Thinking outside the box

ChoreoLab provides a venue for artists to express themselves

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ChoreoLab presented a full display of dance, lighting and projections in the CFA’s Black Box Theatre last weekend.

On Friday, UB’s Department of Theatre and Dance presented the opening night of the inaugural concert “ChoreoLab.” The performance, which ran April 12-14, is a “choreographic research lab” dedicated to allowing artists to explore their creative vision through dance. ChoreoLab is a class which brings together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and guest artists to create unique hands-on experiences. Crew members combine their expertise to choreograph and design the show. This year’s title, “POWER: the preservation of order,” reflects how “power impacts agency and order.” 

Trebien Pollard, a professional dancer and choreographer, directed this year’s concert. 

Pollard choreographed the final piece, “The Poetics of Relation,” in which he projected black-and-white images from various protest movements onto the set’s white wooden walls while dancers moved around the stage. 

Aurora Hastings, a senior dance major, choreographed ChoreoLab’s second piece, titled “A Lasting Funk.” Hastings started the choreography with the disco song “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc. and based the piece off the dance styles of Luigi and Ron Lewis, two pioneers of jazz dance.

“I wanted to take their movement, revamp it in a way and reinvent it into my personal artistic voice. And then also keep true to what jazz dance is,” Hastings said.

Freshman dance major Karrigan Rotella performed in ChoreoLab and said she liked seeing the different choreographies come together and hopes the audience understood the meaning past the choreography.

“I’m literally in a piece where we’re dumping water all over ourselves. … It’s just really interesting to see all these opportunities that people have taken in choreographing,” Rotella said. “[And] yes, there are pieces where people are literally just walking and not doing any actual ‘dancing’ but it all has a meaning.” 

Before the main show, dancers performed a pre-show exhibition titled “Once More, with Feeling” in a studio across from the Black Box Theatre. Joseph Davila, a dance student, directed the piece. Audience members could interact with Davila’s piece by talking to the dancers, sitting on the benches and walking up to the dancers while they performed. 

The dancers and audience left the studio as a group and entered the Black Box Theatre where the dancers completed their piece in the new room as the main show began. 

Emily Powrie, the environment designer for this production, has a batchelor’s degree in theatre and performance studies and is a current MFA Studio Art candidate. Powrie said she took inspiration for the show from her art gallery in the CFA. 

“The title of this showcase is ‘POWER: the preservation of order’ and [I was] really thinking about what that means,” Powrie said. “I’ve been recently doing a lot of work in art galleries and thinking about the preservation of what goes into artwork and, even further, in museums. What gets to be chosen … and who has the power to preserve and say [what art] … should be preserved.”

Powrie said she designed the Black Box Theatre for the event to mimic an art gallery, as artwork is “boxed in” at galleries similarly to how the dancers were “boxed” in the Black Box Theatre.

Steven Zehler, a junior theatre design and technology major and ChoreoLab’s media systems designer, said the show tested the crews’ abilities to modernize their performances.

“We’re basically taking what we have learned from the past shows in the season … and we’re seeing how we can expand our use of projection in the department” Zehler said. “We’re trying to stick with the times by keeping things modern in the department and I think that this show is doing a pretty good job of showing that we’re capable of doing that.” 

Anastasia Wilds is an arts staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com