By Julie Gervais
It’s the fourth of November, which means that ten students from Wayne State University have just seventeen days before they will perform twenty-two of the most challenging dance minutes of their lives.
Dancepanorama caught up with Meg Paul, Ballet Lecturer in the Maggie Allesee Department of Theater & Dance at WSU and the rehearsal director for ‘Hissy Fits’ – a work created by Dwight Rhoden, who founded and co-directs Complexions Contemporary Ballet with dance world superstar Desmond Richardson. Meg is also the Director of the CCB Summer Intensive at WSU, an educational outreach partnership begun three years ago. It’s been a great fit from the start – having danced with the Company, she has an insider’s understanding of both their movement style and their mission. It’s a mission that is strong on diversity and individuality, and Detroit has embraced it with open arms.
The path to twenty-two minutes began with a nine-day residency that kicked off on day one of the fall semester. Mr. Rhoden chose his cast, and they reported in to the studio after the academic day at 4 pm to begin a six-hour rehearsal. Until Labor Day weekend, when the holiday time afforded eight to nine hours of rehearsal per day: eighty hours and counting.
The music for Hissy Fits is by J.S. Bach (I always wish that composers could see the incredible dance works that later generations have created with their music) and, like all Rhoden choreography, the movement is dense, complex, intricate. Multiple body parts moving at once, and mostly in unexpected ways – for both the dancer and the audience.
Ms. Paul reports that they handled it all like pros – not just the intense schedule, but the digging in to unfamiliar material, the getting out of their comfort zone. Even though each of the dancers performing (plus four understudies) had attended at least one of the Complexions summer sessions, stepping into a complete professional-level work is a big step beyond a student performance, and this is the original work – start to finish, no modifications. The partnering is especially challenging in Rhoden’s choreography, adding layers of difficulty that many students are encountering for the first time.
It is important to note Mr. Rhoden’s confidence in the WSU students’ ability to perform the work at the required level and his commitment to developing young dancers’ skills at this crucial point in their development. It would be easy for a choreographer who is in demand around the world to limit his schedule to seasoned professionals. He has chosen instead to reach out with a challenge and an opportunity to young dancers just on the verge of spreading their wings. It’s an inflection point, and can make all the difference in the world to a budding career.
Post-residency, Meg Paul directed all rehearsals, coaching and nurturing these young dancers. Nine additional weeks out, they are now approaching one hundred and twenty hours of work. The moment is getting closer.
On Thursday November 21, they will take the stage of The Joyce Theater in NYC. It’s an intimate but iconic venue for the dance world, a former film house renovated specifically for dance and still dedicated to it. A highlight of Complexions ten-day run at the Joyce is their Annual Gala on the 21st , and it is on this evening that the WSU dancers will perform – on the same program with the Company – by special invitation.
Congratulations to all of the dancers: Chris Braz, Michelle Brock, Kara Brody, Shauna Cook, Amber Golden, Sam Horning, Ashlee Merritt, Adam McGaw, Andrew Sanger, and James Vessell; and to understudies: Bianca Brengman, Bianca Bousamra, Zariah Fowler, and Ashley Kalchik. We wish them all the best success and enjoyment of every moment of this incredible opportunity.
Sneak-peek preview opportunity! There is a benefit performance on Wednesday November 6 in WSU’s Maggie Allesee Studio Theater at 7:30. Tickets (313) 577-4273.