Orchesis annual performance showcases student choreography across genres


Choreographed hip-hop piece, Photo by Therese Young

Splashes of vibrant color and bright white lights echoed across an expansive white backdrop behind the stage of the Milo Smith Tower Theatre as audience members gasped, laughed and cried their way through the annual Orchesis dance production; the show featured styles ranging from hip hop to ballet to ballroom to tap, performed to music genres from classical to alt-pop to rap. 

Three quarter’s worth of dedication culminated for the dance department from April 20-22 in McConnell Hall, and as is custom, the Saturday evening show sold out. 

According to Associate Professor of Dance and Director of the dance program, Therese Young, CWU’s performance company Orchesis has existed for around 40 years. The company’s website states that its mission is to promote dance as a performing art and to provide opportunities for students to choreograph, learn and perform original works. 

Young has been teaching and directing at CWU for 28 years and this will be her final year teaching and was her final time directing Orchesis. Young’s students tearfully shared stories about her generosity and offered her a gift basket after the closing show Saturday evening. 

“It’s been very joyful, I have so many memories,” Young said. “My words of wisdom to the students is do something you love, because life is too short and you need to enjoy what you’re doing. I tease my students. I’m like, ‘oh, in 20 years when I’m sitting in a rocking chair and I hear a song on the radio I’m going to think about all of you.’”

Director and faculty perspectives

Young emphasized that students have creative freedom regarding dance concepts and choreography. 

“We want to release them and let them work,” Young said. “The times when we do have more input is when someone says they are stuck or don’t know what to do with a piece.” 

Young expressed her satisfaction with working with college-aged dancers and how that experience has been.

“I wanted to teach at a college level,” Young said. “I enjoy teaching college-age [students] because they’ve had enough experience. They can think outside of the box, so that’s exciting for me.”

Assistant Professor of Dance and Assistant Director of the Dance program, Gabrielle McNeillie, who has been a part of eight Orchesis performances, gave her perspective on the evolution of the show. 

“I think what I’ve noticed changing is the development of the choreography,” McNeillie said. “Our choreographers are just every year becoming increasingly more advanced, and we also have broadened the styles of dance that we’re showcasing.”

McNeillie highlighted the close relationships between the students and faculty, and how that contributes to the creative process. 

“We want them to be confident in the work that they’re doing and feel excited to share this work with others because it can be really scary to put your creative self out there,” McNeillie said. “It’s intimidating. Our goal is to really help them through that process.”

McNeillie continued: “I hope people walk away not only enjoying the show, but I hope there are pieces that can make them think and ask questions. Maybe some of the pieces change their mind about what they think dance is or what dance could be.”

Young reminisced about a few of the many pieces she choreographed during her decades at CWU. 

“Over the years, I’ve done some really interesting, creative pieces that seemed kind of crazy at the time,” Young said. “It’s been quite a journey having a way to express different things through movement.”

Young explained that she maintains close relationships with her students after they graduate. 

“The policy was I’ll be their facebook friend after they graduate,” Young said. “Now I get to see them having kids and their kids are dancing, and that’s really heartwarming.” 

Dancers and choreographers

From high energy, jubilant group numbers to tear-jerking solos and duets, Orchesis weaved its way from moment to moment with careful consideration for its delivery.

The show was off to an energetic start and flowed into a hip hop piece choreographed by Kieran Smythe. The mood shifted, with a contemporary duo piece choreographed by Emily Evans and performed by Alison Prekeges and Hope Worth, which left multiple audience members in tears on Saturday night.

As one dancer pushed herself across the stage while laying on the floor in the dark, another entered; they mirrored each other, the tension swelled as they fought and embraced, one trying to hide and escape from the other. One wore a green top with blue pants while the other wore blue pants with a green top, there was symmetry and union and equally discord represented.

Mechanical engineering sixth-year and dance graduate Aislinn Williamson talked about her experience as a dancer and choreographer in the show. 

