By Genevieve Tomney
The stage is bathed in an eerie green light and electronic beats pump in the background.
Fourth-year dance student Catherine Murray moves to the music, her doll-like face and blonde curls in sharp contrast with her black clothing. Her eyes are focused.
“You are guilty,” the song lyrics say. She looks defeated. Murray says her solo dance piece, “The Hand on My Cheek,” is about desire. “I have a really strong story for myself, but it can be interpreted in different ways,” she says.
Interpretation permeates Choreographic Works, the Ryerson Theatre School’s annual dance showcase. Students choreograph vignettes, giving each one its own personality. Ryan Lee, a second-year dancer, says one thing he likes about showcasing his own choreography is that it relates to people what students have to say.
“It really defines the individual dancers. It’s our voices being shown through our movement,” he says. His duet, still untitled, deals with relationships. He created the piece for himself and a friend–fourth-year dancer, Catherine Hayward. The choreography shows a strong bond between the two dancers. It’s very organic, with both the male and female partner equally lifting and leaning upon each other.
“The piece deals with both contact and non-contact energy transfer,” Lee says. “It’s come a long way from what it was.” The setting itself encourages a connection between dancers and their audience. Seating is set onstage–just a breath away from the action–and many of the solo pieces seem to share deliciously intimate secrets.
Geordan Coupland’s broody “Conversations with the Devil” and Brittany Murchie’s sassy jazz/tap number “The Player” convey strong personality, while Kaitlin Standeven’s “Burn” and Meghan MacNeil’s “Graffiti” are bare, honest and strong in their execution. “It’s very personal,” MacNeil says of her piece. “It’s about being frustrated, entangled, bound up and finding moments of calm.” The music for “Graffiti” is the Ani DiFranco song “Both Hands.”
But like most modern dance pieces, MacNeil’s choreography is more than just word painting.
“The honesty is in the sound of DiFranco’s voice. It isn’t about the words at all,” she says. Most of the pieces are very modern and steeped in unspoken meaning. But a handful of numbers, such as Matthew Valic’s “Final Flight,” are nothing but playful. Valic’s piece opens to Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me.”
Valic and third-year student, Erin McCurdy, are dressed as flight attendants, their orange garb complementing the set’s bright blue sky. The piece conveys the comedic saga of an overseas flight to Paris through interpretive dance–from hitting turbulence to joining the mile-high club–all without wiping perfect smiles off the faces of its crew.
With 12 performances still to go, many of the dancers’ smiles (and feet) have already lasted through almost four months of rehearsal and tough auditions. About 60 dancers and 47 technical production students run the show, with guidance from faculty members and producer Vicky St-Denys. “Everything is student-oriented,” says second-year production student Jennifer Dunn, who is also the head of marketing and publicity for Choreographic Works.
She says the show has consistently been one of the Ryerson Theatre School’s most popular, with most performances hosting sell-out crowds. And that is not surprising. If you see the show, take the time to remind yourself that the many professional-quality pieces, so full of sentiment and maturity, have been created by the young, talented dancers right in front of you.
This, Murray believes, is the beauty of Choreographic Works. “You get to see individuals, personal creativity, passion. You get to see who we all are,” she says.