Dance 50: A Celebration of Community

At once a celebration of 50 years of growth and a display of historic talent, Dance 50 represents the past, present and the future of the Dance Department at Hope College in a performance you won’t want to miss. Dance 50 is both the title of the department’s annual concert, which is faculty-choreographed and student-danced, as well as a celebration of their 50th year on campus. In order to acknowledge the growth of their program, the department has asked retired faculty to come back and teach pieces from previous years.

Last week, we sat down with department chair Professor Matthew Farmer to learn more about the dance department and their upcoming performance. When he was asked what his favorite part about being head of the department was, Farmer responded, “Hands down the faculty and the students. I have phenomenal colleagues who are all professionals in their field […] Students at Hope in general are hard working and committed to whatever they are doing.” 

Fueled by the desire to be excellent and make the world excellent, the dance students are wonderful to work with for Farmer, who has been in this environment for years as a Hope graduate himself. He reflected, “When I was a student here, dance was still kind of suspect in the West Michigan community and on Hope’s campus, and that has changed. It was refreshing for me to come back to a place where dance is widely accepted and is actually a part of the arts experience for a community.” 

Other differences from his time as a student include the type of dancers coming to Hope, many of whom are dedicated to careers in the dance industry. In addition, the different aspects of the curriculum–ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, and tap–have all achieved a similar level of precedence, whereas ballet and modern dance were originally the department’s specialties.

One thing that hasn’t changed are the opportunities for international travel as a dance student. Dancers at Hope are able to take advantage of performance opportunities around the world. Farmer is thankful to his colleagues who came before him for many of these changes, and their work will be celebrated in a special way through Dance 50.

Work on Dance 50 began last April, and by September and October, the choreographers were holding auditions on campus. The entire dance department got involved, and each choreographer held their own auditions. In order to mimic work in the dance industry after graduation, the dancers could choose who to audition for, as well as how many times to audition. However, just as dancers cannot perform for more than one company at a time, the dances were not double cast. Farmer reiterates this by saying, “That’s part of our training here at Hope. We try to reflect as much of the real dance world now, so our students get used to that. If you get hired in a dance company, you’re generally not dancing in another dance company. Same thing if you audition for one dance company and don’t get in, well then you don’t have a job.”

The department will be working hard over mid-winter break in tech rehearsals, until their opening night on February 9th at 7:30 pm, which doubles as a dance showcase day, when prospective Hope students can audition. The rest of the performances will take place February 10, 15, 16 and 17 at 7:30 pm in DeWitt Main Theatre, located in the DeWitt Cultural Center. Closing night on the 17th will be marked as an alumni celebration with around 150 dancers returning. Earlier that day, they will have had the opportunity to take master classes taught by emeritus faculty, reliving their experience as students.

Farmer feels every member of the Hope community will get something out of Dance 50. Alumni and longstanding members of the dance community in Holland will want to come “[…] for the sheer nostalgia […] They are going to see pieces that are historic, some of the seminal works of the faculty over the last 50 years.” Current students can benefit from supporting their peers by seeing “[…] the history of the dance department in one evening.” Even students who usually attend live performances will be able to see older pieces that are new to them, such as the opening piece, which premiered in 1994. Farmer concluded, “Of all the dance concerts, this is the one to come to because of the celebration.” It will tie in the department’s unique history from its foundation in the early 70’s when Hope had just lifted the ban on social dancing.

However, Dance 50 is not just about the past: with the construction of the Jim and Eileen Heeringa Dance Wing underway, the bright future of the dance department will be represented as well. Farmer appreciates the collision of these two important events for the dance department as visitors and those returning to Hope will be able to see the process. Alumni will be able to go on hard hat tours through the construction site, which represents the next phase of the dance department here on campus. 

One aspect Farmer is particularly excited about is the floor-to-ceiling windows which will be present on most exterior walls of the building. Hope students and faculty won’t need a special occasion or a ticket for the opportunity to see live, moving art on campus all the time as dance classes take place. Farmer acknowledges that depending on how you were raised, art can seem mysterious or even scary, but knowledge is the solution to removing this fear. This visual prominence of moving art is the next step towards creating a richer relationship between the arts at Hope and the community at large. Come see this moving story unfold for yourself at Dance 50 coming to DeWitt soon. 

Here is a sneak-peak at the dance pieces that will be performed at Dance 50: 

Act I

“Atmo-Sphere” (Premiered in 1994 for Dance 20)

Choreographer: Maxine DeBruyn and William Charles Crowley

Dancers: Aiden Prince, Maia Travis, Kaelen Stewart, Jessica Tyler, Anya Wolters, Abigail Truax (understudy)

“En Passant III [Captured in Passing]” (Premiered “En Passant I” in 2003 for Dance 29, “En Passant II in 2014 for Dance 40 )

Choreographer: M. Linda Graham

Dancers: Kim Nevenzel, Freddie Bales, Ella Titcomb, Maureen Cole, Maya Lunt, Deborah Hegg, Alessandra Borchardt, Elena Robinson, Karina Nicholas, Jillian Hickok, Makenzie Cude, Evann Fischer, Summer Rabotnik, Ally Fulton, Halen White, Ally Kaiser, Audrey Naumann, Rhianna Stinchcomb (understudy)

“Reina Mortal” (Premiered in 2001 for Dance 27)

Choreographer: Ray Tadio

Dancers: Kailoni Christian (soloist 2/9, 2/15, 2/17), Miriam Czaja (soloist 2/10, 2/16), Leah Fritts, Natalie Griffin, Sarra LaCour, Bethany Lawrence, Elizabeth Park, Madeleine Popp, Avery Post

“Glorify” (Premiered in 2023 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center)

Choreographer: Crystal Frazier

Dancers: Simone Greene, Claire Knodel, Hannah Marino, Morgan Mohler, Monica Neba, Reagan Provost, Sloane Provost, Shannon Rodriguez, Madeline Williams

Act II

“…sur la table…” (Premiered in 2011 for Dance 37)

Choreographer: Steven Iannacone

Dancers: Kaleigh Estby, Makayla Henline (soloist on 2/9-10), Mackenzie Kellogg, Abby Mains, Catherine Rodrigues, Cali Smith (soloist on 2/15-17), Isabelle Park (understudy)

“ONE” (Premiered in 2021 for Dance 47)

Choreographer: Sharon Wong

Dancers: Jennifer Almquist, Paige Augustyn, Aleya Bierma, Kylea Canada, Zoe Cappatocio, Amina Dubois, Taryn Meyer, Miranda Stepchuk, Calla Vanderhaar Johansen (understudy, performs 2/15)

“Slipped Disc” (Premiered in 1986 at Manhattan Tap’s debut performance, Riverside Church, NYC)

Choreographers: The original Manhattan Tap 

Heather Cornell, Jamie Cunneen, Shelley Oliver and Tony Scopino

Dancers: Isabella Ensworth, Alexis Erickson, Josephine Farrell, Marguerite Hartman, Bridget Kenny, Jacqueline Rivera, Taylor Lee (understudy)

Dance 50 Promotion Poster featuring Cali Smith (’24).

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