I’m involved with a lot on campus, but I think Orchesis is the most exciting and everyone involved in it is super passionate, which you don’t see in all student organizations,” Lynn said.

Lynn also talked about how she has found a community in work with Orchesis.

“Orchesis is such a community thing,” Lynn said. “I feel like so many people help with the show and so many people come to the show, and it just feels like it’s a whole Allegheny thing.”

With the amount of time students put into each performance for Orchesis, Lynn said, the amount of student support and excitement is incredibly meaningful for those involved.

“I love hearing how much people love Orchesis because hearing from other people, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so excited for Orchesis’ makes it seem a lot more worth it being in Shafer (Auditorium) till’ like 2 a.m.,” Lynn said.

Lynn stressed how much of an impact Production Chair Alex Korzeniwsky, ’21, has made on the show this year.

The position of production chair is fairly new to Orchesis. Korzeniwsky was brought on two years ago to fill the position of stage manager, which was previously occupied by a variety of people who were lacking the experience in production management.

Korzeniwsky and his team have played a large role in expanding the visual experience of Orchesis this year.

“This year you’ll see us really stretching our legs when it comes to the lighting that complements the pieces and the abilities we have now with that,” Korzeniwsky said. “You’ll see us really flexing our muscles when it comes to the creative, supportive, scenic items and elements that choreographers brought to me at the beginning of the season,” Korzeniwsky said.

At the beginning of the semester, choreographers bring Korzeniwsky their vision  of what they want their dance to look like. He then designs a show around whatever they need, all for the purpose of showcasing what student dancers and choreographers are capable of.

“I want to give these student choreographers and student dancers that extra highlight, that extra shimmer on top of the hard work and dedication that they put in,” Korzeniwsky said.

To do this takes an enormous amount of time commitment — Korzeniwsky and his six technicians, the week leading up to the show’s opening, spent over 160 hours in Shafer Auditorium creating, tweaking and working out the kinks to produce this spectacular masterpiece.

Korzeniwsky said he cares deeply about helping the choreographers bring their exact vision to life. When he came into this position, he did not have much guidance, so he strives to provide that for his technicians. He wants them to have that same sense of pride at the end of this show that the dancers do, because one can’t really thrive without the other.

“So without these passionate students who go to more than one rehearsal a week for an hour at a time, or the technicians who spend their entire Saturday and Sunday in this black box with me working and driving this, there wouldn’t be as interesting a show,” he said.

This year it seems to be that Orchesis is going bigger and better. Cassie Lopez, ’20, has increased the number of dancers for her last piece with Orchesis.

Lopez has been in Orchesis for three years and has been a hip-hop choreographer for the past two. Last year, she had 20 dancers compared to this year’s 34.

“It’s my senior year — it’s my last year — so I wanted to make it bigger than before,” Lopez said. “I also have my parents coming from California, and it’s their first time seeing the show, so that’s really special.”.

Lopez said that dance has always been a passion of hers, so when she saw Orchesis as a first-year student, she knew immediately she had to get involved.

Lopez is currently the vice president of Orchesis and now, as a senior, reflects back on the impact it has made on her life.

“Orchesis has helped me improve a lot as a person, because being a choreographer is a really big role,” Lopez said. “I mean, being in charge of people, directing people and stuff like that and just having the board position as well requires a lot of commitment. I’m grateful for the experience.”

Another senior choreographer who, like Cassie, has gained a lot from joining Orchesis is Dai’Quan Day, ’20.

Day has participated in Orchesis since he was a first-year and has been a choreographer for three years now. This year, his dance is featuring 31 dancers, which is the largest group he has worked with.

Day said his style is more of his own because he does more expressive movement that does not limit itself to a category.

“I try my best to stray away from the normative kind of contemporary style of dance, and I do that because a lot of people of color specifically don’t feel that our bodies can move or look that way,” Day said. “Orchesis kind of introduced me to something that I didn’t think was for me either, so I tried to make my style more abstract so that people who look like me can feel comfortable doing that.”

Day said he found himself through Orchesis. He is originally from North Philadelphia, so he was used to dancing in a very formulated and structured kind of way.

When he came to Allegheny, though, Day was introduced to contemporary and modern dance styles, which were more expressive.

“Orchesis was where I found that passion,” Day said. “That’s where it was introduced to me, which is why I think I’m so strongly connected to it now because it introduced me to a part of myself that I didn’t know about,” Day said.

His piece this year is the third part of a trilogy. “His Emotions,” and“His Wickedness” were held during previous years’ shows — this year’s “Into His Mind” is the third part of the trilogy.

“The kind of story that I told my dancers was about … is me working through all of the disorganization in my head,” Day said. “(It’s) kind of exploring all that confusion and being lost or maybe feelings of abandonment. Dance is my mechanism used to explore my emotions, and I think that’s what I did in my piece.”

Looking at the first-years involved with Orchesis this year, Day looks back and remembers his time on the stage as a freshman and is definitely sad that it is all coming to an end.

He remembers thinking and hearing from fellow senior choreographers that they were not going to dance in college or that they thought they’d ever do something like this here.

Dance for Day, though, is exactly that. Day said he uses dance as a mechanism to explore things that are different and new, and that he never thought he would do.

“I feel like on stage I am able to be myself completely because everything I do on stage is authentically me,” Day said. “Being on stage for me is freedom.”

Passion seems to be the common thread that holds Orchesis Dance Company together.

Admission to Orchesis is free for students, and the shows will run Friday, Nov. 15, and Saturday, Nov. 16, in Shafer Auditorium.  Students helping to organize Orchesis will be collecting donations which will go to their philanthropy, French Creek Valley Conservatory.

Correction: A previous version of this article said Orchesis will run Friday, Nov. 15, to Sunday, Nov. 17. Orchesis is running on Friday, Nov. 15, and Saturday, Nov. 16. There is not a performance on Sunday, Nov. 17.