Mai Thao ’22 first started dancing in a Macalester Dance Composition class. This year, she’s stepping out of her comfort zone and onto the stage for the Fall Dance Concert.
“Out of all [the choreographers in the concert], I’m the most inexperienced. At the beginning, I was very hesitant because I didn’t feel qualified,” Thao said. “I’ve always wanted to dance, but I’ve always been so scared, so this is a very big leap for me. The bigger the risk, the more I feel motivated to do well.”
Thao is both choreographing and performing her solo piece, which she says was heavily influenced by her Hmong heritage. The piece combines sharp and fluid motions to minimalist audio as Thao dances in and out of the spotlight on stage.
In contrast, this is not Tumelo Khupe’s ’20 first rodeo. Khupe has both performed and choreographed for the Fall Dance Concert in the past, but this is the first year she is choreographing by herself. She says her piece is about “growth and being able to overcome a harsh journey,” which resonates with her dancers, many of whom have never performed in a formal setting before.
One of those dancers is Miguel Hernandez ’23, who had no formal dance training up until this fall. Hernandez faced challenges during the rehearsal process such as learning about the technical parts of dance, and discovering how the energy of the whole group can affect the dance, for better or for worse.
“Sometimes we would run through the dance and you could tell our heart wasn’t put into it.” Hernandez said. “Other times we’d run through it, and you can feel that the whole group put their whole emotion into it. When you can connect the physical to the emotional, that makes the perfect combination.”
For Khupe, the most challenging part of choreographing is the constant changes. What originally was an eight person dance became a seven person dance.
“I had to pull myself out [of the dance]. It was the best decision I made because it forced each dancer to work even harder,” Khupe said.
Khupe also thought that her sporadic creative process sometimes took a toll.
“There was a lot of building, breaking down and rebuilding, creating and deleting, so I can imagine the dancers sometimes felt as if the piece was not going anywhere,” she said.
But eventually it came together. The seven dancers perform a high intensity, emotional dance influenced by African movement. Although a lot of movement is done in unison, each dancer seems to develop as a character throughout the dance.
The Fall Dance Concert has eight acts that offer a diverse scope of dance genres, ranging from an intimate ballet-esque duet directed by Trina Hofrenning ’21 to a vibrant performance by faculty choreographer Patricia Brown’s African-based movement class.
Some choreographers added unexpected elements to their pieces, as well. Guest artist Chiao-Ping Li implemented tables into a modern, acrobatic dance. Student choreographer Katia Sievert ’21 has student musicians playing live music from the balconies surrounding the theater.
“It always seemed crazy to me that we have all these amazing musicians but I had never heard them play at a dance concert,” Sievert said.
The 2019 Fall Dance Concert opens Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. Additional performances are Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center in the main theater.