BYU’s DancEnsemble Explores Themes of Togetherness, Isolation and More Through Student Choreography
The contemporary dance group dancEnsemble performed the works of guest choreographer Alexandra Bradshaw-Yerby and seven student choreographers in November.
Select student choreographers had the opportunity to collaborate with Bradshaw-Yerby on her new work for the showcase, titled “I Am Here in Your Hands.”
DancEnsemble is a student-oriented dance company that works to mentor and produce student choreography. Professor Marin Leggat Roper, assistant professor in the Department of Dance, oversaw the students as they prepared for the showcase.
In addition to Bradshaw-Yerby's piece, the company performed pieces choreographed by BYU students Sarah Dalley, Kaeli Dance, Melissa Larson Edgerton, Emily Hart, Baylee Van Patten, Tori Miner and Sofia Kimball.
Van Patten, a student in her fourth year as a dance major at BYU, said the initial inspiration for her piece entitled “The Crow” came from the song “Wild Lavender” by Benjamin Torrens. Van Patten said the poetic words inspired a story in her mind.
“I started to create a narrative through dance where characters interacted with this ‘crow’ figure,” Van Patten said. “I intentionally abstracted the narrative, so the audience is asked to create their own story and discover how the movement, interactions and emotions relate to them personally.”
Van Patten said she views the character of the crow as a representation of the concept of time, with each dancer exploring their own individual relationship with it.
“Each of the cast members brings unique perspectives and creativity to rehearsals. Each of the dancers represents a unique character,” Van Patten said. “I've found that throughout the creative process, the piece has become specific to the dancers in this cast.”
Dalley’s piece, which explores the contrast between isolation and connectedness, was inspired by a cover of “Without You” by Leslie Odom Jr.—specifically the imagery conjured by the orchestration and lyrics.
Dalley collaborated with other dancers for the movement in her piece and prompted them to create phrases related to the themes of her piece and mixed those phrases with her own.
“Through their individual expression and artistry, the dancers share themselves and their stories in the piece as well,” Dalley said. “When the audience sees it, I hope they can connect their own experiences to what they see and feel inspired or learn something new.”
Kimball said her piece was inspired by the Betty Boop cartoon "Saint James Infirmary Blues” sung by Cab Calloway. “The cartoon itself has a certain scary charm I enjoy and it fit very well with my idea,” said Kimball.
Throughout the piece, Kimball was inspired to stick with themes of the 1930s, including using music created for a video game inspired by another 1930s show and basing the movement in her piece off popular dances of that time period.
Kimball said the story behind her dance is simple. “Even when you're dead, you can enjoy dancing and have a party,” said Kimball. “I feel that not all contemporary dance needs to be too abstract or serious all the time.”
As someone who has choreographed for both children and adults, Kimball said that a choreographer should never underestimate their dancers. “They are always so willing to try anything you throw at them and are definitely capable of learning,” said Kimball.
Other pieces in the performance were inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven, who persevered to compose music despite losing his hearing, sculptures coming to life and more.
Of her fellow students, Dalley said, “They are incredibly talented, dedicated and patient with me as I try things I’ve never tried before.”
Van Patten said she is most excited for the audience to watch the entire company perform as one and celebrate their emotional and physical closeness with each other.
The company, consisting of over 30 dancers, came together for the final piece inspired by President Kevin J Worthen’s address to 2022 graduates titled, “The Propinquity Effect.” President Worthen’s address urged students to increase positive interactions to promote closeness, both with other people and in a more spiritual sense.
“I hope the audiences are able to connect with the messages and stories we tell through dance,” Dalley said.