The Zodiaque Dance Company is an elite group, only accepting 28 of the 90 dance students at UB, according to program director Kerry Ring. The dancers must commit to rehearsals up to five days a week, including weekends, which can last as many as 11 hours at a time in the stuffy dance studios of the Center for the Arts (CFA).
The endless hours of practice pay off Oct. 18 when the Zodiaque Dance Company premieres their fall program, now entering its 44th season at UB. National choreographers and UB dance faculty put together the show, consisting of eight dance pieces ranging from jazz and hip-hop to classic Bollywood.
Ring organized the production, keeping in mind the motto of the dance program: versatility matters.
“It’s a vision of how to train the dancer in versatility and style,” Ring said. “The selection is based on a number of factors including faculty research… We also want to connect to both the UB dance community and the Buffalo dance community. That’s where someone like Gaitrie comes in.”
Gaitrie Subryan is an independent contractor brought in by Ring to choreograph a piece for the show. She is a UB alum, graduating in 2006 with a degree in psychology and communication, and has her own dance studio and performance company.
Subryan’s composition is a Bollywood dance, set to four different pieces of Indian music.
“The last part we just kind of learned, so we’re working on it,” Subryan said. “It’s not just the one-two-three-four count that we’re used to in Western-style dance. There’s a lot of different counts involved and it’s very lyrical as well. I’m challenging them on a lot of different levels.”
The group has been rehearsing the dance for one week, with only three weeks left until opening night, not a long rehearsal process for such an involved piece.
“It is a short amount of time,” Subryan said. “They have a lot on their plates, so they probably have choreography overload and I’m slamming them with a lot of other things. But they’re doing great.”
Other dancers like Joseph Davila, a junior dance major, have been rehearsing for a bit longer. Davila will be performing in three pieces this year and has been rehearsing them since last semester. He has the choreography down as a result, which changes the rehearsal process.
“This concert I am doing three pieces that were in rehearsal last semester,” Davila said. “So I’m not really in a rehearsal ‘process.’ It’s more of coming into the studio, running through the pieces and focusing in on the details and making sure it’s really clean. Whereas other shows in past semesters I would come into the studio and not really know what the piece would be or where it would go, so it would be more process based.”
The stories behind the dances are as varied as the dances themselves. The Bollywood piece is about love and loss, according to Subryan. Joyce Lichtenberger’s Tic-Tac-Toe-inspired jazz piece, “On the Grid,” came to her when she was visiting the Museum of Modern Art this past summer.
“I didn’t necessarily want to do a commercial piece. I wanted to have an underlying concept so I was playing with what I thought could translate to the concert stage,” said Lichtenberger, a UB Dance faculty member, who has been working with Zodiaque for almost 30 years. “And then you get your inspiration from all different places like listening to music, and then you go [to the MoMa] and you see this random grid and the light bulb goes off.”
The dancers arrange themselves into a paneled grid, at the start of the piece. The chiptunes begin to blare, like a track off of a classic “Mega Man” game, and the dancers begin to move around, maintaining the grid-like pattern, some representing the “X’s” and others the “O’s” in this musical game of Tic-Tac-Toe.
The hardest part of the choreography was arranging the piece so no three X’s or O’s lined up at any given moment until the end of the number and “won the game” early, according to Lichtenberger.
Ring and Jenna Del Monte, the assistant director and Ring’s self-proclaimed “right-hand woman,” want the people of UB to know about the quality dance that is happening right at their school. People who are not big dance fans will find something to enjoy at a Zodiaque show, according to Del Monte.
“It’s a hidden little gem. The shows don’t sell out nearly as much as they should. For people who don’t watch dance all the time, it’s a short show,” Del Monte said. “Some dance concerts can be two to three hours long and sometimes when watching you’ll fall out of it. This is not that. It’s so versatile. There’s something for everybody. There’s some mainstream stuff in there like hip-hop for the young people. It’s very dense and people should come.”
David Tunis-Garcia is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.