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UI MFA Candidate choreographers prepare for Thesis I performances

BY JUSTUS FLAIR | APRIL 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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Dancers executing combinations are an enchanting sight to behold. Of course, while the dancers are seen on stage, most people can’t see what happens before the piece is presented. What goes on behind the scenes?

For one, choreographers spend countless hours tweaking a piece before it ever sees the light of feet. M.F.A.-candidate choreographers Joseph Cox, Jennifer Harge, and Michael Medcalf will present their thesis performances at 8 p.m. today through Saturday in North Hall’s Space/Place.

The presentations are the accumulation of months of work: Medcalf has worked on his piece since January, Cox since last summer. Before they could begin designing their shows, they had to choreograph their pieces.

“This work examines the impact that early decisions and judgments have on our daily lives and the necessity of acknowledging outdated belief systems in order to make effective life changes,” Cox said. “I am drawing my inspiration from principles of Adlerian psychology as further developed by Rudolf Dreikurs.”

Medcalf’s piece, “rainbows weren’t meant for little black boys like me but i kept them in my pocket anyway,” has an entirely different feel from Cox’s, allowing for a wide range of emotions.

“‘Rainbows’ takes its title cue from Ntozake Shange’s iconic work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf and focuses on black male identity,” Medcalf said. “The work is framed and developed through a series of vignettes, which collectively forms the body of the work and synthesizes dance, race, spirituality, and sexuality decidedly through an African-American male’s lens.”

The choreographers came up with inspirations and pieces, but they also recognized the importance of collaboration. After all, they will not dance the pieces themselves.

“We conducted an audition at the beginning of the fall semester,” Cox said. “I looked for dancers with a lot of personality and who move well in the style I wanted to work with.”

After they had selected their dancers, there were still many more elements of the production to consider.

“As the choreographer, I had a say in all of the element that compose the work,” Medcalf said. “Collaboratively, I worked with the lighting designer, Jessica Fialko, on the lights; however, she came up with the concept. As far as the costumes, I had a concept, and the costume [people] took that idea and pulled from the supply of costumes in the department.”

The process was similar for Cox.

“The overall concept of this work is mine, so in addition to creating the movement, I have considerable input into all facets of the show,” he said. “I work in collaboration with my very supportive lighting designer, composer, stage manager, and wardrobe master to develop ideas for the various elements of the work.”

The Thesis I presentations are the accumulation of the year’s work, an opportunity for the three choreographers to share what they have learned.

“The UI staff and faculty is wonderfully support of me and my work,” Medcalf said. “My thesis committee has been crucial in the process and has provided me with wonderful suggestion and insight.”

The thesis committee, chosen by the candidate/choreographer, works to ensure the success of the process and presentation.

“The thesis-committee members are chosen by the M.F.A. candidate, presumably because there is something in their research that ‘speaks’ to the student,” said Dance Department Chairman George de la Peña. “Faculty typically encourage the candidates to be authentic, inventive, daring, and courageous with a thesis. They meet for at least two feedback sessions during the process.”

Cox said he loved his experience in the program.

“We have a brilliant and generous dance faculty with diverse backgrounds,” he said. “I have received many valuable and sometimes unexpected gifts during my studies in the Department of Dance.”

UI Dance Thesis I Presentations
When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday
Where: North Hall Space/Place
Admission: Free for students with valid IDs, $12 for adults, $6 for youth/seniors


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