Senior dance majors move together toward final concert

Although finals are approaching for all Oles, many seniors feel the additional pressure of capstone and distinction projects. The end of first semester marks the time of year when seniors begin to showcase the culmination of their scholastic achievements during their time on the Hill. For seniors in the St. Olaf dance department, it is almost time for the much anticipated Senior Dance Concert.

The Senior Dance Concert is an annual performance that showcases the capstone pieces crafted by the senior dance majors. This year, the ten seniors chose between three different types of final projects. Six seniors chose to choreograph a piece, three seniors chose to work on an individual performance, and one senior chose to write a thesis paper and give a presentation.

The dancers have been thinking about these projects since their first year at St. Olaf. Last year, as juniors, they previewed their pieces to department faculty for feedback, critique and encouragement. Each senior is supported by her peers in the capstone class as well as a three-person faculty committee, composed of two dance faculty and one external faculty member.

Alisha Jihn ’15 chose to choreograph a piece for a group of five dancers. The process has been long and tedious, as the seniors practice with their dancers at least three and a half hours a week.

“This class is a great way for us to explore our creative processes,” said Jihn. “We all work in different ways, and this year it really shows in our performances. Everyone is doing something different and unique to themselves.”

Sei Jonga ’15 also chose to choreograph a piece that exemplifies creativity and originality. Jonga describes her creative process as cerebral – rather than physically experimenting with moves in the studio, she prefers to think through the choreography with her dancers.

“At the beginning, I was interested in working with primal movement. I worked a lot with the dancers to bring it out of them individually,” said Jonga. “They came up with their own movement, which has been a rich, fulfilling process.”

In addition to focusing on the dancers themselves, Jonga has been experimenting with audience interaction during the performance to explore how becoming part of the performance can change the audience’s experience.

Grace Wehrspann ’15 hired a choreographer from the Twin Cities to create a solo. She began learning her piece in July, and has devoted countless hours each week to practicing and refining the choreography.

“There are three solos this year, but each one is really different,” said Wehrspann. “There is a great range, from internal and introspective, to a character piece like I’m doing.”

Wehrspann’s piece not only brings theatrical elements to her movement, but also to the stage itself. A unique costume and set will complement her choreographed characterization.

This year, only one senior chose to write a thesis paper. Michaela Liesenberg ’15 will present this research on Arts and Public Policy during community time on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 11:30 a.m. in Dittmann 305. Her paper focuses on the impact the National Endowment for the Arts has on the creation, performance and popularity of public art.

For the seniors, this is one of the last opportunities to access the St. Olaf dance department’s many resources.

“Outside of Olaf, you have to pay to rent a space, hire dancers, design costumes and everything else that goes into a show,” said Wehrspann. “This concert has given us an opportunity to experiment without worrying about all of that.”

The show also provides an opportunity to get to know the other students and faculty in the dance department.

“A lot of the time working with faculty you know what you are getting into, but with students they have vastly different processes,” said Jonga, who has participated in the Senior Dance Concert since her first year on the hill. Although the Senior Dance Concert is the final project for the seniors’ capstone class and major, it is also a time to celebrate the work they have done in the past in this community.

“This is an opportunity to share our work with each other. It isn’t a competition,” Jihn said. “We have watched each other grow throughout the years.”

This year, the title and theme of the show is Coalesce. The name could not be more fitting for a group of dancers who have moved, both figuratively and literally, through their time on the Hill together.

“We are producing a show with the people we love – what could be better?” Jihn said.

The Senior Dance Concert will take place on Thursday, Dec. 11 and Friday Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Kelsey Theater. A reception with refreshments will follow the concert on Thursday night. There are no tickets for the show, so plan to arrive early to get a seat. The doors open at 7:00 p.m. each night.