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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Empire State of Dance

Photo by Jake Tull

As the lights of the Performing Arts Center lit up and the room filled with a humming sound, dancers walked on stage to perform “glacier,” a professional dance piece inspired by nature. While watching the dance, each dancer seemed to travel on stage independently on non-linear paths.

The show unveiled the talents of 11 Western dance students chosen to dance in this professional work created by artistic director Liz Gerring, of the Liz Gerring Dance Company in New York City.

Dance In Concert, Western’s College of Fine & Performing Arts show featured “glacier” along with choreography by Western’s dance faculty held from April 23-26 in the Performing Arts Center.

The “glacier” cast consisted of Nolan Hoppe-Leonard, Brynn Hofer, Nick Perry, Ashley Shultz, Lalia Bonnell, Elli Madsen, Sami Hall, Zoe Geiger, Abi Kerns, Lydia McClaran and Bonnie Smerdon, all of whom are active students in Western’s dance department.

Many of these students have their own unique dance odyssey. Hofer has been dancing for 16 years, while Nolan Hoppe-Leonard found his passion for dance through enrolling in a GUR class called Dance 102, Open Modern.

“[The class] sort of revolutionized my whole life. It was the greatest thing in the world,” Hoppe-Leonard said. Dance helped him become more confident in himself and in life, he said.

These students auditioned for “glacier” in January.  Adele Nickel and Jessica Weiss, dancers from the Liz Gerring Dance Company, directed the audition. Nickel and Weiss announced the cast the next morning. They notified the dancers and understudies to begin rehearsals that weekend.   

From there, the dancers worked for the first two days for 10 hours straight, and then were  taught the entire dance in about a week at an intense pace. The dancers rehearsed every day in order to soak in the details of the choreography before Nickel and Weiss departed for New York.

“We were exhausted and tired, but the experience in itself was one that you don’t really get very often. I don’t think you’d ever get this outside of college,” Hofer said.

Hofer said it was exciting to be able to learn from the professional dancers in person. “It was so nice to see dancers who have the career that we want, who are a couple of pages ahead of us in life,” Hofer said.

After Nickel and Weiss left, Western dance instructor Susan Haines took over watching rehearsals. Over the past couple of months, the cast had a difficult time remembering little details in the choreography, but kept the same drive they had when Nickel and Weiss were directing, Hofer said.

“It was hard when they left to keep the piece with its’ same integrity,” Hofer said.

Claire Westby, another dancer from the Liz Gerring Company, arrived a few days before the show’s premiere to oversee the last rehearsal days and clean up the final notes before the show. Hofer made it clear that having Westby around was important because she was able to give last-minute reminders of what the piece should be and feel like.

This version of “glacier” is a little different then Gerring’s original work, Westby said.

“The different ways that it is layered, that’s where the surprises come,” Westby said.

She explained how the feeling of the dance is huge and vast along with being chaotic, sparse and unorganized.

The Liz Gerring website describes how the piece and music is inspired by nature.  Composer Michael J. Shumacher collected sounds from staying near a glacier lake.  The music consists of these sounds and detailed instruments, but with no lyrics.

“As you can hear, the music has these surprises in it — a thunderclap here, the sound of ice breaking there,” Westby said. “It has this natural, larger-than-life quality to it.”

Hoppe-Leonard expressed a realization from working on “glacier.”  Each simple movement the dancers perform has immensity, Nolan said. “There is this little energetic shift you can get into, where you can get so much more out of these tiny phrases [that aren’t] big leaps, pirouettes or big flashy things, but are still really powerful.”

“There’s nothing else in this life, I think, where the dancer as themself is the artwork, which is why I think dance is so cool,” Hofer said.

Her inspiration goes back to a quote from Nolan Dennett, a Western dance instructor. He was not part of the making of “glacier,” but his quote relates to all dance works.  He tells his students that for every peice of dance, there is more to be found, Hofer said.

“There is something to make it cleaner, messier, or more exciting — there is always something,” Hofer said. “It’s never perfect, which I think is part of the journey.”

Photo by Jake Tull

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