Dance Goes ‘Under the Stars’ and on to New Risks

Nate Taylor and Kelthie Truong

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In one instance, sharp silhouettes strike poses against the brightly-lit background. In another, dancers in pirouette become rapid blurs of color. In the next, the stage goes dark and a brief moment of silence precedes a roar of hoots, whistles and applause.

Led by long-term substitute dance director Nicole Patton, the second annual winter dance concert “Under the Stars” was the first-of-its-kind in several aspects. It showcased the work of Dance 2, Dance 3, Dance 4 and Dance Company, including 17 student choreographers, on Dec. 6 in a total of 25 performances, the most in dance concert history.

Larger quantities of shorter performances and smaller groups accentuated the individual strengths that dancers possessed. A variety of styles embodied the vast range of 2019 pop culture; with musical theater, K-Pop and Bollywood in addition to traditional hip-hop, jazz and contemporary pieces, all dancers found avenues to connect with the choreography.

“I see a lot of growth in their performance quality and a lot in their technique as well,” dance teacher Samantha Gardner said, who is currently on maternity leave. “When you see dancers day-to-day, you don’t always see the improvement because you’re so used to seeing a slow progression. But stepping back and seeing them now, I’m just so impressed.”

Deliberate facial expressions elevated pieces beyond a simple range of merely happy or sad. The audience’s shifts in reaction reflected the raw emotions exuded by the dancers. The unapologetic confidence in the sassy “Look at Me Now” piece prompted prideful cheers, while warm “Awwws” marked the resonance of “Stay Awake’s” tale of heartbreak and friendship.

In addition to challenging themselves in their performance quality, Patton’s students adopted new roles in leadership, namely through choreographing their own groups and collaborating with other levels of dance.

“Having to work with your peers is different than me teaching them,” Patton said. “They immediately respect me, [but] with your peers, you have to learn to communicate a little better.”

This year, props, elaborate costumes and lighting effects had more frequent roles in enhancing the stories behind the choreography. Newspapers, dress shirts and vests brought the 1900s newsboy aesthetic to life in “King of New York,” and flashing lights formed the illusion of glitching, staccato movement in “Bad Guy.”

“Sometimes people just look at the movement,” student choreographer and senior Jasmine Asami said. “And I know most people just hear the song, and it’s enough to say a dance was good. Everyone’s choreography is different because there’s a different story to tell behind it. That’s just something people have to consider when they watch it.”

In the simple and sweet finale to the classic pop song “Dancing in the Moonlight,” each dance group joined one another on stage in a collective send off and bow.

“I think it was a really good experience,” Patton said. “I saw all of them blossom — like their confidence all went up. It was awesome.”