This Friday marks the date of the dance group Orchesis’ big semester performance, entitled Roar Lion Rorchesis. Last night, Bwog writer and (more recently) dance enthusiast Betsy Ladyzhets was lucky enough to sit in on the group’s dress rehearsal. The performance will run twice tomorrow in the Roone Auditorium, at 7:30pm and 10pm. Tickets are $7 with CUID, $12 without.
When I walked into Roone Auditorium on Wednesday night, I realized for the first time just how big the Orchesis group is. The auditorium seemed to be full of dancers getting into costume, figuring out last-minute details, and practicing their choreography. Everything you imagine a dance show could possibly need was present in large quantities: dancers, coordinators, shoes, music, and–perhaps most importantly–pizza. (The group’s stack of pizza boxes, stashed in one corner, was several feet tall.)
As I moved to the front of the auditorium, I felt as though I’d stepped off Columbia’s campus and into a new world–a world where dance was the only acceptable form of expression. The rehearsal performances, which started soon after I arrived, only exacerbated that feeling.
One of the major advantages of a large performance group like Orchesis is that their performance could showcase a variety of dance styles, each number choreographed by a different member. The dances ranged from more classical ballet forms to jazz and tap to modern interpretive dance. A couple of the most distinguishable forms were “Sing Sing Sing,” a large-group jazz number choreographed by Cara Lachtrupp, BC ‘16 performed to the Benny Goodman piece of the same title, and “You’re So Cute,” a modern number choreographed by Bridget Jamison, BC ‘16 with choreography that reflected the call-and-response nature of its accompaniment, “Suit” by Boom! Bap! Pow! The costumes of the different performers changed to fit the styles and tones of the songs, as well; simple dress codes such as gold tank tops and leggings or denim shirts and red bandannas contributed to making the dances more memorable.
While some of the numbers were smaller, most of them – even the more difficult dances – featured at least ten dancers. The level of thought that must’ve gone into choreography is truly impressive; in many numbers, different groups split off to act out different elements of the dance’s story, and individual dancers often had solo features within larger numbers. Two dances that did this particularly well were “Water Me” (choreographed by Leah Samuels, CC ‘18) and “Summer” (choreographed by Nicole Rondeau, BC ‘18), which split their ensembles into pairs of dancers performing intricate, emotionally charged choreography. All of the groups also made good use of their space, with dancers moving quickly from side to side of the stage. There was never a dull moment in any number, even the slower ones.
However, one downside to these big group numbers was clearly visible when the choreography wasn’t quite in sync. It was difficult to tell if discrepancies between the various dancers was purposeful or a result of insufficient practice time, especially in some of the largest groups. In one fast-paced number, “Sunshine of Your Love” (choreographed by Sydney Thieme, BC ‘19), girls sprinted from place to place to do one elaborate spin after another; while fun to watch at first, the spinning grew tiring and increasingly discombobulated – I was scared that two dancers might bump into each other.
Varying levels of enthusiasm were also clearly discernible in some bigger dances, particularly in “Turn it up LOUD” (choreographed by Eliana Fisher, BC/JTS ‘16). One male dancer in the front row seemed to be having the time of his life, performing every move to the utmost of his ability, while other dancers took the number more seriously – this disjunction took away from the overall choreography, which was otherwise a lot of fun to watch.
The most impressive dance of the night was definitely “Experiment 1 on Phrases 1 and 2” (choreographed by Falls Kennedy, BC ‘17 and Dancers) – a dance without music. Even though the only soundtrack for this number was a voiceover that cut in twice (“5, 6, 7, 8, and 1”, spoken in time), the dancers stayed synchronized throughout, and even managed some truly astonishing moves. At one point, one dancer climbed up a staircase of other dancer’s bodies, then flipped backwards to get down. My mouth hung open for the duration of the piece.
Another stunning number was the last one on the program, “I Forget Where” (choreographed by Yulie Landan, CC ‘18). While most of the other dances seemed to be either slow or fast, one style or another, this one moved through both slow and fast sections, giving the dancers (and the audience) moments to collect themselves that made the technique seem more impressive. The lighting for this number was also particularly well-designed, shifting through colors with the tonal shifts of the piece.
My personal favorite number, however, was “Wimoweh” (choreographed by Rachel Shafran, CC ‘16). This dance, performed to the instrumental piece “Drive Away (End Title)” by Thomas Newman, featured a layering of dynamic movement that ranged from slow stretches to intricate acrobatics. The dancers leaned from side to side, bent into formation, and even carried each other, all the while searching across the stage for some kind of common goal. Watching them felt like going on an adventure.
And, of course, I can’t fail to mention the number that almost had me leaping out of my seat in nerdy excitement: “The Four Houses” (choreographed by Haley Fica, BC ‘17 and John Fisher, CC ’16) – or, Harry Potter dubstep in tap shoes. Yes, you read that right – Harry Potter dubstep in tap shoes. With actual, light-up wands. This number seemed to reenact the story of Harry Potter through dance, complete with lighting and costume changes. The idea might sound a bit ridiculous, but on stage, it definitely worked. (This dance also has the distinction of being one of only two numbers that included more than one male dancer. To Orchesis’ credit, the few male dancers among its members weren’t nearly as awkwardly inserted into choreography as they could’ve been.)
Throughout the program, the dances were interspersed with “interludes,” short dances that followed the theme of the performance: lions and school spirit. The first three interludes all involved lions, both in song title and dancing action, while the fourth featured a soundtrack courtesy of another Barnard performing group. They all provided fun breaks from the more serious nature of some of the other dances.
Watching Orchesis’ performance felt like slipping into another world – a world where the stresses of final season seemed far off, muted by the incredible talent of the dancers I watched. I’m not sure how the world of dance operates or who its citizens are, but I can tell you that it prizes hard work and collaboration. And damn, does it look good on stage.
Photos via Madeline Molot and event Facebook page