Photos by Ralph Freso
Each semester the College of Arts & Media brings in two or three nationally and internationally renowned guest artists to work with the GCU dance program. This semesters first dance residency guest artist Shauna Meredith brought the heat to her Grand Canyon University dance residency last week but was left impressed by the students' perseverance and commitment to movement.
“There were several students who I could really tell were pushing beyond what their physical capacities were and going beyond their comfort zone — which is where we see growth,” the residency's guest artist said.
Meredith, who earned her master’s degree in dance science in London and has worked professionally in films and live performances, brought a unique outlook of dance to a five-day residency on campus. The mission statement of her company, Vital Motion, states that it strives to bridge the gap between the science behind movement and the practice of dance.
That was evident through Meredith's classes, which reinforced the “release-base technique” that stems from suspending and falling while allowing your breath to facilitate movement. Her teaching also challenges the dancer to isolate and utilize the tension stored naturally in the body.
“My classes merge these two concepts of breath, fall and suspension and questioning what we need in order to make these movements happen muscularly and what we need to do in order to let go of the extra tension—it’s a mesh of those two ideas,” she said.
Through her hobbies, Meredith has discovered the importance of strength and conditioning in dance. The stronger she became, the more she realized how much the strength powered her movement, which helped her move more efficiently.
“Our job as dancers is to put in the work to make the movements look easy and effortless,” she said.
The combination of Meredith’s teaching style along with other mentors' techniques left an impression on the students — and their bodies.
The intense athleticism left dance performance major Trinity Gracia instantly sore.
“A lot of her choreography is very physical and involves a lot of hard-core movement,” she said. “I’ve definitely been feeling it in my body — and it hurts, but it is a really good push and a great way to jump into my senior year.”
Body soreness was common after even just one session with Meredith, especially after summer break. The classes required thinking critically about how the dancers are using their body as an instrument and pushing past physical and mental blocks.
“I didn’t dance all summer, so getting my body used to the way it usually moves after two months off is really important and beneficial to me,” said Kilele Casillas, who has a minor in dance education. “To be able to do dance as a way of conditioning is really exciting and fun.”
Secondary dance education junior Jessie Madill, who is new to the dance program, aspires to apply what she has learned from Meredith.
“She has definitely challenged us to not be stuck our heads, relax and just feel the music,” said Madill. “I took her classes because I thought it would be a great opportunity to see if I can learn from her and incorporate her techniques as inspiration for when I choreograph my own dances.”
Meredith’s teaching style is not foreign to GCU students. Last semester, several of them went to the American College Dance Association festival in Lamar, Texas, and connected to Meredith’s teaching style and approach to movement.
Dance director Bekki Price's decision to invite her to campus for a dance guest residency was unanimous.
“It was a really easy choice to ask her to come work with our students and work with the seniors to set choreography for the 'Flourish' faculty concert," Price said. "I've always appreciated the quality and rigor of her movement requirements and the way it involves dance science.”
The song Meredith chose for the senior performance: "Between Heaven and Earth," by David Karaganis.
“I have dreams where I see movement, and I try to bring that into fruition through my choreography," Meredith said. "I had a dream early in this summer about this particular piece, but didn’t know who the piece would be for. So when Bekki contacted me and offered me this opportunity, I knew my vision was for the GCU dance program.”
Among the many dance program seniors is Gracia, who has been learning Meredith’s choreography in preparation for “Flourish.”
After watching many other seniors before her perform at GCU, now it is her turn.
“It is definitely bittersweet, but I am thankful to be able to experience opportunities like this and to work with teachers like Meredith," she said.
Watch Meredith's vision come to life by purchasing your tickets to "Flourish" here.