Dancers push “Beyond the Boundaries”

The phrase “dance major” typically evokes images of a student in a studio, memorizing choreographed phrases of turns, jumps and steps. In true liberal arts fashion, however, St. Olaf’s dance department opens up opportunities to use dance as a tool for students to explore personal interests. “Beyond the Boundaries,” the upcoming senior show, reflects these expanded options with the wide variety and uniqueness of each piece.

Eight seniors are currently taking the Dance department’s required senior seminar with Artist in Residence in Dance Anthony Roberts. The class focuses on career development and includes a large final capstone project that the students have been working on all semester. The seniors had the opportunity to select three faculty advisors, one of whom works outside the dance department.

“[Chairing a faculty committee] can be an intimidating aspect for the students, but they realize we’re there to help them,” said Roberts, “It also involves faculty outside of the dance community and brings in new perspectives.”

A few students chose to work with area choreographers to create solo dance pieces, but others elected to work on a research project and presentation or choreograph a dance and set it on fellow student dancers. This year, the audience will go on a “dance crawl,” watching the performance portion of the show in Kelsey Theater before proceeding to Dittman Center Studio One for the remaining performances.

While the department provided guidelines for the capstone, students were given much freedom in deciding what they would do and how they would do it. They were in charge of every step of the process, from conception to putting the pieces together into a show. Time management presented challenges for many of the already busy seniors.

“The hardest part is juggling everything and having to set your own schedule; we’re so used to deadlines for everything,” Anna Bertel ’16 said.

However, the free structure of the projects allowed plenty of room for individual creativity. Each student picked a theme that related to their personal interests.

“Initially, I was like, I don’t really know what to do, but then I realized I just needed to go to my passions,” Kate Roy ’16 said.

Roy’s interactive piece reflects her background in psychology by combining positive psychology concepts to encourage the audience to play, move and be creative.

Calvin Knickerbocker ’16 also chose to get the audience involved in his piece, but by using a bell that audence members can ring to influence his dancing.

“Even if I don’t necessarily care what [the audience] thinks about my dance, I care that they’re present. I get more enjoyment out of the fact that they’re engaged,” Knickerbocker said.

Other pieces range from a group dance, choreographed by Cecilia Wall ’16, to presentations of research around how dance affects children on the autism spectrum, sexual assault victims or occupational therapy practices by Tatum Holland ’16, Julie Hagn ’16 and Bertel, respectively. Four of this year’s eight seniors opted to do non-performance pieces, an unusually high ratio. The students proposed their projects in the spring of their junior year, and have been developing their ideas since.

“For me, the most rewarding part has been watching my cast of seven dancers grow throughout the process,” said Wall, “I don’t know where I’d be without them; they bring so much energy and so many new ideas.”

C. John C., a solo piece performed by Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16, has raised some controversy on campus for its intended use of the confederate flag symbol. Klatt’s description of the piece, which was choreographed with the help of Twin Cities artist Stuart Pimsler, reads as: “portraying Cecil John Rhodes, John Caldwell Calhoun, and issues with colonization, race and power. Through my work I have also tried to push art to be political and to make a statement, questioning what role each of us play in society. I have used my own abilities as an actor, singer and dancer to go beyond the boundaries by exploring the way dance and art can be performed.”

For many of the seniors, the capstone project has indeed gone far beyond the usual boundaries of dance. The involved process inherently fosters new skills, as the dance majors have found with many of their experiences in the dance department. As Roberts expressed to the class, their projects are never really complete; the process is continual.

“It instills a lot of skills in you without you knowing it: leadership, innovation, passion, creativity,” Hagn said.

“Beyond the Boundaries” will certainly be a fresh, engaging display of Ole talent and personality for all audience members. The performance will be presented on Dec. 10, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Kelsey Theater. The show is free and open to the public; no ticket is required.