The VCU Salon, improving performances

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

Artists are giving audiences the chance to peer into their creative process, opening the floor to discussion immediately following their performance.

The VCU Department of Dance and Choreography Salon performance will be held Oct. 23, inviting students to present original art work and allow the audience members to ask questions immediately afterward.

The works presented by each performer are created without the aid of the department’s professors and instructors. The event will have a personal and informal setting.

Courtney Harris, an assistant professor in the VCU dance department, will be facilitating the event and moderating the discussion following the shows.

“It is not meant to be a perfectly chiseled dance or film or composition,” Harris said. “It’s meant to just be, ‘I created something, it’s in the process now and I’m working on it.’”

The discussion following the presentations sets the event apart from other student performances. The artists take seats on the stage and are reintroduced, opening the floor for discussion. The aim of this feedback session is to allow the artists to receive a direct response from the crowd, knowing immediately what the impression is. Audience members are encouraged to give their opinions and ask whatever questions they have about the event.

“Everyone’s entry point into observing the work is very valuable and quite frankly those are the audiences that are going to be in seats later,” Harris said.

This is the first year that the event’s stage is opening to members of other departments. In the past, it was exclusive to dancers at VCU. Now kinetic imaging, theater and music department students are able to come and show their work. The students in the department of dance said they are excited, as they are now going to be presenting alongside other mediums of art.

Since the Salon’s appearance in the early 2000s, the stage has been open to all departments. The department of dance only advertised the event to students of their own department. Students had to be connected to the department of dance to be able to present. With this extended arm, the department has received a much larger amount of entries into the event.

VCU dance and choreography major Riley O’Rourke has choreographed, directed and organized a dance for the Salon event.

“We’ve been talking a lot about how we (the department of dance) don’t really collaborate with other departments and how important that’s going to be going out into the real world,” she said.

The Salon allows artists to get feedback for work that could be presented later at the student concert, or even for the artist’s senior thesis.

“I decided to make a piece, which turned into this really long, eight-minute piece, about abuse and how it affects the victim and the abuser,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke said she prepared a narrative dance, utilizing two dancers to display a story of their falling in love and the evolution of the abusive relationship you see at the end. O’Rourke said confusion and complexity are inherent to that type of relationship, and she said she tried portraying that in her choreography.

“In my piece, that’s one thing I’m trying to portray,” O’Rourke said. “How someone can actually make it okay to themselves. How that comes off to the other person and how they respond.”

While it can be a terrifying experience to have the audience openly critique her work, O’Rourke said the setup of the Salon is beneficial to the production process.

“I’m not sitting in a position where I’m like, ‘Gee I hope they liked it,’” O’Rourke said. “I know. And then later we have the opportunity to duplicate that.”

Some students are working on larger collaborative pieces with multiple choreographers and over a dozen dancers. Some students are presenting solo works, acting as both the choreographer and the dancer, or the musician and the composer. The organization of rehearsals is completely in the hands of the students.

Students utilize the freedom given to them through the Salon event to present work they would otherwise be unable to show. Without the fear of a teacher’s grade, students are encouraged to attempt more daring pieces.

“It’s really hard to be different and make choreography that is appealing to people when everything starts using the same structure, and using the same dialect, and how we converse with each other,” O’Rourke said.

The event will take place Oct. 23 at 7 p.m., in the VCU Dance Depot Annex Studio at 814 W. Broad St. The event is free of charge, and audience members are encouraged to approach it with an open mind and constructive criticism.

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