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

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hello March!

We're back at it again! This is the first week of spring term, it's hard to believe how fast this year is going! There are many exciting things to look forward to this term. We are starting rehearsals for our spring show and we are having quite a few guest artists to come in and set works. In february we had Christopher Ruud from Ballet West set Mobile. In the next few weeks Cameron Basden from the Joffrey Ballet will be setting Gerald Arpino's Viva Vivaldi. Ms. Basden was Ballet Master and Co-Associate Director of Joffrey Ballet from 1993 until 2008. She is now the Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts. We also have the 360 Dance Company based out of New York City coming to set a modern/contemporary work. The dance department is excited to have such great opportunities and to work with so many different dancers and teachers.

On a side note happy International Women's Day!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

End of the term

Well this term flew by! We've been so busy with the holiday concert at the beginning of the term, Raw edges, auditions, master classes and a slew of other things. Juried finals have been going on this past week and today is the last day. The students and faculty alike are ready for a much needed break.

Next term is bringing many exciting things. We've already started rehearsals for Mobile, one of the pieces we are doing for our spring show. Dancers have been rehearsing this week and Christopher Ruud of Ballet West is coming in this weekend to clean and solidify the piece. There are going to be a lot of great things to look forward to in the spring!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Raw Edges

Hello Everyone!

After months of rehearsal and hard work, Raw Edges is finally here! We've got a great program this year and all of the choreographers are fortunate enough to have their pieces in every show. Senior Kelly Clymer will open the show with a dynamic and energetic piece encompassing the theme of clocks and time. Other pieces in the show include works by Anastasia Welsh and Jessica Stachelrodt who are doing ballet, Tess Sinke whose piece is an emotional portrayal of faith in God and relationships between people and Melissa Sheffield with a powerful contemporary work. The performance is closing with Eden Mishler's piece about the journey through college and emotions portrayed through mime and ballet. Along with the student choreography there will be a solo performed by Eden and two pieces performed by returning alumni.

Check out the article about Raw Edges on our dance department website :

Raw Edges will be performed Saturday, Feb. 4, at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 5, at 2 p.m. in the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center on the Mercyhurst campus. Tickets are $15.50 for adults, $12.50 for seniors and students, and $5 for youths 15 and under. President’s Cardholders will pay $7.50 and tickets are $3.50 for Mercyhurst students with ID.

A preview performance is also scheduled on Friday, Feb. 3, at 4:30 p.m. All Friday tickets are $5, and only balcony seating will be available.

Tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling 824-3000.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Alumni to visit for Raw Edges

Next week we are looking forward to the annual student choreography performance, Raw Edges. It is always a school favorite and showcases not only the great dancing talent but also choreographic talent in our department. This year we are excited to welcome back three alumni to perform.

Noelle Lelakus and Jo Alspaugh who graduated in 2008 will be performing a duet. After graduation Jo danced with Albany Berkshire Ballet for one season and also danced with Ballet Theatre of Ohio for two years. She is currently teaching at Cleveland Ballet Conservatory and is in her third year of law school at Case Western Reserve.

Noelle was a member of Missouri Contemporary Ballet for two years and taught at two other studios in the area. Halfway through her second season with MCB, she had to get surgery on her ankle and took a leave of absence from dancing full time. Since then, she has returned to Erie to teach for Mercyhurst’s Summer Dance Experience and attend Mercyhurst North East to pursue her RN, from which she will graduate in May! Currently, she is on the faculty for Erie Dance Conservatory and enjoys returning to the department as needed. Raw Edges will be her first time onstage since May 2010!

Sara Lawrence-Sucato is our third returning alum that will be performing in Raw Edges. After graduation Sara joined Dancing Wheels as a company member. She is currently in her sixth season with the company and also serves as the Tour Manager for the company coordinating logistics with their presenters when they travel to perform. In addition to her work with Dancing Wheels she has taught dance and pilates to children and adults at several studios in the Cleveland area. She is grateful for her job as a professional dancer not only for the fact that she is paid to do what she loves but also for the sense of service and giving back to the community through dance.

We are pleased to invite these three wonderful alumni back to Mercyhurst and are excited to see them perform with our current students!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Her Shoes

Don’t miss the performance In Her Shoes this Sunday, January 22 in the Taylor Little Theatre at 2pm.

“A multimedia collage of text, imagery, music, dance, and art to reflect cultural manifestations, pressures, and effects on women in relation to media, popular culture and social constructs.”

The event will include performances by SoMar Dance Works and feature guest artists Carla Hughes, Sara Lawrence-Sucato, Lani Weissbach, Kim Fitch and members of the Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels Company.

The best part is that it’s FREE!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

De-stress and stay healthy

We're halfway through winter term here at Mercyhurst and the feeling of stress across campus is palpable. Midterms can be an especially stressful time for students when they are taking their exams and starting to get into a heavy workload. The combination of stress, a busy schedule and the cold weather can easily lead to getting sick. As dancers it's especially important that we stay healthy so that we can put our best effort into class and rehearsal. January and February is also audition season and dancers want to be in their best form, so remembering to stay healthy and de-stress is vital. Here are some tips for staying healthy and happy:

1.Get enough sleep! Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep to function at their best.

2.Eat well balanced healthy meals. Eating a lot of simple carbs, sugar and chugging that coffee in the morning won't help your energy level. By the time 3pm rolls around you'll be ready to crash. Eating a good breakfast of fruit and whole grains and a well balanced lunch with some veggies and protein will provide you with the energy and nutrients you need to get through the day.

3. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated and drinking enough water throughout the day will help prevent headaches and fatigue.

4.De-stress. If everything seems too overwhelming take some time to relax. Take a yoga class, listen to music, go for a walk or take 10 minutes to stop what you're doing and close your eyes and take some deep breaths.

5. Have fun! Everything doesn't have to be about work or school or dance. Take some time for yourself and have fun, whether it's going out with some friends, reading a good book or watching a funny movie.

"To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Welcome Back!

Hoping everyone had a great holiday break! Classes have started up again for the remainder of winter term and we finally have snow!

Choreographers are busy getting for our Raw Edges performance in February, there is only about six more weeks until the show! Before break we had showings to see what the choreographers have done and all of the pieces look really interesting. There are two ballet pieces on pointe and the rest are more modern contemporary pieces. Can't wait to see how they all turn out!

Seniors are also getting ready to go on auditions starting within the next few weeks. This is always a crazy time getting ready to go out into the dance world and find a job but it's always exciting! Every year our seniors go out and make name for themselves beyond Mercyhurst, which has been our home for the past four years. Our dancers have gone on to dance with companies such as Nashville Ballet, St. Louis Ballet, Oklahoma Ballet, the musical CATS, cruise lines, Disney and even for the Cleveland Cavaliers! Mercyhurst has a great network and we wish all of our seniors good luck on their endeavors.

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." --Alan Watts