New Dances 2017 features 60 performers, with dozens more keeping things running behind the scenes. Here, we caught up with three of those students as they prepared for the show’s four-day run, April 13-16 (conversations edited for space, tickets available at artsUAA.com).
Marissa Citro grew up attending dance performances at UAA and, soon after arriving on campus, was accepted into the ensemble company of the theater department. A first-year psychology major, with a dance minor, she will perform in four of 10 pieces in New Dances 2017.
What are you most looking forward to about the show?
I have never worked on main stage before. The fall show was in the black box and I think prior to dancing at UAA, I’d only danced at auditorium-style [venues]. Being in the black box is a very intimate setting. There are 60-some seats, so you’re basically dancing right in front of the front row. The main stage is different. There are going to be more people, but it’s an equally intimate setting. I feel like I’m still dancing with the audience. I’m looking forward to that.
What’s stood out to you about the dance program in your first year?
The biggest thing was, as soon as I got plugged in here, I was immediately thrown into being a dancer here. I feel like that’s true for every department. When you get into the upper-division classes, no matter whether it’s science or math or humanities, you get plugged in with the people of your major. Brian [Jeffery] is the director of ensemble and he’s the director of New Dances, so when I went to auditions and finally got to meet him, he immediately got me involved. I wanted to be in ensemble some time, some day, but he immediately [said] you should register for this class, you should declare your dance minor, you should be in ensemble. And, if you want to be in anything else, you can be in those too.
How has that early involvement shaped your first year?
Ensemble was a great way to make friends, I got to meet a bunch of alumni because they were choreographers, and I got to know other people in the dance community because they came and choreographed for the show. It’s a great way to not only get plugged into the community at UAA but the dance community as a whole in Anchorage.
Meghan Stanford, from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, first came to UAA through the National Student Exchange, and soon returned as a full-time student. A junior theater major (technical emphasis) and math minor, she designed two pieces and serves as stage manager for New Dances 2017.
What are some considerations for lighting a dance performance versus a theater show?
It all depends on what show it is. In dance, I’ve found we get to play with more saturated colors, and you’re playing a lot more with lighting changes and movement. In my experience with these dance shows, you’re working with a choreographer who has put a lot of time and heart into this piece. A lot of them are personal stories and helping bring their vision to life is a really neat experience.
What are some things the audience might not know about the technical staff behind the scenes?
I think the amount of tech work is surprising to most people outside of theater. They see how much work the performers put in, and they don’t realize how many hours the designers or the tech crew put into hanging all the lights, programming the boards and making sure everything works every night. I’ve put a lot of time into the pieces I’m designing, and I’m really excited to see them come to life.
What do you appreciate about the theater department?
They’re very inclusive with everyone who wants to participate. Anyone who wants to come and help out in the shop, or come learn about lights, we have time to help. If we’re building a wall for a show, and you want to learn how to do that, just show up and join us.
Katie O’Loughlin of Wasilla graduates this May with a theater degree (technical emphasis) and a minor in dance. In January, she directed and choreographed 12 dancers in an hour-long performance for her honors project. She will take on four roles — choreographer, dancer, lighting designer and programmer — at New Dances 2017.
What have you found most valuable about the theater department?
I value the opportunities. Because it’s such a small department, you get chances to try things that I would not have gotten to try at a school out of state, or a bigger school. I didn’t believe in myself when I first walked into my department, but my professors did and now I do, because they believed in me. They gave me the opportunity to try new things and to make new mistakes. And you do, you go through the whole process, and that’s how you learn. I’m just grateful for the people who stood by my side. My professors Dan Anteau and Brian Jeffery are the two people who really gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do.
How has learning technical theater played into your performance background?
I never imagined the technical side would have so much creativity in it. I’m learning about circuiting and cables and wiring, and I learned how to solder this semester. I wasn’t really aware how much I could do creatively until I became more skilled technically. I really looked at that within my honors project. How does technology impact my choreography? How can I let one influence the other, and vice versa? It’s been really fun.
It’s your fourth and final New Dances show. What are most excited to share with the audience?
It’s so fun to be on all sides, because I’m excited to show all of it. I’m really excited about the piece that I choreographed, because I’ve been coordinating with a musician in the music department and he’s playing marimba … [And] I just adore performing. I grew up performing. I’ll be in three pieces this semester and they’re all different and unique and interesting. It’s just a blast to be on stage, under the lights, it’s what I want to do with my life.
Any parting thoughts?
The [theater] department has been awesome because they’ve really allowed me to be an individual within it. They’ve never tried to fit in me into a certain box. They’ve let me discover which sides of theater and dance I really like, and let me go down those routes as they guided me through it. It’s been a super-valuable time. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would learn.
New Dances 2017 runs Thursday, April 13 to Sunday, April 16. Tickets available at artsUAA.com.
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement