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Orchesis 2012 debuts in Shafer

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CAITIE McMEKIN/THE CAMPUS.

By MOLLY DUERIG

Features Editor

For the students involved in Orchesis Dance Company, the past eight weeks were an exhausting, yet rewarding process of preparation which culminated in the production’s premiere Wednesday evening.

Orchesis, a completely student-driven organization, produces a show every fall semester.

“Our adviser signs a sheet for us saying we’re still an organization, but everything else is done by us,” said Orchesis President Bethany Walker, ’13. “We get our dates sent to us by the Office of Student Involvement, so they give us a date and we plan the show around it.”

Walker said the organization is responsible for every aspect of the production, from choreographing to auditioning to ordering clothing and advertising the show to the community. This year Orchesis was also responsible for equipping Shafer’s stage with new marley, which is the top layer of springy, absorbent surface.

Recording Secretary Anaïs Schindler, ’13, said the nine members comprising Orchesis’ executive board cooperated with the 18 choreographers to lay marley on the stage one Saturday morning.

“We cut it into sizes so it fits perfectly into Shafer, and we don’t have to piece anything together,” Schindler said. “It fills more of the stage and it’s a lot nicer to dance on this year. Last year our marley was just really worn down.”

In addition to 19 dances, this year’s production features one piece designed by all the choreographers, as well as a “senior piece” open to all members of the senior class. This year, the senior piece was a medley of songs from the 1990’s.

“Our generation is kind of like the first 90’s children…we got to live through the entire decade. So we kind of wanted to do a throwback to that,” said Publicity Chair Jillian Ranker, ’13.

The Design

CARLY LUITGAARDEN/THE CAMPUS

Lighting design is also a student-run enterprise.

“You don’t think about all the stuff that goes into a production…like what kind of lighting are you going to use, who’s going to be your stage crew, your stage manager,” said choreographer Kerri Barron, ’15.

Lighting assistant Katie Snively, ’15, explained that the lighting technicians become involved primarily during tech week, the week before the show.

“This year, some choreographers already had an idea of how they wanted to light the dances,” Snively said. “We picked out the colors for the lights and let them know those choices, and they gave us up to six cues per dance based on that.”

Snively has run the light board for a number of different theatre productions at Allegheny. She works in the Playshop Theatre.

The Choreographers

Schindler said Orchesis board members develop leadership skills as a result of their experiences. Treasurer and choreographer Erick Tineo, ’13, added that Orchesis has also strengthened his organizational and communication skills.

“It’s a balancing act,” Tineo said. “Being so involved this year has caused me to organize my priorities and schedule essentially all my time. If you come in not really knowing what you’re doing academically or what your schedule looks like, you’re in for disaster.”

Though he has danced in Orchesis before, this was Tineo’s first year holding an executive position and choreographing.
“It’s a huge commitment, but it’s a worthwhile commitment,” he said.

This year’s production showcases a wide range of dance genres: jazz, tap, ballet, hip-hop, modern and ballroom are all represented. A number of choreographers blended elements of different genres to create their dances in the styles of afro-modern, contemporary lyrical or contemporary jazz.

Vice President Jillian Tavares, ’13, is one of the few choreographers with previous choreographing experience. This is her third year choreographing for Orchesis, and before coming to Allegheny, she created routines for her high school dance team to perform at basketball games. However, Tavares said her goal was to create a dance simple enough for a wide range of dancers to do.

“I told the dancers the first day of practice, we’re not gonna do any big turns, no leaps and no floor work,” Tavares said. “I ended up throwing in floorwork. But I like to make my dancers look really good, so if I can’t do a trick, I’m not gonna make them do it.”

The Dancers

CARLY LUITGAARDEN/THE CAMPUS.

Students from a wide range of dance backgrounds audition for Orchesis.

Sophie Klancher, ’16, had no dance experience prior to Orchesis, but at her friends’ persuasion she decided to participate due to the low-pressure audition process. She ended up dancing alongside some of her friends in “It’s Raining Men,” a musical-inspired piece choreographed by Sara Townsend, ’15.

Other dancers came in with much more experience.

“I’ve been dancing since I was three…and there’s always been a professional teacher or a guest choreographer coming in to teach,” said dancer Alex Isenberg, ’14. “I’ve never experienced working with only student choreographers before.”

