Orchesis Dance Company has been performing its annual shows for years, and the group has grown from a small company into more than 100 members per year. The production is now an autumn tradition on the Allegheny campus, one of the most attended events each year. But what the audience doesn’t see is the months of work leading up to the two-hour final product.
It is one of the biggest productions on campus–this year it was staged on Nov. 8-11–and it begins a full year before the actual performances, on the nights of the previous year’s recital. Dancers arrive for the shows hours early, partly to get in costume and stage makeup, partly to stretch, and partly to vote on the next year’s board members. On the final night of performances, the last of the board positions are announced, and next year’s show is set in motion. (Choreographers pictured below)
The show begins to form in the spring, when members who have been part of the company for at least one year can propose choreography for a dance, with the elected board choosing which ones to include in the next year’s show.
In the fall, the audition process begins on a Saturday two weeks into the new academic year, a two-day process where every dancer who auditions is placed into at least one piece. By the following Monday, rehearsals begin and the dances start to develop. (Picture from auditions below)
Kalena Grimes ’19 has been in Orchesis for three years, and this was her second year as both the Historian board member as well as a choreographer. “As a board member, I feel as if I am able to give something back to the company after all that it has given me. I am able to make a difference in the company and help it grow each year to become more meaningful to all of the company members. Being a board member doesn’t allow me to brag or be boastful, but instead it allows for others to expect more from me. That alone motivates me to build the company to be as strong as possible.”
The choreographers have eight practices–one per week–to construct their pieces and get them show-ready. “You have to find a balance between the time it takes teaching choreography and the time you need to clean the dance, and depending on how long your piece is it can feel like a rush to the finish line,” says choreographer Gavi Winer ’18. (Picture from the final dress rehearsal below)
Every aspect of the show is student-designed–the choreographers pick out costumes, student tech members run the sound and lights, and the Orchesis board manages every aspect of the promotion and logistics of the show–creating posters, ordering costumes, handling news releases, scheduling the various dress rehearsals. The final show is entirely a group effort, and it shows in the pride that every member feels in presenting their work to the audience.
The week leading up to the shows is when costumes are worn, stage makeup is layered on, and the lighting cues are set, and suddenly the show feels real. Anticipation builds until the first show night–Wednesday, the Community Show, where professors, Allegheny staff, and the Meadville community get the first look at the production. (Below is the group photo from Carissa Lange’s ’80s Mashup piece)
“When I see my dance on stage I feel proud and accomplished,” says Grimes. “My dancers have brought my vision to life the past two years and I couldn’t have wished for a better outcomes. The dancers are very dedicated so the costumes and lighting simply enhance their incredible talents. Orchesis is an outlet for me, one that allows for me to interact with a rather large group of incredibly talented humans. I am forever grateful for each and every person that orchesis has given me. I am thankful for each rehearsal, performance and every other experience I have had because of Orchesis. It is so much more than a dance company to me, it is an additional 90 or more people that I consider to be family.”
Emma Wasko is a first-year student, and says her favorite part of the process was getting to meet and bond with people sharing the same love of dance. “As a freshmen, you’re coming into life at college knowing no one and scared out of your mind, so it’s nice to meet other people who you can actually get along with,” she says. “When I auditioned, as soon as I walked into the auditorium, everyone was SO nice, optimistic, and welcoming. Auditions went well, and I ended up making it into three pieces! It was also a great opportunity to meet upperclassmen, who gave great advice about Allegheny and about life, honestly.” (Pictured below is Emma Wasko in Toni Donofrio’s piece “Lay Me Down”)