By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University’s Dance Department often hosts impressive residency artists, but last week’s dance residency with Richelle "Ricki" Stevenson of Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet was especially memorable.
Not only were students collaborating with another Christian dance program; they also were working with a recent GCU graduate.
In 2015, Stevenson (then Richelle Trebilcock) earned her B.S. in Athletic Training and minor in Dance Education. She returned to campus to assist students with rehearsals for a piece titled “Dark Night of the Soul.”
“I’ve seen so much growth in the program from when I was here as a student to where they are now,” Stevenson said. “It’s been great to adjust my classes to bring it up to a new level of dance with every class that I’ve taught because there’s just such strength and talent in this program, it makes me very excited to be an alumni and also very excited about coming back now.”
After graduating, Stevenson danced with a company in Washington state for two years before accepting a role as an apprentice with Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet, a Christian faith-based company in Middletown, Connecticut. Now, after four seasons with the company, Stevenson is Assistant Director.
In addition to Stevenson traveling to campus to physically be available to work with students, Elisa Schroth, Artistic Director at Ekklesia, added to the experience by dialing in to rehearsals from her home state of Connecticut via Zoom.
“I wish I could be there in person so much,” she said. “But it’s still been pretty incredible what I have been able to do from this far away.
“The energy and the passion that the students have is remarkable, and I’m just really thrilled to work with them, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this experience.”
The work with Stevenson and Schroth gave GCU dance students the opportunity to add their own unique flare to the powerful piece. Choreographed by Schroth, it focuses on mental health and the side effects that accompany trauma to the body and the mind. The piece worked as a segue into a discussion about both the issue and how to look at it through a spiritual lens.
“We really felt like it was a piece that is just so important for our time,” Schroth said. “Originally, the piece was created in a response to interviews of people who have suffered trauma of all different kinds.”
The company also used Psalm 42 and a poem by Saint John of the Cross, for whom the piece was named, to influence the final product. Over the weeklong residency, Stevenson encourage the students to pull from their own experiences as they shaped their interpretation of the piece.
Verse 5 sums up Psalm 42:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise Him,
my Savior and my God.
“Trauma is personal to every person, our faith is personal to every person and this piece is going to be personal to every person,” Stevenson said.
Jonathan Montoya Gerardo was one of the students selected to be a part of the piece, which will make its GCU debut at this March’s "Beyond Limits" faculty dance concert.
“It’s about finding that optimism and finding the duality," he said. "I feel like I’m very privileged to have this opportunity to convey that message.”
Learning from someone who was a GCU student just a few years ago made the experience even more special.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to really see them as role models,” he said. “With this guest residency, it’s a great example that it is possible, and you can do it.”
Dance Director Bekki Price expressed a similar sentiment:
“It’s been really exciting to have her (Stevenson) here as a part of the program, seeing the growth,” Price said. “It makes it real. GCU’s program provides you with the training from our very skilled faculty to help you be successful in whatever you want to do.
“We have alumni doing wonderful things, so it’s exciting to have them not only hear about what our alumni are doing, but to get to see it firsthand.”
Stevenson’s residency opens a door for possible future collaborations between GCU and Ekklesia, and Stevenson couldn’t be more on board.
“We hope to continue building a relationship with GCU and the Dance Department,” she said. “I feel very passionate about what this program represents and what our company at Ekklesia represents, and I think that’s what kind of brought us to this point.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
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