Isenberg performed in four different pieces, which is the limit for any one participant in Orchesis.

Brittney Griffith, ’15, felt inspired to audition for Orchesis after seeing last year’s production. She appears in M.I.A.’s “Bucky Done Gun,” a hip-hop piece choreographed by Taylor Smith, ’14.

“I have a fear of going in front of people, especially on stage,” Griffith said. “It’s gonna be rewarding when I can actually overcome that fear…it’s a challenge I put myself through, which I didn’t have to do, so it kind of feels good.”

Another first-time participant, Jessica Repasz, ’13, said she has lost 25 pounds since the start of the semester, a result of dancing in Orchesis as well as in her three dance classes. She appears in sophomore Erin Sumerfield’s contemporary piece, “The Bird and the Worm,” as well as “It’s Raining Men.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life,” Repasz said. “I only ever took ballet in high school, so [Erin’s piece] is way outside of my experience. There’s a lot of floorwork and a lot of harsh movements, and I’ve only ever done legato, ballerina stuff.”

Repasz said dancing in this piece served as an emotional outlet.

“I have a tendency to let my emotions get the best of me,” Repasz said. “With [Orchesis] I have to channel that negativity…in a constructive way, a way that helps me better the dance but doesn’t leave me frazzled afterwards.”

Dancers in Sumerfield’s piece, which was choreographed to a rock song by The Used, thrash and wave their hands in bird-like claw shapes. Corey Carlson, ’14, dons feathers and heavy makeup to star as the “bird” of the song’s title.

Carlson, returning to Orchesis for his second year, said the organization is a good way to learn about different types of dance. Though he began at Allegheny taking only ballroom dance classes, he is now versed in a variety of other dance styles thanks to Orchesis.

“I come from an Italian background, where there’s always dancing, so I figured I wanted to get into ballroom,” Carlson said. “But here, you learn different styles of dance you normally wouldn’t. The school only offers so many strict-type classes of dance, but you come here and it’s more free. I’m trying to branch out.”

Choreographers have the freedom to design whichever types of pieces interest them.

Katherine Krackhardt, ’13, collaborated with Timothy Grabnic, ’13, to choreograph a ballroom piece to Pitbull’s “Shake Señora” which blends elements of meringue, salsa and rumba. It is their second time choreographing together for Orchesis.

“I do a lot of musical theater, so I wanted to see a musical theater piece my freshman year,” Krackhardt said. “And then my sophomore year we wanted to see ballroom, so we made a ballroom piece.”

This year, Krackhardt said the most challenging part of choreographing was teaching techniques to dancers who had never previously danced in a Latin style. Grabnic said time management was the most difficult aspect of Orchesis for him.

“We only have seven weeks, and you want it to be difficult and to look difficult, but it can’t be too difficult or you won’t be able to complete it in the right amount of time,” Grabnic said.

The Impact

CAITIE McMEKIN/THE CAMPUS

Orchesis is also a social forum.

“You get to meet a lot of people you might not otherwise get the chance to know,” said third-time participant Mimi O’Leary, ’14.

“You’re all struggling to learn [the dance] together and stressing about tech week…you get really close within dances.”
Dance and Movement Studies professor Eleanor Wiseman said the dance department stopped sponsoring Orchesis in the fall of 2004, due to the show’s increasingly provocative content. Since then, Orchesis has been affiliated with the Communication Arts department.

“The dance faculty at the time did not consider what the students were doing to be artfully done,” said Wiseman, who did not yet teach at Allegheny when this shift occurred. “But it’s gotten so much better over the past few years, and we now have a much better relationship.”

Although it has been a challenging experience, Orchesis has also been extremely rewarding for all the students involved.

“Orchesis pushed me to the maximum. I have some nice little scars that’ll never go away from it,” Repasz said, showing the scabs on her feet. “My knees are black and blue all over. I bust ass. It’s great. It’s beautiful.”

Walker said her greatest reward of being president will be watching the final performance, knowing it has all been produced by students.

“It’s about finding a group of people who is willing to put as much energy as you are to make it happen,” Walker said.

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Orchesis 2012 debuts in Shafer