Last semester, Orchesis Dance Theater held its concert in the Eccles Theater. Some of the compositions were so well received, including a student-choreographed piece called “Beware of Dogs” by Rodolfo Rafael, that they were chosen to be performed at the American College Dance Festival Northwest Region Gala and will be back in this semester’s production. Carrie Lee Miles, one of the first dance majors to graduate from Weber State University’s dance program and who now teaches at Imagine Ballet Theater, will be among the welcomed participants.
The larger venue of the Allred Theater, the location for this semester’s concert, left many of the participating dancers having to navigate and accommodate the new space.
Though the choreographing and practicing start early in the semester, it is only toward mid-semester that they uncover what will comprise that semester’s particular production.
“We get together and discuss what everyone has been doing, and then we start putting together what the arc and order of the production will look like,” said Amanda Sowerby, current director of Orchesis.
The primary leadership of Orchesis is taken on by WSU dance professors Sowerby, Joanne Lawrence and Erik Stern in an alternating fashion, with Sowerby and Lawrence as co-directors this year. But several other faculty and student choreographers have a hand in any given production. This semester is no exception, and features the ending of fall semester’s popular composition “Stirrings” by Ririe Woodbury’s artistic director, Charlotte Boye-Christensen, and the choreography/composition of Sarah Donohue of the Repertory Dance Theater, who used sampled words from Dictionary.com to inspire her piece, contrasting a self-motivated versus an external place.
As always, the student choreography and dancing is integral to the Orchesis productions. Alicia Trump is the first WSU dance major to be accepted into the department honors program, with her work “Embark,” a piece about her college experience commencing in this semester’s production, as she also graduates this semester.
Sowerby supported the fact that student choreographers pick all their own music, dancers and, of course, movement.
“They’re open to suggestions, to creative input from their dancers, suggestions and feedback from faculty. But as choreographer and director, though, it’s their responsibility to craft their vision.”
Sowerby revealed that Orchesis is actually the name given to whoever is performing in the dance theater production. So it may include dancers from the Moving Company, guest artists/choreographers, faculty choreography and performance, and the student choreography and dancers.
Additionally, in the dance program at WSU, individual dancers, whether they be choreographers or not, are taught, encouraged and expected to feel free to inject their own movement and suggestions into the creation of pieces.
“In modern dance, we use that as a practice for generating movement vocabulary and choreographic structure,” Sowerby said. “The dancers are a part of the process for researching movement . . . they’re co-researchers.”
Having taught children at one point in her career, and having had a career as a professional dancer herself, Sowerby chose to come back to higher education and noted that one of the biggest challenges is that, though it can be pulled in many directions by the demands of school, focus is what sets university students apart. She sensed the students are culling information from all their movement coursework.
“They’re ready to embody and absorb movement information at a much quicker rate . . . and (you get) to see their wheels churning . . . the application of, the utilizing of movement information in many different ways. That’s due to their level of maturity . . . (to the maturity) of young adults, and that’s always rewarding to see.”
Tickets for Orchesis, which runs April 4-5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Allred Theater, can be purchased by calling or visiting the Dee Events Center at 801-626-7000, at www.weberstatetickets.com or at the Browning Center.