This week, I had the privilege of attending and reviewing a dress rehearsal for the next CO / LAB collective at the Forest Roberts Theater. I left the theater feeling elated and inspired by the range of expression I had witnessed.
Anyone interested in dancing or the performing arts should definitely consider attending the production when the public performances begin on September 30. Not only will this be the first in-person performance in the theater since the COVID-19 quarantine began in December 2019, it features exciting student-led choreography. In fact, four of the five pieces are choreographed by students, according to director Jill Grundstrom.
âIf we can help them build a portfolio of creation and performance, that’s really beneficial,â said Grundstrom. “It’s great that students get work as choreographers and dance in each other’s rooms, but they can also work with a faculty member.”
Each of these pieces is amazing in their individuality. The opening of the performance, “Thunderstruck” is supported by a cover of the AC / DC song by local band Tease, and choreographed by senior dance major Gracie Fries, who also sings live vocals during the play. .
My impression of this part of the performance was one of intense emotion, an expression of pure anguish. The dancers roam the stage with passion and energy. The red background of the room matches the shimmering red boots of Fries herself, the centerpiece of the number. At the back of the stage, live drums and guitar enhance the experience of a live rock band.
The second number, choreographed by second-year dance major Logan Stoner, is called âTo Have a Bodyâ and deals with the body image issues often experienced by dancers. This piece, more melancholy and thoughtful than the first, is supported by the reading of a poem by the English graduate teaching assistant Jessica Hudson.
The dancers’ heavy-hearted movements help communicate the betrayal that Stoner herself experienced in trying to meet impossible standards set for dancers. The performers in this piece wear flesh-colored briefs and tops, dance in front of a bar and a mirror, scrutinizing the proportions of their own bodies. They are vulnerable to criticism from others and from themselves. Through dance, they stage the pain caused by the standards imposed on young dancers.
The third in the lineup is “Heavy Clouds” choreographed by Maisie Zahn, major in sports science. The musical accompaniment of this piece is performed live by local singer and songwriter Gretchen McKenzie-Trost.
This piece is a brooding and sensual depiction of frustrated love. The dancers use four chairs for support as their moving bodies express sensual and lingering warmth. The teamwork between the dancers and the singer, all attached to their unique sound, make this piece a success.
âBreatheâ was created by Skylar Taavola, a major in health and fitness management, and performed by the entire NMU dance team. This particularly touching number gave me chills because of the intensity of the expression. Several changes within the room create a sense of development and structure.
The last piece is also the longest: âJe Suis un Cactusâ, a contemporary ballet movement piece choreographed by assistant director Karina Johnson, professional dancer and choreographer. This is the first time she has choreographed for students, Johnson said.
This piece expressed the widest range of emotions, drawing on three songs by French singer Camille. Ranging from frustration, confusion, and relationship distress to a final manifestation of unmitigated joy, this piece is fascinating to watch. Johnson explained that in creating this number, she was inspired by the natural movements of her students.
âI haven’t choreographed anything before. As soon as I got into the studio I turned on the music and said “Dance for me” and watched how they were moving as their own people. And from there I formed movements for them, âJohnson said.
In this way, his piece lives up to the guiding principle of the CO / LAB collective, that all pieces must have some kind of collaboration. This ideal fosters a blend of creative ideas that fully flourishes in this upcoming performance full of musical and physical art.