Dance Extravaganza, also known as Dance X, allows students to have their choreography completely staged and performed in front of the Lewis & Clark community. This year, five students and one guest will be showcasing their choreography. The performances will be shown for a live audience, but also filmed and subsequently webcast, in order to increase viewership and accessibility.
The inaugural Dance Extravaganza was conceived 20 years ago as an experimental, non-credit theatrical dance performance in the Black Box by theater major Emily Stone. The producers, choreographers, performers, costume designers and lighting designers were all composed of a group of twelve students. With an overflow of audience members lounging on the catwalks and the tech staff doing vaudeville- style routines in between the pieces, the atmosphere was described as truly circus-like. The show eventually began involving faculty and staff and was relocated to the Main Stage after several years of sold-out performances in the Black Box theatre.
On the LC website, dance program head Susan E. Davis said that “The Lewis & Clark College Dance Program believes in empowering students to create and produce dance at the highest possible level. Since its beginning in 1996, over a thousand students have participated in making Dance X what it is today.”
This year presented the unique challenges of creating a performance without knowing what the COVID-19 restrictions would be like. With the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought, choreographers had to decide what was safe to do in terms of contact. In line with the school’s guidance, choreographers and dancers’ comfort levels impact whether they will be wearing masks.
Emma Bryan ’22 chose to have her four dancers wearing masks in her piece “Converge.” Her love of horror movies and thrillers inspired her choreography, which is set to a jazz fusion with classic and hip-hop elements. It is meant to be a conversation about how images of stereotypes and ideals corrupt and pollute us as adolescents.
Lauren Satterwhite ’23 chose to have her nine dancers go maskless in her piece. It is an intimate piece about heroes, veterans, coming home, togetherness and separation. Satterwhite’s piece mixes elements of ballet, modern dance and multiple bodies coming together to create a whole image.
Evelyn Wohlbier ’23 is a dancer in both Bryan and Satterwhite’s pieces. Despite not getting casted after auditioning during her freshman year, Wohlbier was enamored with Dance X and tried out again this year. This semester has been a relief in terms of how much they have been able to do with the dancing. The process of helping to bring the choreography into actualization has been both challenging and rewarding for Wohlbier.
“I love that all the choreographers don’t just pick one genre of dance and stick to it,” Wohlbier said. “They all do the movement that feels most comfortable in their bodies and putting different genres together to create their own piece.”
Ally Rose ’22 has performed in Dance X for each year she has been at LC. This is her second year as a choreographer, but it is the first year her work will have an in-person audience.
“Choreographing for video and choreographing in person are two almost completely different art forms,” Rose said. “So it was an exciting but foreign experience last year and this year we are back to what feels more natural.”
Rose’s piece, “Fondly,” is a group dance that is a nostalgic figurative representation of making friends in college. Each of the five dancers was based on someone from Rose’s life, although she emphasizes that the characters in the dance are more abstract and fitted to the dancer’s specific personalities. In Rose’s piece, performers take on each other’s weight; this is a physical representation of support and the give and take of emotional weight. Within the music Rose has incorporated the ambient sounds of Portland and audio from the videos of her first year at LC.
This year, Dance Extravaganza also features the work of guest choreographer Tiffany Mills, an artistic director and choreographer at the NYC-based Tiffany Mills Company. Mills’ website describes her work as “collaborative, ensemble-based, and multidisciplinary. She believes collaboration helps blur the lines between mediums and discover layered methods of constructing dances (drawn from partnering, improvisation, and somatic modalities).”
All the hours spent choreographing, workshopping and practicing have all gone into making Dance X what it is. Dance is an interpretive art form and all of the pieces can be seen in a variety of ways.
“I am so excited to hear what people have to say after watching it,” Wohlbier said. “I want to hear what they think that the story is or what they thought it meant.”
Dance Extravangza will be performed tonight, Dec. 3 and tomorrow, Dec. 4 with showings at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. The links for the scheduled performances will be available after their completion.