Dancer’s Workshop, an entirely student-produced dance showcase, debuts May 12 at UB’s Katherine Cornell Theater.
But Dancer’s Workshop isn’t your average department-run performance. This one’s all about the students — they’re given complete creative control over everything from choreography and costumes to lighting and sound.
The show is directed by senior dance major Juliana Guiffrida along with assistant director and junior dance major Lily Colligan. The title of the show is “Breaking Free,” inspired by High School Musical. Guiffrida picked the theme after choreographing an all-boys piece for last year’s Dancer’s Workshop to the song, “I Don’t Dance” from “High School Musical 2.”
There’s a certain camaraderie among the dancers, many of whom have been working closely together for years at UB. Watching Woollis and her dancers practice “Daylight,” an emotional, lyrical piece, the trust and connection between everyone in the studio is clear.
Woollis worked one-on-one with each dancer, working out the intricacies of each move, as the others sat and watched. The studio is quiet, but not without an occasional joke and burst of laughter.
With over 100 student dancers from inside and outside of the Dance Department, the intensely collaborative performance stresses artistic freedom and inclusivity.
Unlike most UB dance performances, it’s not just dance majors taking the stage this time. Anyone can audition for Dancer’s Workshop — in fact, choreographer Brennah Woollis says some of them “haven’t danced a day in their lives.”
The show is uniquely lighthearted and low-pressure, drawing participants of various skill levels from all over UB. Woollis takes pride in sharing the creative outlet of dance with people that don’t typically partake in it.
“It’s just like a fun communal space — we bring everyone together. And we just want to see them show their artistic side, because we do all the time,” Woollis said. “[Dance majors] are bored. Let us do it for other people. Let us work with biomed engineers, or civil engineers, or mathematicians, or nurses.”
Guiffrida mentioned that the pedestrian pieces are “typically everyone’s favorite.” One of her most beloved moments is watching the dancers step out of their comfort zones and “kill it.”
Dancer’s Workshop gives dance students a greater level of creative freedom than they would typically receive in their performances .
“I always appreciate faculty input and faculty advice, but at the end of the day every choice is mine,” Guiffrida said. “I’m really flexible with what the choreographers want to do and the dancers. It allows everyone to really find this creativity that we might not have in a more structured setting.”
While the typical department-run performance is all about preparing students for the intense, professional world of dance, Dancer’s Workshop is an opportunity for dancers to do what they love in a relatively stress-free environment.
“[Usually] you’re being looked at as a professional choreographer, whereas DW [Dancer’s Workshop] is like, ‘No, you’re a student. You’re making a dance. It’s for fun,’” Woollis said. “If it’s a rough process, then you’re just not doing it right. You’re supposed to enjoy doing this.”
Dancer’s Workshop takes place the same weekend as the Senior Showcase for dance majors. Emotions will be running high as the seniors partake in their last weekend of college dance, before heading into the professional world.
“I’m going to cry almost every day,” Woollis said. “We actually have a senior piece that’s in DW. That’s all like the dance major seniors. We do a dance together. And I’m just going to be a puddle.”
Amy Maslin is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meret Kelsey is the senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Meret Kelsey is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.