Ryerson Dances 2016

Third-year, Sierra Richardson and fourth-year, Connor Mitton, rehearse before Ryerson Dances 2016 launches. (Courtesy Megan Stephens)

Third-year, Sierra Richardson and fourth-year, Connor Mitton, rehearse before Ryerson Dances 2016 launches. (Megan Stephens)

Juggling course work, electives and rehearsing for a major production may seem unmanageable to most.

But it’s what Ryerson dance students have been doing for the last two months in preparation for their annual fall production.

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Members of the Ryerson dance program practice for Ryerson Dances 2016 in a piece choreographed by Heidi Strauss. (Megan Stephens)

Ryerson Dances, the School of Performance’s showcase for third and fourth-year students, brings together 62 dancers to perform three brand new routines.

The dancers not only participated in their normal dance classes and academic lectures, but they also practised several hours every day in preparation, sometimes resulting in 12-hour days.

“This is what brings them to the next level. It gives them a taste of what a professional environment would be like,” says director of the performance dance program and producer for the show, Vicki St.Denys. “What a creative process is like with professional choreographers and what the expectations might be out there for them.”

The annual performance also gives dancers the opportunity to dance for professional choreographers who may potentially hire them in the future. While the stakes are high, it’s not something that the dancers are conscious of during the performance.

“I don’t think about it,” says fourth-year Kate Musin. “I don’t think about the audience, about what they’re doing or thinking. I just concentrate on the work we do and the energy of the group.”

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Third-year, Sarah DiIorio, is held up in the air by her fellow dancers before dropping into their arms while choreographer, Heidi Strauss and rehearsal assistant, Jane Allison McKinney watch.  (Megan Stephens)

The show, created by renowned Canadian choreographers Louis Laberge-Côté, Heidi Strauss and William Yong, also includes a remount of James Kudelka’s work, Heroes, originally created for the Hubbard Street Dance Company in Chicago.

The way that Ryerson Dances breaks down in that the third- and fourth-year dancers are involved in the shows and the first- and second-years can be involved as understudies. Fourth-year, Kristen Sullivan and second-year understudy, Christos Tsiantoulas rehearse together ahead of Ryerson Dances first show. (Courtesy Megan Stephens)

The way that Ryerson Dances breaks down in that the third and fourth-year dancers are involved in the shows and the first and second-years can be involved as understudies. Fourth-year, Kristen Sullivan and second-year understudy, Christos Tsiantoulas rehearse together ahead of Ryerson Dances first show. (Megan Stephens)

“Each of the four works is completely distinct,” says St.Denys. “Each of (the choreographers) creative processes was very different, the style and content of their pieces are completely different from one another. Each piece is their own unique little world.”

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Yet is one of three original choreographed pieces that dance students will perform for Ryerson Dances 2016 (Megan Stephens)

While each piece in Ryerson Dances is a world unto itself, each of the choreographers has  worked to make sure their own pieces stand out as unique, thought-provoking and emotional.

Laberge-Côté’s piece, La Part Des Chrysalides, is inspired by transition and transformation; pushing through a layer and coming out as a new being. Using music, space and the human body, his concept looks at decay, abandonment, and what it means to move forward.

This theme is similarly embraced by Yong’s piece, titled Black Rain, which he explains as rain that is polluted by darkness. It was inspired by the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.

The 20 dancers in Black Rain will also have production support to explain the concept.

“William asked for something falling that looked like rain and he’s got some really costumed designs,” says St.Denys. “Headpieces and shoes and things like that.”

Ryerson Dances 2016 is a departure from last year, when there was little production, aside from microphones attached to dancers to emphasize breathing and movement.

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“Dance students have seven shows so the pieces have a chance to grow, they have a chance to develop. What you see on the Saturday, the last show, is going to be pretty different than what you see in the first show. The process that leads to a piece going up is continued during the actual show. You don’t reach the finish line on opening, you reach the finish line at the last show because its like a trajectory.” – Heidi Strauss (Megan Stephens)

“I found it very valid what we did last year with him (Kudelka),” says Marina Dipelino, a fourth-year dancer. “Like I have total admiration for what we did because we were with the concept of no music and it was all within our own bodies.

“But I love this year too. It’s a smaller group setting and we get to work one-on-one with the choreographer.”

Dipelino is dancing in Strauss’s piece, Yet, where students were able to take part in the choreography process by looking at issues that concern them in the world.

Strauss used those issues as a way to talk about agency and the power that we have in the world through choreography.

“I think that’s an important part of being engaged,” says Strauss, “both in a process and having something at stake in something that’s yours … something of value, something that belongs to you in a way. I think that’s true of being a performer in a work; that people are kind of irreplaceable.”

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The cast of Heidi Strauss’ piece, Yet, piles on top of one another as part of their dance routine. (Megan Stephens)

Ryerson Dances 2016 runs from Nov. 15-19 at the Ryerson Theatre, 43 Gerrard St. E.

Tickets are on sale for $15 for students and $20 for adults. The show starts at 8 p.m. every night with an additional matinee performance at 2 p.m. on the 19th.

You can find out more about Ryerson Dances 2016 here.

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