Conservatory showcases contemporary choreography


Photo by Mark Simpson (Submitted)

Dancer Melanie Martinez in Amy Hall Garner’s “Cadence.”

Written By Rosalie Anthony, Staff Writer

This previous weekend, Oct. 10 through Oct. 13, the Conservatory of Performing Arts’ (COPA)  Dance Department showcased four contemporary dance choreographers in the department’s performance season theme, “Women’s Voices.” 

Choreographers included Amy Hall Garner, Pearlann Porter, Yin Yue and Martha Nichols.   

In the George Rowland Performing Arts proscenium Performance Studio, there is no curtain and minimal backstage space, so before the show, the stage mimicked a blank canvas. Steven Breese, Dean of COPA and Artistic Director of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, introduced the show and graciously thanked everyone who had some part in making the show happen. 

Opening the performance was Hall Garner’s piece, “Cadence,” which was more of a contemporary ballet piece. There were 24 dancers which included large ensemble parts, partnering and some smaller groups. The costumes included colorful, halter tops and skirts with flat ballet shoes for the women and long sleeve puffy shirts with tight pants for the men.

“Her process was long and she’s very tough, but it was fulfilling,” junior dance major Danielle Bowen said about the process. “She was creating the piece as we walked into rehearsal. She based a lot of it off what we could do, and not exactly on a set idea, so it was very collaborative. She brings a lot of her own personal style and own way of moving into it.”

“NOW:PLAYING” was next to premiere, choreographed by Point Park’s own Porter, a graduate of the COPA program that has been teaching at Point Park for 20 years. Porter is also the Artistic Director of her own company named “The Pillow Project,” which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year and has run “The Space Upstairs,” the location for her company, for 13 years. 

The piece that premiered was a snippet of what will be performed in December by her own company. A significant aspect of the piece was the five dancers’ shoe variety. 

“I wanted them to have to adapt the work,” Porter said. “At first, I know the costumes are going to be different in themselves because they all have different personalities. This work is so much about adaptation because they would literally have to adapt the work into the light, they have to adapt the physicality of the music and they have to adapt my choreography.” 

Porter was inspired to create her work with projectors as the only light source from a piece she incorporated projection with a couple years ago. 

“Lighting is a huge part of my work,” Porter said. “I’ve always said famously, my work doesn’t really work in daylight or outdoors. I started thinking about what projection light can accomplish… If I want to do something [with this light source] I want to reinvent and deconstruct the theater … I deliberately picked dancers that were very patient and people who I had watched dance that give me ideas and are fun to have in the room.” 

The music was produced in collaboration by PJ Roduta, who is an accompanist on staff who has worked at Point Park as long as Porter has been teaching, and John Lambert, Porter’s partner. 

“Music for me usually comes first,” Porter said. “I see, I hear the music and the piece emerges from the music. I close my eyes and I can see something happening… It has so many layers and components to it, it accommodated to the variation I really wanted to show in this, and it allowed itself to a lot of play.” 

The third dance piece, and first of the second act, was Yue’s piece entitled “Citizen.” The 20-minute piece was adapted from a 40-minute piece Yue’s dance company, YY Dance Company based in New York, performed. The cast of seven female dancers alternated between dancing as a group, trios, duets and solos. The costumes were dark red or green loose-fitting pants with long sleeve shirts.

“She doesn’t base her movement off of a concept, she creates it with music and it ends up forming into a concept,” senior dance major Kaitlyn Downs said, describing how Yue drew her inspiration. “She talked a lot about different imagery with us. She told us [for this piece] we can imagine New York City, the day after an apocalypse, walking out and having that frantic, urgent, soul-searching feeling you see in the choreography.”

The piece integrates physical strength and stamina, which contrasts the visual appeal of groovy, flowy movement. Yue’s movement is very specific since she has created her own technique on how to achieve her signature movement quality.

“This experience has been very rewarding,” Downs said. “The movement is different than anything else I’ve ever done. It’s really an incredible feeling to extend past your body’s point of exhaustion and realize that your body is so much stronger than you think, to be able to push through the piece and get stronger and stronger each run.” 

Nichols’ “A Decline from a Sound of Prosperous Condition” closed the performance. The piece is about having to conform to the pressures of society and other people. Throughout the piece, internal conflict builds and eventually, at the end, there is an explosion of emotion. The 28-person cast wore white with no skin showing, other than their hands and face. 

“I loved working with [Nichols],” sophomore dance major Olivia Brookes said of the process. “She’s a very down to earth person, and she understands it would take time for things to develop. We started slow and then got progressively faster and faster. She had us do imrov exercises with different prompts or ideas she gave us to get into our own heads and get [the piece] connected to our own stories.” 

“I know when I’m dancing with everybody in the cast, everybody feels connected,” Brookes said. “Everyone has this really good energy to them… I feel like we all mesh together very well. With that many people [in the cast] it takes time to make sure everything’s exactly the same because the choreography is very detailed.” 

Dylan Allen, a junior sports, arts and entertainment management major, came to the show opening night and throughly enjoyed Nichols’ piece.

“I’d say the last one [was one of my favorites] without hesitation,” Allen said. “The way they moved and knew their movement and when to do it with perfect timing, they’re geniuses if you have to know all that at the same time.”