‘Set the Tone’: 10 VCU dance seniors choreograph pieces, showcase individual creativity

One of the “Set the Tone” immersive dance pieces titled ~ ~ ~, choreographed by senior Sara Dellinger. It consisted of students dancing in a room full of projections of ink being displaced in water. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Sahara Sriraman, Spectrum Editor

Dancers perform chaîné turns across the floor, grand jeté leaps through the air, developpé extensions and elegant arabesques in the dance pieces choreographed by senior VCU dance students and performed by other dance students at the first half of the “Set the Tone: Class of Frequency” showcase.

The showcase features choreographed pieces from 10 VCU dance and choreography seniors at a two-part event this month. The first part took place at The Anderson Gallery on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, the second part will take place at the Grace Street Theater on Nov. 19 and 20. 

“Set the Tone: Class of Frequency” is an event that includes dance pieces that are fully choreographed and organized by VCU dance seniors. The concert is meant to highlight the skills the seniors have learned during their time in the dance program, while allowing them to freely choreograph and showcase pieces based on their chosen ideas and topics, according to the event’s website.

“I’m always very inspired and excited to receive a creative offering from these students,”said MK Abadoo, an assistant professor of dance and choreography. “Each is very unique and distinct, and it’s great to see an emergence of creative voices that they’ve been developing.”

Abadoo said she is the co-instructor for the dance senior capstone class, Senior Project, and is one of the concert directors for “Set the Tone.” 

Abadoo said this is the first time the program is including more than one type of production for the senior capstones, including live performances, dance film and immersive pieces.

She said this project is significant for graduating seniors because this is the first time they will be choreographing and acting as creative directors. The students not only choreograph, but they fundraise, work with lighting crews and cinematographers and design posters for the event.

“It really is expanding the role of a choreographer in which you’re working very closely with your performance collaborators, perhaps in a studio space or a making space, arranging bodies in motion,” Abadoo said. 

Becca Gargiulo, a senior dance and choreography major, said her dance piece, “presently purple,” focuses on the idea of nostalgia, and how the concept can invoke different emotions for everyone. 

“This felt like a good time to explore that, as I am a senior; I have this weird perception that making this piece and this experience is something that I will one day feel nostalgic about,” Gargiulo said. “So, there’s this weird meta lens I have of the stage of my life I’m in right now.”

Gargiulo said she’s been working with five dancers who are performing in her piece and asked them to tap into their own experiences, rather than using her own life experience as their creative basis. 

Gargiulo said the dance program gave her a lot of freedom while exposing her to a variety of different dance styles, like modern, jazz and ballet, making her a “well-rounded” dancer and choreographer.

“I feel that the ways I’ve grown in my dancing impacts my choreography, and vice versa,” Gargiulo said. 

She said this piece has meant more to her because it’s one of her final projects during her time in the dance program, especially because this is the first time she’s expressed herself through choreography. She said this project has also allowed her to collaborate with other dancers in order to bring her vision to life.

“That has been a huge learning process, interacting with them and seeing how I can, you know, push them to be better dancers and then they push me to be a better choreographer,” Gargiulo said.

Joie Mouran, another dance and performance senior, said her piece, “BLK IS,” celebrates Black women and their physical features, which have been “criticized” before.

“Just trying to celebrate our bodies, our hair –– typical things that usually we, you know, get criticized for,” Mouran said.

Mouran said her piece involved three dancers, most commonly known as a trio dance, because she wanted to keep the number of dancers small. She said “BLK IS” is a collaboration between her style of movement and her dancers’ styles. 

“We need to do something where all of this is celebrated,” Mouran said. “I don’t feel like I need to censor myself, or … feel my peers should have to censor themselves.”

She said the dance program has taught her a lot and shaped her as both a person and an artist. 

“VCU dance, while they do teach you and give you tools to help you choreograph, they also set you up in a way that allows your voice to be heard, and allows you to find out what you like and what you don’t like,” Mouran said.

Olivia Frederiksen, a freshman art foundations student and attendee at the first night of “Set the Tone,” said she was very impressed with both performances, which evoked strong emotions as she was watching. 

“It was such an encapsulating experience, just being fully immersed and put into the position of more of the dancers’ space and stuff was really cool,” Frederiksen said.

She said she’s amazed with the student choreographers and that they’re using other dance students to showcase their art. Frederiksen said she loved how the dancers in the pieces engaged with the audience on an emotional level.

“All the motions were so together, and just so beautiful,” Frederiksen said. “Everyone did amazing.”

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