Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
If there is one thing the last year and a half has taught us, it's that Grand Canyon University students have emerged stronger than ever after facing adversity.
That's why the College of Fine Arts and Production’s Dance Department chose “Emerge” as the theme for the Winter Dance Concert, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Ethington Theatre. It will feature seven pieces of choreography created by GCU dance faculty and two works choreographed by this semester’s guest residency artists. (Here's a slideshow.)
The concert is designed to tackle the complexity of emotions the world has felt – and continues to feel – during the pandemic.
“I didn’t really approach this show or this semester and teaching in classes as going back to normal because I don’t think there’s any going back,” Dance Director Bekki Price said. “The concept kind of came from having this experience that we’re still going through … we’ve experienced a lot of grief, grief maybe from a loss of loved ones but also loss of the normal things that we were able to do last year (before COVID).
“In general, people had to maintain 6 feet apart, and as humans it’s really hard missing out on that connection with our friends and our loved ones. So this show is about taking all those experiences as a learning experience on how we can emerge from this stronger in our new normal.”
With that new normal comes a well-rounded mesh of the new and the old as dance students make their return to the Ethington Theatre stage for the first time in two years. It was a restoration of some sense of normalcy for returning faculty choreographers and an opportunity to welcome new faculty members into the annual concert.
Adjunct dance instructor Crystal Fullmer, who began teaching at GCU this semester, is just one of the new choreographers featured in the concert.
In her piece “We Know That in All Things,” Fullmer references the Bible verse Romans 8:28 and its message of trusting in God’s plan.
“It’s really an abstract development of the idea of loss of purpose,” she said. “It’s about looking at the residue that’s left of all those dreams that you had and then the rebirth that God creates from that because you are faithful, because you are obedient to what He says and the new opportunities and direction that He gives you.”
The nine-minute, 11-dancer ensemble is set to two compositions by famed cellist and composer Nick Takénobu Ogawa.
Despite working with dance students for a short time, Fullmer noticed the talent in the Dance Department.
“It’s actually been pretty delightful, to put a word on it,” Fullmer said about her first semester of working with GCU students. “I’ve worked with university dance students from a lot of universities across the country because I’ve moved to different dance programs over my career, and I would say that as far as their (GCU students’) technical ability, they’re probably one of the more advanced groups I’ve ever gotten to work with.
“I always like to walk into a studio knowing that the dancers can not only handle what you’re going to give them but probably take it to a higher level than you even were anticipating. It's really nice.”
That sentiment was echoed by the other choreographers.
Earlier this semester, the Dance Department welcomed guest residency artist Teena Marie Custer, a professional dancer for Ephrat Asherie Dance company in New York City, to work with students. The skillful street dance artist spent her five-day residency with students teaching and rehearsing her piece for the concert, “The Shade.”
“Their ability to work at that pace was really amazing,” Custer said. “I was happy with how it turned out – I was really surprised with how fast they picked things up.
“The overall talent, I had no idea GCU has such amazing dancers.”
Custer’s piece, which features 16 dancers in the three-day concert, required her to pick the brains of students to learn more about their individual experiences during the pandemic.
“It’s basically about some plants need shade to grow instead of sun, and so it was kind of investigating who really thrived during this time during lockdown and who really struggled,” she said. “Not to dwell on that part so much, but instead, ‘What did you take way from it? What are you going to leave behind? What did you learn to kind of take with you?’ Because we’re all changed forever.”
It was a piece that had held a special place in the hearts of the students who performed it. Dance senior Elijah Samuél Figueroa is one of those performers.
“It’s about how sometimes as people we need to grow in the sun, we need to be out and experiencing the world … but some of us grow better in the shade,” he said. “I definitely grew from the shade. I’ve been a workaholic my whole life, so to be able to just have everything taken away from me to stop me from being distracted from facing who I am inside was definitely an eye-opener for me, and I was able to meet myself for the first time.
“It’s tough to think about COVID, but I’m also grateful that I’m here, I’m still alive and that I’m able to grow from it.”
That moment of reflection, paired with having the opportunity to perform his last few concerts as an undergraduate student back at Ethington Theatre, made the experience that much more meaningful for Figueroa.
“I love coming back to Ethington because it’s just a lot more intimate,” he said. “I love it because we’re able to hear a pin drop or hear a gasp. I also appreciate that it’s a shared theatre with sometimes vocal and theatre. Also, we get to give our own take of what it’s like to take over Ethington for a weekend.”
