Thursday, April 10, 2014

National Water Dance - Saturday, April 11th

This Saturday, April 12, the Nu Delta Alpha Honor Society will be participating in National Water Dance, a project designed to raise awareness of environmental issues concerning water and pollution. The National Water Dance is a project that began in 2011 in Florida, and has since become a nationwide event. The Mercyhurst Dancers, led by faculty member Solveig Santillano, will be joining dancers across the country to raise awareness for this cause through the power of movement. All participants will start dancing at 4 o'clock EST, all beginning and ending their dances with a series of movements displayed on the project’s website to create a sense of unity. The rest of the dance is at the discretion of individual choreographers. Each participating location will identify the most significant water issue affecting their community and create awareness through dance.

Every state, county and town in the U.S. has a water issue, be it drought, overuse or pollution. One of the issues Mercyhurst wants to draw attention to is the presence of chemicals in beach waters. Mercyhurst researchers, led by Amy Parente, Ph.D., have identified several emerging contaminants at Presque Isle, including fluoxetine, triclosan, estradiol and diuron, as well as the artificial sweetener sucralose. All of these chemicals have been shown to have negative health consequences in organisms from bacteria to humans. A yearlong Mercyhurst project, Fresh Face Forward, led by associate professor Anne Zaphiris, Ph.D., of the Organizational Leadership graduate program, has drawn attention to toxins associated with personal care products that are seriously impacting the environment, especially water.

At present, the dancers are choreographing a series of three interpretative dances meant to bring attention to environmental issues, specifically as they relate to water. This project gives students a chance to use their art to generate change and contribute to a cause using their specific skills and passions. “I love projects where our students can engage their artistry with a purpose and, in this case, impact the community,” Santillano said. Along with the Dance Department, students and faculty from various programs on campus, among them public health, chemistry, sustainability studies and graphic design, are getting involved and contributing to the project. The goal is to involve as much of the student body and community as possible, so please show your support by joining us at Beach 6 on Presque Isle at 4:00 PM this Saturday! For more information on the nationwide event, visit the website. It is hoped that Erie’s dance performance will be featured on the website as part of a live feed.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Guest blog: Putting on a Performance is More Than Just a Term’s Work by Amy Deer

In one studio, 16 girls stand in perfect rows, posing with Spanish flair. Turn out. Angle your sholders. Chin up.

Next door, other dancers are executing precise foot work at an incredible pace to Vivaldi. Point your feet. Breathe.

As rehearsal ends, the tired dancers make their way back to the dressing room to take care of aching feet. They go home to get some rest before the process repeats the next day. It will continue to repeat for nine weeks until they are on stage for the Dance Department’s production of “Viva la Dance”.
Once they hit the stage their job is to make the steps look effortless. The performance should look easy, but that does not mean it is. Many audience members do not realize what hard work actually goes into achieving that aesthetic.

By the time of the show, the students will have put in about 90 hours of rehearsal. Two hours are built into the dance department schedule each weekday except Thursday. Sometimes, however, they are required to rehearse on the weekends.

Martin Løfsnes, of 360°Dance Company, came in during the term to set his piece 6-1. He was available for a limited amount of time, so the cast had an intense rehearsal period spanning from a Friday to a Tuesday.
“I couldn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s day because I had rehearsal for six hours on both Saturday and Sunday that weekend,” says Rachel Torgesen, a senior. In a span of five days she rehearsed for 21.5 hours. The piece is around 8 minutes long but the style is very specific and the dancers needed extensive coaching.
Some girls also use their own time to prepare for the show. Ashley Cook is one of the dancers cast as the lead in Paquita, a classical ballet. A junior, she takes 20 minutes before rehearsal to watch American Ballet Theater’s version on YouTube. “I go over the choreography and sequence on my own so I know what I am doing in rehearsal,” she says. “It also helps me get a better sense of the artistry.”
Emily McAveney, a sophmore, works outside of rehearsal also. “Italian fouettés have always been hard for me,” she says, naming a difficult ballet step, “and this is the first time I’ve had to do them for a show.” To make sure she is ready for the stage, she often practices this step after class.

Producing the concert also takes more than what might be thought. While the dancers may put in extra time throughout the term, the many people who are responsible for getting the show together have worked much more. Deciding which pieces to perform generally takes place about a year in advance.
“I usually try to know something about next year before the end-of-the-year awards ceremony,” says Tauna Hunter, chair of the dance department.

