Dance conference turns into final curtain call
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Isiah Johnson and his performers had worked so hard to prepare for the American College Dance Association’s (ACDA) annual West Conference. It was his “full circle” moment as a choreographer.
Little did they know it would be their final performance together as members of the Dance Department at Grand Canyon University.
The group was at the conference earlier this month when GCU announced, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, that it would ask ground students to stay home and take their classes online after spring break. That also meant the cancellation of all campus gatherings — and a performance that would be that much more meaningful to the seniors involved.
Dance faculty and students from colleges from around the country traveled to Scottsdale Community College to partake in a week of dance classes from college instructors and showcase adjudicated work from each attending school in hopes of being selected for the gala at the end of the week.
When federal and state authorities issued guidelines limiting the size of public gatherings, some participating colleges left the conference early and the gala was moved to an earlier time, but it went on without disruption.
“The seniors in the cast, knowing it was their last performance as members of GCU’s Ethington Dance Ensemble, gave their most heartfelt performances to date,” said Susannah Keita, Director of the Dance Department. “It was a bittersweet moment, to be sure.”
Johnson’s piece, “A Hole in the Roof, A Hole in My Sock,” and Alyssa Quiett’s piece, “It’s Fine,” were adjudicated for the conference, while Dance juniors Cassandra McGehee and Jillian Nelson were selected for the information concert in a non-adjudicated performance opportunity.
Quiett’s piece brings to light societal expectations for women to avoid showing aggressive emotions, leading to the common passive-aggressive reactions that some women exude.
Quiett said it was strange being off campus when the news broke about classes being transitioned to online for the duration of the semester.
“It felt like everything was going on and we were kind of separated from it, which was a little stressful,” she said. “It was kind of affecting us as a group, so we went and got ice cream and kind of tried to calm ourselves down.”
Later in the week, Johnson’s piece was selected to be performed in the gala, making this the eighth consecutive year that a GCU student’s work made the cut.
“It was a very emotional experience, to say the least,” Johnson said of watching his piece be performed.
He was with several other seniors when they learned that their final GCU dance concert, scheduled for April, would not be performed.
“Everything that we’ve all been working so hard for this semester — in that moment I kind of felt it had gone to waste, and that was hard to swallow,” he said.
Despite the news, he and the other dancers at the conference didn’t let that get in the way of giving their all in their gala performance.
“The gala was an emotional day for me. It was like finally getting to recognize that all the hard work that I and my dancers and this whole program have put into this event and seeing how far we’ve come,” Johnson said. “It felt like wrapping up the rest of my college career … into two days.”
It was an emotional experience for his dancers as well.
“We knew that we had to give it our all because that was our last time performing, not only as like a GCU dance student but also potentially for a while,” senior Madeline Bosse said. “I think those emotions were totally all at the forefront. Every emotion that you’re supposed to feel when you have your last, it all came in one moment and one performance.
“We were definitely letting every emotion be let out on stage.”
For senior Abigail Neighbors, being at the conference and getting to perform in Johnson’s piece added an element of normalcy to the rapidly changing world around her.
“In a lot of ways, I really looked at ACDA happening as a huge blessing,” she said. “They only choose about 10 pieces from the whole conference to perform in the gala, and so it’s a huge honor for GCU, the department and the choreographer to be chosen. I think it was, especially for the seniors, a huge blessing.
“It felt like we got to kind of have some sort of closure that we may have needed to be able to perform one last time and be aware of it. … To go into it knowing that was extremely emotional, but I think it left us all really grateful that the timing happened when it did.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]