It’s been a transformative two years for the University as a whole, but especially for the Dance Department as it continues to adapt and grow with every challenge.
And Price couldn’t be prouder.
“Coming into this semester, our dance community, I feel, has never been stronger,” Price said. “The students, from freshmen to seniors, they are connecting with one another, they are leaning on one another. Everyone is kind of rising to the challenges and taking advantage of opportunities. It’s been really exciting to see and to be a part of.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Emerge” Winter Dance Concert
Where: Ethington Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Dec. 10-11, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12
Information: Reserve your tickets for “Emerge” online, in person at the Arena box office or by calling 602-639-8979
Choreographed by Teena Marie Custer
Performed by: Kiera Boatman, Jaeda Bozich, Elijah Figueroa, Josie Filmore, Jordan Garrison, Jonathan Montoya Gerardo, Johanna Loiseau, Sammi Lopresti, Joslyn Monthei, Jedidiah Okerlund, Joy Palmer, Neil Spooner, Emma Watson, Caitlin Deely (Saturday/Monday), Megan Neese (Friday/Sunday)
Choreographed by Halley Willcox
Performed by Janessa Hill, James Lantz, Megan Neese, Cortnee Porras
Music: Robin Vining
Choreographed by Rebecca Blair Price in collaboration with the dancers
Performed by: Andie Dean Alsager, Kiera Boatman, Hailey Boggs, Caitlin Deely, Jordan Garrison, Savannah Hale, Johanna Loiseau, Madeline Lynch, Jedidiah Okerlund, Joy Palmer, Kylie Silves, Neil Spooner, Emily Valenzuela, Emma Watson, Gabriana Barragan (understudy), Aliyah Padilla (understudy)
Music: Original composition by Ryan Ardelt
Choreographed by Tasha Stramecki
Performed by Olivia Boatright, Jaeda Bozich, Claira Doll, Hannah Earley, Trinity Gracia, Gabrielle Koch, Emma Owens, Kylie Silves, Luci Suckert, Emily Valenzuela
Music: "Waltz of the Snowflakes" by Tchaikovsky
Choreographed by Greta Surgai
Performed by Elijah Figueroa, Janessa Hill, Zoe Hunter, Megan Neese, Kendall Smith, Emily Valenzuela, Caitlin Deely (understudy), Sammi Lopresti (understudy)
Music: "Saturn" by Sleeping At Last
Choreographed by Suzy Guarino-Hall
Performed by Olivia Boatright, Hailey Boggs, Jaeda Bozich, Savannah Hale, Gabrielle Koch, Johanna Loiseau, Sammi Lopresti, Joslyn Monthei, Joy Palmer, Cortnee Porras, Abigail Rogalski, Neil Spooner, Luci Suckert, Caylee Cohen, Sage Thornsen
Music: Original composition by Ryan Ardelt
Wrapped and Unraveled Part I
Choreographed by Rebecca Witt in collaboration with the dancers
Performed by Kiera Boatright, Jessica Espinoza, Elijah Figueroa, Josie Filmore, Janessa Hill, Jonathan Montoya Gerardo, Kylie Silves, Kendall Smith, Dominique Merrell, Emily Valenzuela
Music: "Overturn" by Alexandra Streliski
Hide. Shift. Surface. Keep ... going.
Choreographed by Angelica DeLashmette Hurst
Performed by Kenzie Brandon, Elijah Figueroa, Josie Filmore, Savannah Hale, Janessa Hill, Johanna Loiseau, Sammi Lopresti, Megan Neese, Jedidiah Okerlund, Jenna Laplante, Dominique Merrell, Abigail Rogalski, Emma Watson, Carlos Diaz (understudy)
Music: "Interlude 1" by Steinbruchel and Lawrence English, "Titles" by Deru, "Rock in the Video Age" by Jan Jelinek
We Know That in All Things
Choreographed by: Crystal Fullmer
Performed by: Gabriana Barragan, Caitlin Deely, Elijah Figueroa, Jonathan Montoya Gerardo, Trinity Gracia, Jenna Laplante, Johanna Loiseau, Megan Neese, Joy Palmer, Cortnee Porras, Kylie Silves, Emma Watson, Sarah Ross (understudy), Neil Spooner (understudy)
Music: "Black Stallion" by Takenobu, "Exposition" by Takenobu
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]