While part of this strategy is to give the students something to look forward to, much of the reason for this timeline is necessity. Lots of thought and research has to be done in order to determine what pieces will be best. Things considered include: what kind of dancers are availale in the department, what the students need to grow in their skills, the department’s budget, and what might appeal to the audience.

Relationships with working professionals are also cultivated to bring in guests. But bringing people in means hiring them. Last year, Hunter applied for an Academic Enrichment grant from the school as well as funding from ArtsErie so she could afford to bring in Cameron Basden. Basden is the Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and is a former dancer and Ballet Master with the Joffrey Ballet. She was at Mercyhurst for a week to set the second movement of Gerald Arpino’s Viva Vivaldi.
“I knew Cameron was able to stage the Arpino work and I try to be able to have major works here every so often,” says Hunter.

When deciding on programming, costumes and sets also have to be taken into account. While the students were relaxing at home during Christmas break, Hunter and Claudia Skal were in the costume loft backstage at the Mary D'Angelo Performing Arts Center beginning to plan for “Viva la Dance”.

Skal, costume mistress for the department, went through the racks with Hunter to decide what to use. In one case, costuming had to be figured out before the piece could even be cast. The costumes for Viva Vivaldi are rented from Interlochen and only certain sizes were available.
“The costume mistress at Interlochen sent me the measurements. Then we had to go through the measurement books [of the students in the department] and make a spread sheet to figure out who would fit before I even cast it,” says Hunter.

After they select the costumes, time still needs to be allotted for alterations. Of these rented costumes, Skal still has to alter seven of them. And that is only one piece in the concert.
Another piece being performed is Paquita, which requires 17 classical tutus. Before calling a fitting with the dancers, Skal and Hunter checked the measurements to assign tutus. Even with that prep work, several still require alterations. All 17 also requre additional decorations. And they do most of that work by hand.

Michael Gleason oversees the technical side of the performance. As Technical Director of Music and Dance, he is responsible for aspects such as laying down and taking up the performance floor, hanging and focusing the lights, constructing and painting scenery, and setting up sound equipment.

The floor and the lights alone require much work. The special floor is constructed of 67 pieces. Each piece is laid down and screwed into the stage. After those are secure, nine strips of marley—vinyl dance flooring— are taped down. Gleason hangs approximately 230 lights from five horizontal poles above the stage . Once fastened and the wires all attached, he has to individually adjust them so that the light hits the correct spot on the stage.
“I used to do all of that myslelf and it would take three days to strike,” Gleason says. Now, he teaches a 1-credit course, Production Practicum, for freshmen to introduce them to these technical aspects of the theater. To get a sense of how much time is put in, the students are required to work a minimum of 30 hours.

After all of this prep work, Gleason still runs the show. “I can’t just walk away on Friday,” he says, “I have to run everything.”

In addition to their other jobs, both Hunter and Gleason are busy rehearsing and coaching the dancers. Hunter is coaching the women’s variations for Paquita. She works individually with six dancers on solos where she gives corrections and advice on everything from technique to facial expressions. Gleason is coaching David Jakubson on the men’s variation in the same way. He also works with Jakubson, Cook, and Kristina Weimer—the other lead—on the pas de deux. This special “dance for two” needs extra focus because of the coordination required.

Even though extensive work is necessary, both in the studio and behind the scenes, once the production hits the stage it is all worth it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal

This week Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal came to perform at the Mary D'angelo Performing Arts Center. It's always a privilege to have such a fantastic company come and perform here. On Monday they offered a master class for our students taught by Kevin Delaney, a member of the company. All of the students really enjoyed the class and were sore the next day!

The company performed on Tuesday and had a standing ovation from the audience. They opened the performance with Les Chambres des Jacques,choreographed by Azure Barton, which was a piece that toyed with the pedestrian movements of everyday life. The movements were tweaked and repeated in various ways that made for a very unique movement vocabulary. The choreography was inspired by the dancers personalities and imperfections. The music chosen for the piece was eclectic ranging from Vivaldi to Québécois folk music. Even with range of different music the piece as a whole was cohesive. The second piece they performed was a world premier titled, Night Box. This piece choreographed by Wen Wei Wang, was inspired by urban life. Lights and projections were used to recreate the feeling of an urban city at night. In the beginning of the piece it felt as if the dancers were all in a night club with the lights and pulsing music.

