Dancers perform their senior project

by V. Paul

Capping off four or five years of undergraduate study with a senior project is something most University students face. For some, it involves a monstrous paper in a topic that students at least are comfortable with and confident they can fill the requisite number of pages.
For students in the University’s dance program, that is not always the case.
For the past three years, dance seniors have put on a senior concert as their last major academic hurrah before leaving University stages.
Vanessa Voskuil, a dance and theater senior, undertook producing, lighting, choreographing and performing in this year’s concert, called “Nine Temperaments.” The project made a 30-page paper look more appealing because, prior to the concert, Voskuil had never produced or designed lighting for a show, although she does see it in her future career.
“(The concert) is finding that last opportunity to produce your own work with your peers and with the support of the faculty — it’s sort of a group finale,” Voskuil said. “It’s an inaugural experience to what my life will be like.”
Slated for tonight and Saturday night at the Barbara Barker Center for Dance on the West Bank, the concert includes the works of eight other dance students, some of whom have made their dance pieces their senior projects.
Anna Pheil, Mellissa Johnson and Nora Jenneman choreographed and will perform in “School of Fish,” a six-section dance and theater piece. For these three, who have performed in hybrid performances before, actually creating one was a new adventure — an adventure upon which their graduation rests.
“It was kind of a last opportunity to completely and totally experiment before I leave college,” Johnson said.
Like any senior project, an intense amount of research went into creating the show, both for Voskuil and the choreographers presenting dance pieces. The concert’s success — and eventually her grade and degree — depend in part on her ability to quickly learn administrative actions for producing a show as well as technical skills for providing the lighting designs for each dance piece.
Although the concert is assembled and performed with the blessings of department faculty, it’s not an official dance program event. To support student choreography, dance officials commit funds instead to the annual Student Dance Coalition spring concert, said Matt Jenson, a dance program administrative aide.
The senior project fluctuated in recent years as a graduation requirement — students previously needed to complete only the senior seminar class to graduate, instead of doing an actual project.
“I think the seniors doing this event really says something about the students we have,” Jenson said. “They’re willing to go above and beyond what they have to do to get the degree. They’re looking to doing what they have to do to get into their careers.”
When the tradition of a senior concert started with dance alumna Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner and six of her peers in 1998, the seniors then had the benefit of lighting technicians and production experts to guide them along.
“We had no idea what it took to produce a show. We just crossed our fingers and hoped we sold tickets,” Gutierrez-Garner said. “That’s quite an undertaking to have everybody new to it.”
And in relying on these experts — some of whom came with the space they rented — their budget reached nearly $3,000. Gutierrez-Garner and two other seniors successfully applied for grants to cover half the budget; ticket sales and out-of-pocket contributions covered the rest.
However, with the barely one-year-old dance building, Voskuil and her peers no longer need to rent space, keeping her budget to an estimated $600, taken from her and her father’s checkbooks.
Despite the obstacles of new and unfamiliar territory, graduating dance students and those with some time left have discovered the concert fills a dance need in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.
“Most of us can’t take teching classes through theater because of scheduling conflicts. So this is a way to learn, through experience,” said Jenny Brackin, a dance junior and volunteer light technician for the concert.

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]