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Review: Dance Ensemble doesn't disappoint

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Six-year-old me should have kept dancing,” I kept thinking to myself as I watched this year’s Dance Ensemble. The evening of ballet, lyrical, ballroom, modern, tap and hip-hop performances had me wishing I could move as gracefully as the dancers onstage. But instead, I deeply enjoyed “watching my friends and classmates share their artistry.

The nearly two-hour showcase seemed to fly by with pieces that had me smiling, crying, laughing and tapping my toes. Even though Valpo doesn’t offer dance as a major, there is no shortage of talent. Students not only perform, but also choreograph most of the pieces, design the costumes and lighting, and manage backstage.

What I appreciated most was the diversity of dance styles. I went to the Joffrey Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet” last fall, and it was an amazing experience. However, I started nodding off in the dark auditorium after about an hour of ballerinas leaping across the stage with technique I am too ignorant to fully appreciate. The short three to five minute Dance Ensemble pieces kept me engaged with a lively jive by members of VU Ballroom team followed by a modern piece set to “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors which was followed by an a cappella tap number set in a coffeeshop.

The evening opened with a large ensemble number called “Welcome to Wonderland” choreographed by sophomore theatre major Carley Kolsch. The music was from “Wonderland” a contemporary Broadway musical drawing on characters and elements of children’s literature classic “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll.

The Dance Ensemble costume designers outdid themselves bringing beloved Wonderland characters to life such as the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, and of course, Alice. The energetic and colorful performance was a perfect and “welcoming” start to the evening.

One of my favorite numbers was “Car Radio” which concluded the first act. The piece was preluded by a group recitation of the poem “Aware” written by Valpo student Meghan Reider. The poem gave voice to the inner thoughts of someone struggling with anxiety. The dramatic recitation into the silence of the University Theatre set the tone for the powerful number set to “Car Radio” by Twenty One Pilots.

Alumnae Robyn Lewandowski and Lauren Skiniotes choreographed the number last year for their dance composition course. Visiting assistant professor of dance Salena Elish restaged it for this year’s concert, and Skiniotes, who is now executive and artistic director at Momentum Dance Studio, returned to perform during two of the four Dance Ensemble performances.

The piece featured sophomore Hilary Van Oss, who also choreographed a number, as a soloist. She was part of the group recitation of “Aware” and slowly retreated to the back corner of the stage and stood alone for the opening of the dance. As the music built, more dancers took the stage in groups; however, by the end Van Oss stood alone again. The stark contrast of the full to nearly empty stage drew on the themes of loneliness and sadness sung about in the lyrics of the song.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Twenty One Pilots, but I had never felt the full weight of the emotions behind “Car Radio” until seeing it interpreted through dance. I was thankful for the intermission that directly followed which gave me a moment to collect myself after experiencing such a powerful performance.

In the second act, one of the most dramatic and rhythmically engaging pieces was “The Machine” choreographed by senior meteorology major Elyse Smith. Smith and junior social work major Megan Kagebein performed Irish dance at first in seeming competition with seniors Emily Bruce and Breanna Struss performing tap. Throughout the piece the competing duos of separate traditions transitioned into a quartet working together with their separate styles to create an exciting rhythmic collaboration.

By the end of the showcase, I was disappointed only by the fact that Dance Ensemble is but once a year. If Valpo had a larger dance program to support more shows, I would be in the audience every time.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.

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