The ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and Yang was the inspiration for this year’s Dance 46, an annual exhibition of the talented Dance Department at Hope College. The philosophy of yin-Yang is symbolized with a circle containing two opposite colors, white and black, representing light and dark. It is based on the idea that the universe is founded upon opposites in interplay that are both necessary to stability and wholeness. The six pieces in this year’s Dance 46 were extremely diverse, and yin and Yang might not spring to the minds of the audience watching them on a surface level. However, a closer look reveals that central to each dance is equilibrium, ebb and flow culminating in a central sense of balance.
The dance “She Laughs” featured three jazz songs by Ella Fitzgerald. The performers were dressed in attire from that time period and curled hair, which bobbed as they leapt and spun enthusiastically across the stage. The upbeat music, fun-filled routine and contagious smiles of the dancers made it near-impossible for the audience not to smile along while still appreciating the complexity of the routine and the music. Important elements of yin and yang, such as equilibrium and contrast, can be seen to the attentive observer even in the jazz elements of this dance. Elayna Sitzman (‘23), a performer in “She Laughs,” says, “Jazz is a conversation; it’s fluctuating and it can’t be perfectly repeated or recalled, that’s why it’s so special and captivating!” There is a note on the program that reads “Proverbs 31:25.” This Bible quote is the inspiration for the dance’s title. The Bible quote says: “She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.” Sitzman notes how elements of equilibrium can even be found in this quote through the balance of inward and outward that also points to the balance of God’s strength building up people’s strength. For Sitzman, the biggest challenge in preparing for the dance was containing her enthusiasm. “This 40s music just makes me so excited, and so it was hard for me to learn how to stay low and to channel that excitement into ‘the aesthetic of the cool,’” she said.
Two of the dances featured choreography by two different guest artists, Tracy Dunbar and Sharon Wong. Wong is in her sixteenth year as Visiting Professor of Dance at Hope College and also choreographs for faculty concerts, H2 Dance Co. and StrikeTime Dance Theatre. Dunbar has danced professionally with several different companies and is currently with Elisa Monte Dance, a well-known dance company based in New York City. Dunbar choreographed the final piece performed, (Mal) Kia. The piece was exciting, colorful, fast-paced and vigorously athletic. According to Gillian Skiba, one of the performers, Dunbar told the girls to embody a warrior queen in whatever sense that meant to them. “He wanted us to showcase the individual, strong women that we are,” says Skiba. “His encouragement, as well as the strength of the other women I was dancing with, inspired me to become a stronger, more confident dancer and person. That growth, and inspiring it in other women, is what this dance will always represent for me. It is about each of us unapologetically being the powerful forces that we are.” Skiba says that the hardest part of this piece was keeping up stamina. Although it was a comparatively short piece at five and a half minutes, it was very energetic and athletically intensive. “Running it even one time takes a ton of energy out of us,” says Skiba. Also, due to their choreographer being a guest, Skiba’s group was not able to begin rehearsal until the beginning of January.
Besides the physical strain of the athleticism on the dancers, each also had to commit to putting a lot of time into making the production a success. The performers auditioned early in Fall Semester. After being cast in one of the pieces, they began rehearsing. The cast had two rehearsals a week, for two-and-a-half hours each, in addition to extra hours required as they got closer to production. Many of the other dancers were also maintaining other dance commitments, not to mention academic responsibilities. Sitzman says, “It can get to be a long process, but the reward is more than worth it.” She concludes, “We learn so much by engaging ourselves in the arts, especially in dance because it’s a great compilation of movement, music and acting. We are so fortunate to have been blessed with this gift, and it is our absolute pleasure to share it with an audience.” If you missed the shows this weekend, other performances will take place March 5-7, each at 7:30 p.m. in the DeWitt Theatre. Tickets are free for Hope students, so this is an opportunity you don’t want to miss!