UI undergraduates and graduate students join together for performance


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Choreographers and dancers look within themselves, overcome self-doubt, and step out of their comfort zones to discover something beautiful.

They spend hours perfecting movements with hopes of getting work selected in the University of Iowa’s Graduate/ Undergraduate Dance production — a chance to showcase their individuality and hard work.

“Art imitates life, and there is something the audience will see on stage that resonates with them — dance is life out loud,” said Michael Medcalf, a UI Dance Department graduate teaching assistant with a choreography focus.

Medcalf’s choreography can be experienced — along with the work of several other students — at the Graduate/Undergraduate Dance Concert this weekend. The performance will open at 8 p.m. today in North Hall’s Space/Place and will continue through Saturday.

The student choreographers went through rigorous auditions in order to have work showcased. Participants say audiences can look forward to individuality, contemporary and modern dance components, ballet, and more.

UI sophomore dance major Sophia Sednova Sparham said the concert is different from most, mainly because it is 100 percent presented by undergraduate and graduate students in the Dance Department.

Through her piece, she explores a form of self-expression through one’s identity in socially accepted daily interactions on a New York subway.

She demonstrates how one can experience solitude in a huge crowd of people. Her piece, “Timido/Schietto,” is Italian for “timid and outspoken — to say what you feel.”

“I like to have things set in my mind as an image,” said Sednova Sparham. “I must translate that image into the physical body.”

She smiled when she talked about the most beautiful part of the process.

“The dancers — they bring something new every time they rehearse,” she said. “You can coach them, but it is in their body, hands. Seeing my dancer after she does the dance, she was amazed by herself but also exhausted by the process. At the end, the look on her face was perplexed but also feeling a sense of reward.”

Another choreographer with work in the concert, senior dance and marketing major Marisha Johnson, found her inspiration through various tasks and challenges she gave herself.

She narrowed her influence down to one word: fail.

“The process challenged me to dig further and within myself,” she said. “I don’t think people will expect what they are going to see.”

The choreographer and dancer said her performance, “Me, Trying to Keep Up With Me,” demonstrates who she is. What started as an assignment for choreography class became a seven-minute dance.

Johnson said the modern, postmodern, theatrical dance comprises a dialogue in her head with the subject of failing.

“The piece took itself for a ride,” she said.

She said she learned how to push herself to show her character.

“Dance is really powerful,” she said. “It is a way to see what is going on in a student’s mind. The work selected shows of a collection of who we are.”

Medcalf said he is more interested in the process than the product.

The dancers incorporated a variety of tools during rehearsals, such as “floaty joints,” which were used to generate a kind of movement similar to floating in water.

“It’s about trial and error, exploring, and experimenting,” said Medcalf in describing his piece, “Once There Was Space.” “Some mistakes may turn into really good ideas.”

He also stressed the opportunity dancers have to take part in different work for the concert, noting that with the collaboration of lighting designers, costume designers, sound designers, among others, students are learning more than just dance.

“These practical applications happening now also happen in the real world,” Medcalf said.

UI dance graduate student Jeremy Blair will have one of his first works in this concert, “Thrush.” To him, the dance gives students the chance to prepare for careers in the world of professional performance. He stressed the importance of support of peers who crafted works of art.

“Dance has phenomenological resonance in the body and is experienced sensually as well as physically, making it an engaging, dynamic art form,” he said.

The dancer’s movement vocabulary can be expanded with collaboration of the choreographers, he said.

“Each choreographer brings her or his own personality and aesthetic to the stage via the choreography, creating a unique blend of diverse styles,” Blair said.

UI dance Professor Armando Duarte, one of the three members of the show’s selection committee, said the selection began with a panel.

“The final performances represent the best of the department’s students’ creative body,” he said.

Once panel members selected the works, faculty members partnered with choreographers and dancers to provide feedback and constructive criticism, challenge assumptions, and overcome choreographic obstacles.

“A third eye is critical in providing outside feedback, helping you view your work as it is and will be perceived by others,” Blair said.

“We can exchange thoughts, ideas, and impressions, but we must make a choice,” Duarte said. “It is fascinating how they collaborate and partake in each vision.”

The process is a eye-opening and humbling experience of artistic vision among students.

“I am humbly proud,” Duarte said. “They really show fine work and understanding of the craft, and they raise the bar quite high.”

Graduate/Undergraduate Dance Concert

• 8 p.m. today, Friday, and Saturday
• North Hall’s Space/Place
•Tickets: $12 general public, $6 seniors and youth, free for UI students with valid IDs

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