It’s not all flashy spins and kicks during the 43rd annual Orchesis dance concert “Suspension.” The Orchesis dance company will take center stage this weekend at Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre. The modern and contemporary show focuses on conveying messages and ideas through the movement of the dancers.
“It’s a title that tries to encompass an element of dance, the expressive potential that dance is and then whatever is in their hearts and minds,” Orchesis director Diana Stanton said.
With 12 different pieces, 26 dancers, four styles of dance, three faculty members and four guest artists, this production is the work of many different hands and talents.
Creating “Suspension” was a collaborative effort. Everyone involved — whether a dancer or a choreographer — had a say in molding the show creatively.
“Many dancers grow up in a dance studio where the only process they have known is to be taught steps,” Stanton said. “Here, it is not that way. They add to the choreographer’s process. They have to invent and be a part of the creative process.”
The student side of the production is run by four arts administrative interns chosen the year before. The interns help with publicity, manage rehearsal schedules, coach rehearsals, function as dance captains and can also be choreographers, Stanton said.
“You get a say in what you are doing onstage and how you want to portray yourself,” psychology sophomore and arts administrative intern Lauren Creger said. “You get to put more of yourself into the dancing and kind of show your audience who you are through your movements.”
Student choreographers had even more say in that process. One of the three student choreographers chosen during fall quarter was business administration junior Nikki Sullivan.
“I came from a studio in high school where all of your dances were two to three minutes and then you are done,” Sullivan said. “It’s all about showing the audience how many turns you can do. Whereas here it is more about making the audience think.”
Sullivan’s piece, “What We Think We Deserve,” is about the relationship between a fictional husband, wife and another woman. She was inspired by the relationship of one of her friends in high school who had a long distance relationship in which the other person cheated.
Sullivan also came up with the chosen title, “Suspension.”
“At the end of every show, we brainstorm for next year’s title name,” Sullivan said. “I was in one of Diana’s modern classes last year and she said something about movement and make sure that you suspend here.”
Many of the guest choreographers brought to Cal Poly for the production specialized in contemporary and modern styles of dance. Classical ballet and jazz will also be thrown into the mix.
“Our show is pretty well rounded in the feelings and ideas conveyed by those styles,” Creger said.
Guest choreographer Keith Johnson, a dance professor at California State University, Long Beach and recipient of two Lester Horton Awards for Outstanding Choreography, included the Cal Poly dancers in his creative process.
“To create his dance for Orchesis, Johnson involved the Orchesis students in a unique collaborative process, resulting in movement vocabulary that is provocative and original,” Stanton said.
His piece, “A Tentful of Marks,” is about bullying, name-calling and hypocrisy, Johnon said.
“Meeting guest choreographers was my favorite part because I had never done that before,” food science and nutrition junior Brandon Takahashi said. “To have people from out of state and other universities choose you to be in their piece was cool.”
That has added to the quality and diversity of the performance.
“Because there are 12 pieces, there is something that is going to ring true for everyone that comes to watch it because there is such a large variety,” Creger said.
One piece is about bringing dance to the world of science. Another is about the stresses of daily life. Still another is about falling in love.
“We have these impulses as choreographers to make these pieces to express these ideas, and we don’t often know what they are exactly about,” Stanton said. “It’s up to the audience to decide.”
Tickets are $13 for general admission and $10 for students. “Suspension” will run Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. On Sunday, there will be a special matinee performance at 2 p.m. The show will return Feb. 8 and 9.