Dancing noir, dancing Picasso

BY KATIE HANSON | APRIL 17, 2009 7:30 AM

Nearly a year of work and dance will culminate in this weekend’s UI dance department thesis concert.

Oh, the honors thesis.

For prospective graduate students, it’s a hulking, inescapable piece of work that requires months of preparation.

For dancers, a thesis concert is largely the same concept, but rarely is any work as public as theirs.

UI graduate students Joanna Rosenthal, Santo Scavuzzo III, and Analia Alegre-Femenias will present their accomplishments in the dance department thesis concert The 3 Temperaments. The concert débuted at 8 p.m. Thursday in North Hall’s Space/Place, and it will run through Saturday.

For Rosenthal, the process started last spring with the idea of ’40s and ’50s film noir. That summer, she began researching the subject.

“It sounds cheesy, but I knew for myself that I wanted it to be a big deal,” she said. “I wanted all of the elements to fall into place, and it to be a representation of myself, and also something I had never done before.”

The choreographer said her roughly 30-minute dance (more than double that of a typical performance) has a loose narrative plot that follows the progression of relationships among the dancers.

“I’ve heard that it’s very intense; you’re kind of on edge,” Rosenthal said. “The dancers are conveying suspicion, aggression, passion, sensuality. It’s a lot.”

Alegre-Femenias drew inspiration from a radically different source: Pablo Picasso.

“I’m obsessed with him,” she said.

The graduate student said she used both Picasso’s painting technique in her choreography as well as the artist’s bull drawings.

Alegre-Femenias’ dance is broken into three parts: a quintet, a male duet, and a male solo, and it involves fierce human conflicts including the lack of privacy and games people play with each other.

“I want my audience to always feel energized,” she said. “I want the audience to feel a little overwhelmed, even stressed at some point, but I always want to make it pleasing to the eye.”

For those unfamiliar with the art of choreography and dance, the process of putting a piece together may seem intimidating and vague.

The two women both used analogies to describe how they compose a dance.

“It’s like cooking,” Alegre-Femenias said. “If you’re a really good cook, it’s easy to put flavors together, and before the final meal, you know the flavors will work out well. It takes knowledge, but also a little intuition. You have to feel OK with guessing and allowing things to happen by chance.”

Rosenthal, on the other hand, likened her work to writing a paper.

“You have to have an idea and figure out how to express that idea — not through words, but through movement,” she said. “You have to structure it so it flows and is understandable, then you make changes. You might extend a section, or put in a transition.”

After creating her thesis for nearly a year and spending at least four hours a week with her dancers since fall, she said, the culminating concert leaves her feeling a bit empty.

“I’m sad,” she said. “As a dancer, when you’re working with a good group of people, you become very close. I’m really happy with the final product, and I’m sad that I have to put that away.”

After receiving her graduate degree, Rosenthal said, she will return to Chicago and work at the Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre as well as teach at the Columbia College Dance Center.

Alegre-Femenias said she plans to stick a little closer to Iowa City after completing the graduate program, choreographing musicals for Theatre Cedar Rapids. Someday, however, she would like to move to Philadelphia and dance with a company.

“Right now, opportunities have been given to me,” she said. “I’m going to take them, realize them fully, and move on. It’s what [dancers] do. We’re like nomads.”

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