Dance Ensemble features student choreography

By Jordan Streussnig

The lights dimmed, the music started and 17 dancers seized the stage dressed in baggy,… The lights dimmed, the music started and 17 dancers seized the stage dressed in baggy, bright-colored costumes reminiscent of the ’80s to dance to “Motown Philly” by Boyz II Men.

Almost as soon as the hip-hop crew took the stage, they were off and replaced by another group dancing to music from the 1996 film “Romeo + Juliet.”

The sequence continued with fluid motion bursting with color, new costumes, new faces and a seemingly unrelated collection of songs that were all taken from movies and performed in chronological order. Titled “Cinematigraphic” and choreographed by Pitt senior Leah Dowdy, Friday and Saturday’s performances included 13 pieces.

“Most of the choreography is done by the students,” Susan Gillis Kruman said. Kruman is faculty advisor of the Pitt Dance Ensemble and coordinator of the dance minor program at Pitt.

Gillis said that of the 13 total pieces, only three were choreographed by outside instructors. The contributing choreographers were Michelle Hall Dawson, another Pitt faculty member, and Joe Nickel, a Pitt alumnus.

According to Gillis Kruman, it’s thought that the Pitt Dance Ensemble started in the 1950s and originally went by the same name as this year’s spring performance, “Orchesis,” or “dance” in Greek. The group accepts any and all dancers from Pitt who are interested in taking a free dance lesson from a different genre every Tuesday night.

Jasmine Singson, member of the ensemble and performer in this weekend’s show, said that the weekly lesson ranges from “ballet, jazz, and modern to Thai massage,” which teaches partner stretching and is used by the dancers before shows.

Gillis Kruman added that the club has been involved in hip-hop and ethnic dance, as well — in her words, “Whatever the students want to do.”

“Orchesis” proved to be a testament to this open attitude of the ensemble to try anything and everything related to dance. The group performed numbers that ranged from a tribal routine in which the students donned browns, blacks and greens to lyrical and even tap performances.

In “Plastique,” by Kaitlin Weaver, students wore solid red and black shirts with cut-up backs that sliced through the white spotlight. The performers, some of whom donned surgical masks, danced in the foreground to music by The Engine Room and Marilyn Manson while other dancers in the background took turns eerily lying on a stainless steel table.

“It seemed like there was a lot more of a story to this show than other dance performances I’ve seen,” senior Gustavo Gomez, a member of the audience, said. “The show was definitely entertaining, and better than the usual ‘go out and get a drink on a Saturday night,’ because it was very cultural.”

Greg McCummings, a member of the dance ensemble and performer in “Orchesis,” said that he hopes people realize how much hard work went into the show. “This is something we take very seriously,” he said. “We really love dance.”

Performer Singson continued the thought: “A lot of things go on even besides the dancing, like working on lights. We put in so much rehearsal this past week — we were here every night past midnight getting our dances ready and working on the lights … but the rest is all fun.”

Gillis Kruman mentioned that although all members of the ensemble can participate in the weekly scheduled classes, the rehearsals, show preparation and choreography all happen “on their own time,” and so require a lot of dedication on the part of student performers.

But to the dancers, it is worth all of the hard work to have the chance to explode on the stage.

“I like performing because it allows you to be someone who you may not necessarily be in real life,” McCummings said.

Singson added that the adrenaline rush that overtakes her when she steps onto the stage is “like nothing else you’ve ever felt.”

“I think audiences can appreciate how hard the students work,” said Gillis Kruman. “They look beautiful — the kinds of things they do with their bodies … most people couldn’t even dream about.”