Overall the performance was spectacular and to watch dancers with such power and energy was inspiring. As an extra opportunity some of our dancers went backstage and met the members of the company after the performance!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Life after graduation

It's the time of year where every senior at Mercyhurst is preparing for life after graduation. Whether a student chooses to go to grad school to continue their education or go straight into the job world, it's a scary and exciting time. For dancers it's especially nerve wracking because most of us have been dancing since we were three years old dreaming that one day we would become professional dancers. I remember seeing New York City Ballet for the first time when I was six and wanting nothing more than to go up on stage with all the dancers. Some dancers decide that they want to do a trainee program or audition for companies right out of high school, while some decide that a college degree is the right way to go. The great thing about going to college is that students get exposed to so many new and interesting things that can broaden their horizons. Four years can really change a persons perspective on what they want to do and I know that I have discovered so many aspects of the dance world that I never would have considered if I had not gone to college.

So now that graduation is about to kick us out into the real world, what are our options? Many people outside of the dance field don't actually know how many options a dance major has. I have had been asked countless times, "What can you actually do with a dance major?". A performing career is most likely on the top of most dancers lists. There are many different performing opportunities including ballet, modern or contemporary companies, cruise ships, broadway, or commercial dance. If dancing professionally isn't in the cards then a dancer can go on to teach at a dance studio or even open their own. Arts administration is also a quickly growing field where someone can stay connected to dance through the administrative end such as working on development or marketing for a dance company or performing arts theater. Another career field a dancer can go into is dance therapy. Dance can be very useful in emotional, cognitive and physical rehabilitation and therapy. There are so many different paths a dance major can take after graduation it just takes finding the right fit.

Our senior dance majors at mercyhurst have been extremely busy auditioning for companies and applying for jobs. One senior dancer, Victoria Scott has her sights set on the Rockettes. Currently she is in the top 10 for the Jump the Line contest for the Rockettes. Out of hundreds of videos, she was picked to be a finalist in the competition. The winner of this contest is flown to New York City for free and gets to jump to the front of the line of hundreds of dancers at the Rockette audition in May. We're asking everyone to vote and get her into the top 5!! follow this link:
and vote for Victoria Scott!!! It only takes a few seconds

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Well Easter is right around the corner, which means a few days off from school. We are right in the middle of spring term and it's a perfect time for a break from midterms and rehearsals. Many students are going home to spend time with family for the holiday or if it's too far to travel home then a few restful days on campus is always nice. Campus is gorgeous with blooming flowers this time of year and it's slowly starting to get warmer!

Trees are in bloom outside of the Hirt Academic Center!

Happy Easter!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Residencies Galore!

For many of the dancers it's been a long and busy week. Last Friday we had Vernon Scott and Martin Lofsnes of 360 Dance Company come to set a contemporary piece called 6-1. The dancers had 4-6 hours of rehearsal each day for five days. In those five days they learned the five minute piece and worked a lot on cleaning up specific movements and details. The success of the piece relies on the dancers ability to feel each other and to dance as a single unit. Martin Lofsnes, the choreographer of the piece spent thirteen years with the Martha Graham Company. His choreography of 6-1 is completely his style and while it is contemporary movement the principles of Graham technique are apparent throughout. In addition to working in rehearsals, Martin taught the Modern II and IV classes and gave a strict Graham technique class.

Cameron Basden is also doing her residency this week. She is setting Viva Vivaldi , which is a work by Gerald Arpino. A few of the dancers have been extra busy because they are in both Viva Vivaldi and 6-1. Despite the long days, having guests come to the department and set world class pieces such as these, is an amazing opportunity and helps the dancers expand their network. We have about six more weeks to continue rehearsing these pieces until the performance in May. Can't wait to see how everything turns out!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Master class with Trevor Sones!

It's always great when our alumni come back to visit after they graduate. Yesterday Trevor Sones came back to teach a jazz master class! Trevor graduated in 2010 and went on to perform in the national tour of CATS and most recently just got back from dancing on the Royal Caribbean cruise line. He has learned a lot from his experience in the professional dance world and gave the dancers excellent advice on how to get noticed in an audition.

There is no missing his high energy and enthusiasm when he is in the dance space. He brings this energy to his class and really knows how to make us sweat! A passerby walking past the studio would here him yelling "Be fierce!!" or "Live it!!" just a few of his mottos. In the first five minutes of class he had us all sweating with his high cardio warm up. In the next forty-five minutes we did strength exercises for our legs and core and lots and LOTS of stretching. It's not a surprise that a few of us are sore today! Once we were all warmed up Trevor taught a fun high energy combination with elements of precision, technique, strength, musicality and Trevor flair. We couldn't have asked for a better class and for the seniors it was a great preparation for auditions.

Trevor and some of the seniors