A massive hunk of metal detritus spans the length of the stage in the Ryerson Theatre and rust-coloured lighting evokes the feeling of being in the middle of an industrial wasteland. This gigantic and intricately made set is the backdrop for the opening piece of this year’s production of Ryerson Dances.
Ryerson Dances is an annual production that allows third and fourth-year performance dance students at Ryerson to collaborate with professional choreographers. This year’s production was different because of the heavy production elements involved with three of the four dance pieces, said Vicki St. Denys, the show producer, a choreographer and the director of the dance performance program at Ryerson.
St. Denys choreographed Mingus: Reminiscing in Tempo, the opening piece with the huge scrap metal set. The jazz dance piece is meant to evoke the feeling of being in the back streets of New York City during the ‘60s, St. Denys said. It is set to the music of Charles Mingus, an avant-garde American jazz composer.
“We worked with the idea of what it would’ve been like to be the avant-garde or underground art scene during that time,” she said. “What would that have felt like and who would these people be?”
Spoken word pieces punctuate each different section of Mingus, a tapestry of the stories of different men and women in New York City. The piece seemed to be a celebration of life and art, and how people find art and create beauty in the midst of the filth and industrial waste in the city.
Dezjuan Thomas, a third-year dancer in Mingus, found the jazz piece challenging to dance because he couldn’t relate to the womanizing character he play onstage. But he was excited for the audience to see the choreography since it allowed the dancers to portray their characters’ relationships with each other through dance.
“Every different interaction we have with fellow dancers is astonishing,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of unexpected stuff from the dancers themselves and how we carry it out is even more amazing.”
Surprise is what keeps things exciting during Ryerson Dances. In the piece Into the Storm, choreographed by Hanna Kiel, the music switches suddenly from a soft, tranquil piano into unsettlingly heavy electronic music with deep bass.
Miranda Meijer, a dancer in Into the Storm, said her favourite part of the piece to dance is intense and terrifying, but also beautiful.
“There’s one section that has really complicated counts and movements,” she said. “Your legs are doing something completely different from your arms. It’s like the drama of the piece because we kind of take over one of the other characters.”
For Meijer, Thomas, and many dance students, the complicated choreography and the hectic rehearsal schedules (that sometimes mean up to eight hours of dance a day) are completely worth it – not just because they get to be on stage, but also since they get to work with professional choreographers already established in the dance industry.
“It’s exceptional for networking and a great way to get a look into what the professional world is like,” Meijer said. “And it’s amazing to be able to portray a choreographer’s vision and what they want on stage through movement. That really is, I think, the purpose of dance.”
[P]hotos by Eunice Kim