Colorful lights flash onstage as a group of about 30 dancers clad in sparkling purple and black costumes move with quick, graceful steps to an upbeat blues tune. They move perfectly in sync with the beat, all smiles at an appreciative audience. This fun, light jazz number is “The Walking Blues,” choreographed by Liz Curtis, and this is the opening piece at the GCC dance department’s Dance Performance 2006.
The biannual dance production, which opened May 30 at the Sierra Nevada Gym, is in its 31st year and is completely choreographed and performed by students enrolled in the college’s jazz workshop, choreography workshop and dance production classes.
“This is all student choreography,” said Lynn McMurrey, the production’s artistic director and chair of the dance department. “Everything came from the very bright, imaginative, and sometimes twisted ideas of students. The teachers only guided them.”
According to the director, the students had been preparing for the production all semester, and each choreographer had one hour per week to work on a piece.
“Students commit time from 12:30 to 5 p.m., two days aweek,” said dance professor Patti Cox. “They put in lots of time. They even gave up the whole Memorial Day [to rehearse].”
Student choreographer and dancer Selin Minassians agreed that it was “very hectic. But it was a good learning experience. We [performers] are like family now; it’s like dancing with your brothers and sisters.”
Minassians, who choreographed the finale and also participated in the past two semester’s dance productions, said that this semester’s performance had more variety than before.
McMurrey added that what made this year’s production unique was the subject matter expressed through the dance pieces. “The [pieces] are a lot heavier [in meaning]. The dancers deal with issues that mean a lot to them; they are a lot more dramatic.”
Heavy emotions are indeed evident in pieces such as “Strain,” which seems to satirize societal pressure and conformity through dancing and some acting, and “Loss,” a sad, wistful ballet number in which the dancers are mostly clad in dark colors. “Beneath the Layers,” a solo number performed by Shannon D’Souza, also conveys feelings of pain and confusion.
However, there are also some light pieces, which include “Danse Boheme,” a mix of ballet and Latin dance, and the dreamy “Feel the Stars Aligning” number.
Another unique aspect of this year’s show, according to McMurrey, is that there are fewer hip-hop numbers. “There’s only one hip-hop piece,” he said, which is the finale number, “Pussycat Broadway,” where hip-hop choreography is contained in a segment of the medley. Some hip-hop is also observed in “Elements,” a piece that demonstrates the influences and characteristics of jazz dancing.
“Elements” was conceptualized by Victor Robles, a former student who now teaches dance. “I came up with the idea of how to define jazz,” Robles said. “It’s a fun piece with contemporary music.”
The numerous costumes were designed by the students with the help of head costumer Bonnie Shipston. “The choreographers come to me with an idea of [the costume] they want,” she said. “I make the costumes and sometimes, if they need help, I look at the piece and make suggestions. But they generally have a very specific idea of what they want.”
The company honored Shipston’s effort through a comical dance number called “Busy, Busy, Busy,” in which Shipston herself is seen onstage taking measurements and dressing the dancers as they perform.
The show’s sound design was done by Robin Ward and the stage manager was Amanda Hall. The lighting design was done by McMurrey himself.
In his introduction to the show on opening night, McMurrey dedicated this year’s performances to professional dancer Frank Wong, who is a benefactor of some of the college’s dance projects and is fondly known to dance students as the “dance department angel.” Wong is currently battling cancer.
“Without him, we’d still be doing what we’re doing, but it would be much harder,” McMurrey said before calling for a short “moment of energy” for Wong.
The wide variety of ideas and techniques in the performance was met by much applause and appreciation from the audience. “I’m enjoying it,” said Colleen Godwin, a member of the audience. “I like seeing what the [dancers] are trying to say. There’s some very impressive dancing.”
Performances ran through June 4.