How often do you sit on the stage as an audience member and watch a show which performs in the seats? Over the past two weekends H2, Hope College’s very own pre-professional dance company, put on a site-specific show in Dimnent Chapel. They performed in the pews and seats while all of the audience members sat on the stage. Two dancers in their first year with H2, Madison Korff (’23) and Gillian Skiba (’22) reflected on their experience with this performance and shared their highlights and struggles.
Both of the dancers raved about the positive experiences with their fellow dancers and faculty members. “It has been such a great opportunity not to just see people in classes but to actually form a community in the Dance Department,” said Korff. Skiba added that “Everybody is so supportive of each other and everybody is so crazy and silly and makes it the most fun thing to be a part of.”
Site-specific dances aren’t super common in dance in general, but especially at Hope. Both of these dancers had minimal experience performing in uncommon spaces. Skiba had one experience from the pandemic version of the Student Dance Showcase when student choreographers had to film their dance pieces in interesting locations, but, even then, they didn’t rehearse at their filming location in the same way as the chapel performance. Korff also performed in a library once, but that show was nothing close to the grandeur of this show.
“Doing three dances that are, like, 15 minutes each is a lot different,” Skiba said. “I think there were times in the early stages of the process that I was worried that we weren’t actually going to get to dance, that we were just going to kind of be like walking around the pews and… things that I didn’t necessarily think of as dance”
The rehearsal process for putting together these pieces was a combination of studio and chapel practices. The process was difficult for everyone involved, and everyone had to overcome challenges along the way. “There was a really steep learning curve,” Korff said “A couple of the first times we were in there we all left all bruised up and it was painful. You even had to adjust how you were going to walk through the space because it is a lot more narrow than you were expecting.” And Skiba said that “I don’t think any of us knew what to expect but I think we all knew that it was going to be hard.”
After all that rehearsing and performing, these dancers don’t see the chapel space in the same way they used to. “Since we have been dancing, it has—not in a bad way—kind of stripped those boxes and the need to conform to a certain way of acting [in the chapel],” Korff said. “Instead, [I see] this as a space where I am free to express myself.” For Skiba, this experience has changed the way she will see the chapel in the future. “I am never going to be able to look at pews the same way again.” She said, “I always want to just jump on them and do my tricks and stuff.”
Performing in the pews instead of the stage has not only changed the way these dancers view a common Hope space but also the way they view their dance process in general. “It definitely opens up new opportunities for us to move in different ways to create art,” said Skiba. “It expanded my view of what dance is because I realized that it doesn’t have to be what it looks like on a stage; it can look like a lot of different things.”
The experience also changed Korff’s view of performing. “Flipping the script and putting the audience on the stage and us dancing in the space and in the pews kind of broadens your entire world and to think about spaces differently.” She said, “I am definitely super interested in doing more site-specific work.”
These dancers are looking forward to doing more site-specific work in the future, but don’t really want it to become an expectation for the department. “I think that more dancers should have the experience of doing site-specific work,” said Skiba, “but I don’t necessarily think that it should be a super common thing in the department because then it is a little bit less special.”
So even if the next show isn’t as avant-garde as this one, don’t hesitate to support the arts at Hope. “We work incredibly hard for months to get these dances to the place where we are ready to show them to you,” said Skiba, “and we are showing you a piece of us, and we really put our heart and soul and sweat and blood into these performances.”
If you missed the show this weekend, there are more performances from the Dance Department in the future that these dancers are excited to share. Later in this semester, there is the Student Dance Showcase, which features student choreographers and performers. In the spring semester Hope’s other dance company, Strike Time, will have a performance as well as the faculty concert, Dance 48.