Dancing past COVID-19

RWU Dance Theatre to showcase its first indoor performance since fall 2019


Courtesy of RWU Dance Theatre

RWU Dance Theatre debuts its Fall show on Dec. 2.

Emma Bartlett, Arts & Culture Editor

Passion. Persistence. Perspiration. These are several elements that make up RWU’s Dance Theatre dancers. With a long two years of pandemic obstacles, Dance Theatre will finally return to the Barn’s stage and debut their indoor fall showcase on Dec. 2.

This event is typically the company’s capstone performance and consists of dance majors, minors, core concentrations and dance enthusiasts. The semester’s showcase comprises 22 dancers and seven numbers, including four student choreographed pieces by Emery Feagin, Cara Grady, Grace Jaworski, Sarah Loyola and Jordan Roberts.

“I feel delighted to watch [the dancers] grow, and to watch them gain confidence in sharing their ideas and visions,” said Cathy Nicoli, Associate Professor of Dance.

Nicoli explained how dancers wishing to be choreographers needed to submit a proposal explaining the methodologies behind their plan as well as an artist statement. The selected choreographers would then work one-on-one with Nicoli and the department’s guest artists, where they focused on not only the dances’ conceptual and aesthetic sides, but also how to become a good leader, communicate with dancers and bring individuals into the conversation of the creative process.

This semester’s guest artists include Hollis Bartlett and Nattie Trogdan, two Brooklyn-based choreographers, performers, practitioners and partners, who worked virtually with RWU dancers last spring.

“They [Bartlett and Trogdan] taught master classes and the students loved them so much they asked to have them live,” Nicoli said.

For the upcoming performance, Bartlett and Trogdan choreographed the opening number, which is a more abstract work. Meanwhile, Dance Theatre’s third guest artist, Ashley Rich, was a season eight finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance” and choreographed the show’s final two pieces which are more accessible to all people in a lyrical way.

The performance’s student choreographed dances include an exploration of the pandemic’s impact through themes of longing for home and remembering the past to understand and live in the present. Additionally, other numbers explore the body’s geometric possibilities and themes of identity.

While the pandemic has inhibited Dance Theatre’s ability to perform indoors for the past two years, this obstacle has not stopped the company’s dedication to gather and perform. In fact, last year, the group completed an entirely outdoor installation after discovering that indoor COVID-19 protocols only allowed six dancers on stage at a time.

To make do with what they had, the company said goodbye to their indoor space and danced on the tennis courts, Cedar Hall’s fire escapes, behind Global Heritage Hall and many more locations across campus.

They learned a lot from their experience outdoors, yet the transition back to an indoor venue has shown a noticeable change in the dancers.

“The students are remembering how exciting performance can be,” Nicoli said.

Nicoli explained how performance is a communal act, and enclosed spaces allow dancers to feel the audience’s energy, which was lacking in last year’s enormous outdoor space. By being back in the Barn, dancers hope to capture this energy again.

It seems that anticipation and enthusiasm are already growing from audience members as 90 tickets have already been sold for the showcase!

When looking at her students’ dedication to their craft, Nicoli praised her dancers and their efforts. They have rehearsed at night throughout the semester, making time during the week and sometimes on weekends to solidify their routines.

“This is a one-credit class, and they [dancers] put the hours in because they love to dance,” Nicoli said.

She made it a point that this is not a simple commitment when becoming a part of the company.

“You have to be fully engaged even if you aren’t physically working. None of this has been made by just showing up. Everyone has to bring their 100%.”

With less than a week leading up to their showcase, it is safe to say that the RWU community is eagerly awaiting what Dance Theatre has in store.

Dance Theatre’s fall showcase runs from Dec. 2 to 5 in the RWU Barn. Thursday through Saturday showings start at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday viewing begins at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for seniors and $15 for the general public — these can be reserved at rwu.booktix.com. Vaccinations and masks are mandatory.