On May 1, 1970, a group of Cal Poly dancers led by professor Moon Ja Minn Suhr performed their first concert.
Three years later, the group of dancers became Orchesis Dance Club — later renamed Orchesis Dance Company.
A half-century later, Orchesis “50” paid homage to 10 past concerts, reimagined by current students, faculty directors and guest choreographers.
“It’s about the same sense of community that has been fostered by the dancers in this company for the past 50 years,” biomedical engineering sophomore and dancer Tori Barrington said.
The show opened with Suhr in front of a photo of her performing in the first Orchesis in 1970. In the piece, titled “Metamorphosis,” Suhr struck the same pose as seen in the background image before being joined on stage by current student dancers.
“We have a lot to thank her for because this whole program and everything wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” Orchesis Director and dance professor Christy McNeil Chand said.
In addition to Orchesis, Suhr also started the dance program at Cal Poly. She taught on campus until 2012.
The concert was created by choreographers reviewing the past 49 programs from the show — all that is left from many of the earlier shows. Then a mix of student, faculty and guest choreographers crafted pieces inspired by the titles, artwork and music selections.
The Orchesis Company is audition-based with many of the dancers participating in the company during their entire time in college. The 30 dancers in the company practice for a minimum of eight hours each week throughout fall quarter and leading up to the production at the start of winter. Many practice additional pieces outside of class rehearsals.
“During these first three weeks of winter quarter, I’m either in class or dancing,” architecture junior Emily Chung said. “You give so much to this show, but it can also detract from other aspects of your life.”
In addition to dancing in multiple pieces, Chung reimagined “Art of Dancing” from the 1974 Orchesis show. Chung said her favorite part of choreographing a dance is helping dancers make a piece their own.
“You see how every single person who does your dance has interpreted it in their own way,” Chung said. “Then it becomes theirs.”
Without a dedicated costume department for the dance program, the company creates all their outfits for each piece. Clint Bryson served as both lighting designer and technical director for the show.
McNeil Chand said “50” was a blend of artistic technique and “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” entertainment.
“I really strive to create something that people can be moved by but also have some fun while they’re watching it,” McNeil Chand said.