We should all be stars

MaDaCol celebrates 30 years with culminating performance

Jamie Van Doren, Staff Reporter

When you look at the stars in the sky, you aren’t seeing them in the present. You’re seeing the light they gave off many, many years ago. It’s not so different for each of us. The light that guides us, that lifts us, that makes us who we are today is shining out from our memories—our past. But what does this have to do with dance?

This past April 10-12, the Mather Dance Collective (MaDaCol) celebrated 30 years of performing by reaching into the past. Four student-choreographed dances were reprised and one senior dance capstone premiered. But this story isn’t just about the fact that you, the reader, may have missed out on an event (assuming you didn’t make one of the sold out performances). This story is about what the dance center is trying to do through their work. It’s about what MaDaCol means for the dancers and choreographers. What it means for the community. What it means for people who for a just a few minutes get to be a star on stage. That’s the end of the story, however. The beginning starts like this:

The theatre was hot. Hot and crowded. A triple row of CWRU students and other patrons sat on the floor, level with the stage. Nathan Rogers sat expectantly, waiting to see his partner of 20 years, Desmond Davis, perform. Davis is a CWRU alumnus currently teaching dance at Hiram College. Davis has told his partner that he comes back to MaDaCol because it helps keep him in shape.

“I told him he does it ‘cause it keeps him young. Plus, you like being around young people.” Rogers explained.

The first performance “The Gray-Turning, Gold-Turning Light” is not a MaDaCol piece, even if it is being performed at MaDaCol. The audience may not know the difference, but the choreographer, Eve Lanyi, does. It’s her senior capstone. Instead of having to audition her piece to the performers and then choreographing around their abilities, she developed the piece to be performed by trained dancers. That didn’t make it easier.

“I felt like there was some pressure, because it wasn’t a MaDaCol piece. I just didn’t know what people would be expecting, or if they’d even know,” said Lanyi. “We had a sold-out performance Thursday and Friday, and I kept thinking this is the first thing people are going to see.”

In spite of her nerves, Lanyi enjoyed the experience of choreographing and performing.

“It was a really new experience. I’ve never choreographed for anyone but myself,” said Lanyi.

She included herself in the dance, because she wanted another opportunity to perform before she graduated, one where she could express what she wanted as opposed to another choreographer’s vision. Maybe because of this, the nerves didn’t show as she and six other dancers ran, turned, leapt and stretched across the stage.

While Lanyi’s piece was a premiere, this year’s MaDaCol was primarily a journey into the past. Four works were reprised: “Scandals… and other Diversions” by Janet Meskin which premiered in 1984, “Waterwheel” by Kathleen Kohatsu which premiered in 2002, “Red Fan My Way” by Mingming Liu which premiered in 2006, and “Victory of Feet” by Karina Brown which premiered in 2013. Interspersed among the live dances were video clips of performances from days past. Some, like “Frog Dance” illustrated the difficulties of choreographing and delivering a performance on the fly (if you will). Others, for example “What Rest I Took,” illustrated the performance art aspect that some may see as part and parcel of modern dance. Artistic director and MaDaCol faculty advisor Gary Galbraith hoped they would show the growth and evolution of the student-run MaDaCol program.

“This (30 year anniversary) seems like a great opportunity to look back at where we’ve come from. There was a great deal of excitement over hitting this milestone,” said Gilbraith. “When you think about all the dancers over the years, all of the performances—it’s exciting.”

It was difficult to select which works would be performed, as Galbraith explained. He had to balance not only the different types of choreography, the time and the schedules, but also which original choreographers might be able to take the time to come back to CWRU to help make the performances happen.

“I wanted this to be about more than just the individual performances,” said Galbraith. “This was an opportunity for some of our undergrads to network with alumni who are off and doing what they want to one day be doing. It also allowed our alumni to see some of their own works come back to life.”

One of those works, “Red Fan My Way,” was especially beautiful. Rehearsal Director Carmen Hendricks received the call from Galbraith asking if she would move from in front of the stage to behind it. She said yes.

“I said ‘Of course.’ Red Fan was one of my favorite dances that I’ve ever done. It’s beautiful,” Hendricks explained, “and I wanted to be a part of the 30th anniversary.”

As an 11 year veteran MaDaCol dancer, she didn’t expect it to be directing. While being a director was difficult, and meant grueling hours of watching video of the original performance, writing out the dance and teaching it to her dancers, it also meant rewards—including the opportunity to put herself in the performance.

The Asian fusion dance was a challenge. It was more technical than some, and involved synchronized movements and perfect timing for the opening and closing of the extravagant red fans, which had to be ordered from Beijing, China.

For those who volunteer their time to make MaDaCol happen every year, the journey is as rewarding as the applause. For Hendricks, the hard work of being a rehearsal director had extra rewards.

“When you work with the cast, you’re getting to know them on a different level,” explained Hendricks. “You get to know their weaknesses, their strengths, who they are. When you are a dancer, a lot of your focus in on yourself and trying to learn. As a director, you have to focus on everything.”

Like many of the choreographers, Mingming Liu flew in to help finalize her original work. That was when Hendricks finally had the opportunity to rehearse the dance herself as part of the troupe.

“When I first watched the video, I was thinking ‘I don’t remember that.’” Hendricks said. “But then doing it, it all came back.” Her smile was almost audible.

The average metro dance critic would probably dismiss MaDaCol. It would be difficult to blame them. As a whole, the performances aren’t necessarily visually stunning. The dancers aren’t all lithe and athletic. They don’t deliver the type of performance you would see at Playhouse Square. Latecomers have to sit on cushions on the floor if the very limited seating is filled.

While MaDaCol doesn’t deliver an all-star performance, it does do something equally amazing—and arguably more important. Where else can the average person watch a nine-year-old girl, a 60-year-old woman or a Cleveland firefighter perform an original dance on stage? Where else can you pay $5 to see a performance crafted and rehearsed in a period of roughly 12 weeks? Where else could you, reader, audition for a dance and know that you’ll be selected to perform, and that the dance will be tailored to make you stretch within your abilities?

The answer is MaDaCol. And you’d be wise not to wait another 30 years to take advantage of your chance to be a star.