Recess

Annual dance program to showcase student and faculty choreography

This weekend, the Duke University Dance Program will host its annual fall dance showcase in Reynolds Industries Theater. The concert will feature work by both faculty and student choreographers in the Dance Program, highlighting contemporary ballet, jazz, African dance and modern dance.

For many involved in the dance program, November Dances is a meaningful opportunity to broadcast their passion to the rest of the Duke community. The showcase is not just a culmination of their semester’s work but also a venue for deeper expression of their identities and experiences.

“My entire Duke career has been centered around dance and my identity at Duke is definitely that of a dancer,” Ellen Brown, a senior in the Dance Program, said. “Because I am a dance major, it isn’t just a recreational activity for me, it is what I am studying and what I want to pursue. This includes not just dancing and always being in rehearsals, but also taking academic dance courses. Therefore, being a dancer and student at Duke is one and the same.”

For her part, Brown is collaborating with a fellow Duke student, Stephanie Joe T’16, on a duet that they created while in Chicago this past summer. Their piece was originally part of a larger performance that focused on fears and how they limited expression. In the months leading up to this year’s November Dances, Brown and Joe continued to workshop the piece so that it could stand alone.

“We really want people to understand our characters so that the audience doesn’t just see two dancers on stage performing, but rather two individual people, with unique identities, interacting in a space of commune,” Brown said. “We want to get across the ideas of communication and deeper connection.”

Junior Anne Talkington is also choreographing and performing a piece that she began working on this past summer. During her time studying abroad in Greece, she reflected on how she has grown as an individual and as a dancer during her first two years at Duke, then began to channel that into a piece titled “Coming of Age.”

“For this piece, I had started playing around with movement phrases in the studio or any open room I could find. I would begin with one movement, and see what followed by just letting my body do what it wanted to do,” Talkington said. “A little later I started to fit the pieces together around a theme, almost like a puzzle. As a dancer and choreographer, it was interesting to experiment with different sections of the piece, since I tended to choreograph based on how the movements felt rather than looked.”

Unlike Talkington, Brown, and Joe, sophomore Haylee Levin is choreographing a group piece but will not perform in it, though she plans to perform in both the ballet and jazz repertoire. Her piece, titled “Trust in Passing,” includes six dancers and explores the idea of trust.

“The inspiration for this piece came from the idea of how we learn to trust one another and trust ourselves as well. I wanted to explore this idea of trust through dance and discover how a dancer can be natural onstage as well as a performer,” Levin said. “The piece I created relied on a lot of collaboration between the dancers and me. I wanted the movements and choreography to feel natural for each individual dancer.”

In addition to student work, faculty will also present their own newly choreographed pieces that will be performed by the ballet, jazz, African dance and modern dance classes. Tyler Walter, Associate Professor of the Practice, has crafted a piece titled “What’s Yours is Mine” for the ballet class. Nina Wheeler’s jazz repertory will explore the idea of commuting through the piece “comMUTE-ication.” Both Ava LaVonne Vinesett and Andrea E. Woods Valdés were inspired by issues of gender. For her piece, Vinesett, Associate Professor of the Practice, has choreographed a piece for her African Dance repertory on how women manifest power. While for hers, Valdés has partnered with local composer and flutist Julia Price for a modern dance piece titled “Ocean Under.”

With both faculty and students engaged in the production of November Dances, the program promises to not just entertain, but also to display the talent, dedication and breadth of the renowned Dance Program at Duke.

“The Dance Program has allowed me to really grow as an individual and as a dancer through both the academic and studio classes,” Levin said. “It is a challenge sometimes to fit in all that I want to do because I spend a large amount of time in the studio, but I absolutely love what I do there and it has added another layer to my education and growth here.”

For some of the students, like Levin and Brown, Dance is a core component of their academic work at Duke. For other students, like Math and Biology double-major Talkington, dance is less an academic pursuit and more of a separate passion from their studies.

“I see my roles as ‘student’ and ‘dancer’ as very different, but I wouldn’t call them separate identities–they’re both just me!” Talkington said. “There’s something very special about being on stage and showing a more vulnerable piece of yourself, and somehow feeling like you’re connecting with the people watching. I love communicating with dance. I feel free to say things I otherwise might not want to share. This way I don’t have to talk; I can just be in the moment.”

The choreographers and dancers behind “November Dances 2014” hope that the Duke community will be receptive to the performances this coming weekend.

“Because it is small, I feel like our Dance Program is sometimes forgotten about; it is literally and figuratively isolated in the farthest corner of campus,” Brown added. “But it is strong. It’s dancers are strong. We are passionate and have a lot to say and share with those willing to listen.”

November Dances 2014” can be seen Fri. and Sat., Nov. 21 and 22, at 8 p.m. in Reynolds Industries Theater. Tickets may be purchased at the Duke Box Office.


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