Student choreographers celebrate VCU dance department’s 30th anniversary

Image courtesy of VCU Dance

Michael Todd
Staff Writer

Image courtesy of VCU Dance

This past Thursday through Saturday, the VCU Department of Dance and Choreography celebrated its 30th anniversary season with its annual VCU Dance NOW event at Grace Street Theatre.

With a nearly full house in the already-compact theatre, the event featured seven new pieces choreographed by VCU Dance faculty, as well as one piece by a guest choreographer.

Performed by VCU Dance majors from freshman through senior level, each piece brought something different but equally powerful to the show, resulting in a cumulative layering of intensity as the evening advanced.

The night opened with “A Particularity of Place,” choreographed by Scott Putman, which explored the ideas of growth through the confrontation of the fear that results from major life changes, rather than becoming trapped in the more welcome comfort of familiar routines.

“It was a great experience to be in a show like this,” said sophomore Molly Rae Pearl, who was the first performer on stage in “Particularity.”

“For a while you just work on your own piece,” Pearl said. “Then you get to see how hard everyone else has worked, and how beautiful each piece is when they all come together, and you feel really honored to be a part of the whole show.”

A collaboration of video and dance filmed in different locations around Richmond, “Quorum” sought a syncretism between the opposing forces of humanity and nature against those of the mechanical and digital. The piece was choreographed by Robbie Kinter with the help of the featured performers, with film and original sound by kinetic imaging major John Dombroski.

“Bog Stories,” a six-dancer ensemble piece choreographed by Judith Steel, draws inspiration from and eerily reflects the poetry of W. B. Yeats, adapted and composed by Donnacha Dennehy with contemporary music group Crash Ensemble and the haunting soprano of Dawn Upsha.

Performers in Autumn Proctor’s contemplative “enLight” used an ambiguous powder, released at surprise intervals at the beginning of the piece, to create a mesmerizingly charged and mysterious atmosphere. After the powder settled on the floor, it became a canvas as performers danced patterns into its surface.

After the intermission, choreographer Martha Curtis addressed the idea of life changing events in her piece “Ephemera… we are forever changing,” in which a leader figure initiates a medley of different dances that ranged from playful to almost aggressive as the piece progressed. By the end of the performance, all the dancers had discarded an article of clothing that is perhaps a representation of things lost as a result of experiences gained.

This year VCU featured guest choreographer Rick McCullough, emphasizing the joint program between VCU Dance and the Richmond Ballet in which participants earn their degree by splitting their time between two years at the Richmond Ballet and two years completing their BFA at VCU.

Preceding “of this moment,” the closing piece of the show, was McCullough’s “The Clarity of Absence,” an eight-person dance conceived this past fall during his residency at VCU, including both VCU Dance Majors and Richmond Ballet trainees.

In Christian von Howard’s “of this moment,” a two-paneled wall set at an obtuse angle became integral to the choreography as dancers rebounded off of it and, in some cases, each other. The performers writhed under the effects of harsh lighting like bugs under a magnifying glass, setting an uncomfortable tone for the piece that would only intensify to the point of hostility as the piece played out. By the end of the performance, the dancers interactions with one another were verging on hostile in their manifestation of the emotional extremes of each performer.


For more information on the VCU Department of Dance and Choreography, including a calendar of this season’s performances and events, visit the department’s website at

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