A cast of over 120 Montclair State University dance majors will premiere a new work by “So You Think You Can Dance” choreographer Stacey Tookey, as well as other works by Montclair State faculty Earl Mosley, Kathleen Kelley and Nancy Lushington on this Thursday night. In a hyperconnected world that seems increasingly divided, Danceworks 2018 celebrates diversity and the triumph of real, tangible human connection.
“The theme overall is connection—how many ways and in what different ways can you connect with somebody,” said Josue Prim, a junior dance major at last night’s dress rehearsal.
Sophomore dance major Khalid Dunton agreed with Prim.
“Having that connection with people and not letting technology or other things get in the way,” Dunton said.
It’s a timeless theme but one that feels sharply relevant today. In nine very different short pieces, the cast of Danceworks 2018 will interpret what it means to connect, embrace and be part of a diverse and ever-changing community.
One piece centers around a group of dancers miming the act of taking a selfie before struggling to break apart, regroup and find new ways of connecting. Another ends with a pile of black rags in the center of the stage surrounded by the dancers who have thrown them away, now dressed in the clean, flowing and ethereal-looking garments that were underneath the rags for the whole dance.
Each piece offers something radically different to the audience, with vibrant colors, lights and special effects—including a piece in which the dancers are connected to multicolored elastic bands extending from the ceiling. However, it’s impossible to miss the performance’s main theme and connection which is present in every piece regardless of style.
“In [the piece] ‘Gift,’ we’re all trying to find a connection with this one soloist that you’ll see,” Dunton said. “She’s trying to open our eyes to how we need to connect with each other because everybody’s so…covered all the time. We’re distant.”
Both students began their dance careers as young children. Prim started to dance at age 9 and Dunton at 6 years old in an unexpected place which was church.
“With my church, we did big, Broadway-like productions where we had different artists come and we’d perform for them or dance background for them,” Dunton said. “Most of the dances that we did were liturgical or lyrical. We did some hip-hop numbers and we did some contemporary numbers, too.”
Prim’s dance background also started in his church, but he learned additional skills from his grandmother.
“[She] taught me a lot of the Latin dances because I grew up in the Latin culture so I’ve been doing praise dancing and Latin dancing since I was young—bachata, merengue, salsa… basically all the Latin social dances that you would see a lot at parties,” Prim said.
Dunton, Prim and the rest of the cast have been putting in long hours to prepare for Danceworks. Rehearsals started last September.
“What’s happening here took years of training and weekly, daily rehearsals from September until now,” said artistic director Lori Katterhenry at the dress rehearsal late Tuesday night.
The mood at rehearsal was anticipatory and positive among dancers and nondancers alike.
“I’m just excited to see how the whole process of wardrobing works and to see how the show unfolds,” said freshman dance major Camille Blue, while working backstage in costuming.
This year’s Danceworks will be sophomore dance major Kelly Beck’s first performance.
“There’s a lot of different stories being told,” Beck said. “So I feel like just grabbing a little bit of everything will be awesome.”
What does the cast of Danceworks 2018 want their audience to know before seeing the show? First and foremost, “You’re in for a treat—it’s gonna be a night filled with lots of color and emotion and dance,” Prim said.
Dunton believed that students will be inspired by the performance.
“You’re definitely going to leave with a new mindset or at least contemplating that,” Dunton said.
Danceworks 2018 runs from April 5-8 at the Alexander Kasser Theater. Tickets are $15 and no charge for Montclair State undergraduates.
“But only if you come with an open mind,” Prim said. “For me, this performance is very humbling. You get chosen for these pieces, and you get chosen for a reason—it’s because you were meant to give this specific message. You are living your life on that stage. There’s so much more to dance than just doing a step or doing a pirouette or doing a jump. It’s life. It’s words through movement. And I feel like that’s very important.”
This article has been updated on Wednesday, April 11, 2018.