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Conner Erickson and Hannah Featherstone perform in Orchesis Dance Theatre: The Four Freedoms Suite, coming April 8. (Source: Amanda Sowerby)

In 1941, the free world teetered on the edge of oppression as WWII ravaged countries across the globe. In an effort to rally the remaining champions of democracy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered “The Four Freedoms Speech,” declaring that people of all nations should experience certain unalienable freedoms. This speech inspired millions and also serves as inspiration for Weber State University’s upcoming Orchesis Dance Theatre performance.

Opening on April 6 at 7:30 p.m. and running until April 8 at the Allred Theater, the Orchesis Dance Theatre: The Four Freedoms Suite features a two-part performance, with the first half comprised of five dances centering on FDR’s four freedoms, with the second half combining three senior theses and one faculty-choreographed dance.

The show is co-directed by WSU dance faculty Joanne L. Lawrence and Amanda Sowerby who worked alongside political science faculty, Leah Murray, and Weber’s outreach dance program, WSU’s Moving Co., to create the Four Freedoms Suite.

The dance students who have spent the past two years working on this projects are “phenomenal,” said Lawrence. “There’s been a lot of growth.”

As stated in the event’s program, Lawrence, Sowerby and Murray “…mapped out a two-year interdisciplinary project of dance and American history, investigating the importance of the arts, citizenship and dance as a social commentary and political discourse.”

Over the course of four semesters, Lawrence and Sowerby brought in four professional choreographers, who each choreographed a dance according to one of the four freedoms. The professional choreographers and collaborators include, Lorenzo (Rennie) Harris, a hip-hop dancer, Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, a company that is world renowned, Meghan Durham-Wall and Taiwanese artist Ruping Wang.

Durham-Wall’s husband, a composer, also created an original score for the Freedom of Worship dance.

On opening night, a discussion panel will be featured before the event. Guest panelists will include: Dr. Carol McNamara, the director of the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics & Public Service at WSU, Meghan Durham-Wall, MFA, and former Chief Justice Christine Durham. The discussion will be moderated by Leah Murray.

Lawrence noted that the purpose of the panel will be to foster a discussion that demonstrates, “dance as [both] a catalyst for social change” and a “response to political change.”

In addition to student dance performances, original poems highlighting social injustice and the need for freedom written by WSU students will be presented in between each dance during the first half of the event.

The second half of the event will feature dancer students including Marissa Schmidt, Andrea Sward and Hannah Featherstone, as they present their senior theses.

“It’s a mini-graduate thesis, in a sense,” explained Sowerby. Graduating dance students are required, amongst other responsibilities, to write a synthesis paper and assist in the production process of an upcoming performance.

Sowerby continued, “It really prepares them to be professional performers and educators.”

A relaxed performance with reduced sound level and stage lighting will also be performed as a matinee on Saturday, April 8 at 2 p.m. for children with developmental disabilities and their families.

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