“I’ve been on both the performer and choreographer side,” Williamson said. “It’s really cool to work with other choreographers because everyone has their own process” 

Williamson said of her choreography: “For me, personally, I tend to just follow the musicality. So if I find any underlying beats, I try and see how my body moves to match that beat and also, how can I create opposition?”

One of the dances Williamson is a part of, which tells a story about grief, was personal to her as she recently lost two family members. 

“The feelings that I had with recent loss fully took over,” Williamson said. “This was my own personal journey with grief performing this piece.” 

Dance and Physics BS major Alison Prekeges explained how Orchesis helped her pursue her passion for dance. 

Prekeges explained that she grew up competing in dance competitions and wished to continue performing after the pandemic. “I joined Orchesis at Central because I wanted to keep dancing,” Prekeges said.  

Prekeges explained that she was comfortable with most of the dance styles at Orchesis prior to joining the company. 

“Coming to central it’s the first time I’ve ever done ballroom styles,” Prekeges said. “I think it’s really cool that we have a ballroom piece this year because I’ve never seen stuff like that before.”

Sophomore in the dance program and Orchesis dancer Emma Tolmich said the ballet piece choreographed by ______ was one of her favorites to perform. 

“We auditioned a trio on pointe shoes with a red string,” Tolmich said. “It’s to signify friendship and how you can lose friendship over time and sometimes you reconnect, but essentially, you just break off and that’s one of my favorites.” 

Tolmich said she hoped audience members could see the emotion in their facial expressions to feel what the dancers were feeling. 

“At the end of one of the dances, I get this little solo, and I get to thrash my head as hard as I can, and roll over my feet and I end in this really dramatic backbend laying on the floor, and I love it,” Tolmich said with an extra emphasis on the word love. 

Tolmich gave credit to the stage crew for their hard work on the production.

“All the lighting designers and the stage manager Luis, they are doing amazing work and they’re really bringing the show together,” Tolmich said. 

Audience perspectives

Vicky Garrett, mother of an Orchesis dancer and attendee of the production for years, said she appreciated the Milo Smith Tower Theatre for this show.

“I love the Tower Theatre, it’s intimate and cozy,” Garrett said. “McConnell is beautiful also and it’s fun as well, but this is a beautiful space for dancers and they can take up the whole space.” 

Kylene Ayer, a CWU dance alum, said she was particularly moved by the “Would You Do it All Again?” piece choreographed by ______. 

“It actually brought a couple tears to my eyes and I was not prepared,” Ayer said. “The music paired with the choreography on that one, it was evoking a feeling that I couldn’t necessarily attach to what I was seeing. Every time I’m back here, I’m always reminded, would you go back and do it over, would you do it differently, or can you just appreciate the magic that came with these moments that you spent there in this town?”

Ayer mentioned the ballroom number choreographed by Young as another stand out moment.

“It was a transportation in time to a little more elegant courting system,” Ayer said. “The collaboration from the dancers, the hoots and hollers from the backstage, the community support, the dedication to being here and being present, and that can be seen across a wider perspective of culture and social aspects right now, but it was really cool to see it reflected in something I used to be a part of.”

Garrett highlighted the importance of art events in the community as a reason to leave the house and be inspired by artists at the university. 

“The growth in the dancers that I’ve seen in the last couple years, they’re amazing,” Garrett said. “The way they choose to express themselves through dance is intimate, and this space enhances that.”

Isaac Olson, junior in musical theater and sociology, was in the audience and said: “My favorite number by far was ‘United in Grief,’ Abby Faulk did so good with that. Her choreography is so incredible, I love dancing with her. Overall, you could see the passion for dance in each of the dancers. You can tell that this is what they enjoy and love.”

Ayer said themes of struggle, collective transcendence and emotional health problems were obvious throughout the show. 

“Even just remembering what it’s like… all of the people in this show are working on other things in their life, they’re going after other major programs, this is just a piece of their life and they’re having to work that hard every day to accomplish their goals and their dreams,” Ayer said.