Denizens of Dance Pro dazzle and delight, giving life to historic Occidental tradition

Photo by Willie Siau

The taps, twists and turns of Dance Production 2017 reverberated through Thorne Hall March 17 and 18, as more than 200 students performed dances they have practiced since September. Dance Production co-Presidents Millie Kreitlow and Illana Share (seniors) opened this year’s production, which included 17 performances produced by 26 choreographers. The assortment of dances ranged from traditional Hawaiian Hula to Indian Bollywood and Bhangra. The production concluded with a grand finale set to the song “Bartender” by T-Pain that involved all members of Dance Production. With over 700 people in attendance according to Dance Production executive board member Michelle Levitt (sophomore), anticipation and excitement reverberated throughout Thorne Hall during the entirety of the show.

Dance Production — one of Occidental’s largest events — is completely student-run and was founded in 1948. From the executive board to the choreographers, each detail is carefully curated by students dedicated to spreading the joy of dance.

Jagmit Dhami’s (first year) piece “Nasha” was inspired by her own southeast Asian culture.

“I knew I wanted to do Dance Production because it’s one of the few opportunities in which I can showcase my culture. The dance we performed, Bhangra, is from the northern region of India and is all about high energy and being completely intoxicated with the dance. There is a lot of meaning in each movement and being able to share that with the dancers and the audience was really special,” Dhami said.

For choreographers Pomai Nakoa and Raihana (Rai) Haynes-Venerable (seniors), the inspiration for their dance, “Twerque du Soleil,” began over three-and-half years ago. They were excited about turning their vision into a reality after receiving positive feedback and consistent enthusiasm from their dancers.

“Dance Production has been a really big part of my four years at Oxy, but Rai and I were always too busy to choreograph until this summer break,” Nakoa said. “Our inspiration came from Todrick Hall, whose song, ‘Twerking in the Rain,’ ended up being the opening song for our mix. We wanted it to be wild and extravagant and our dancers loved the idea of a twerking circus-twerkus.”

Twerque du Soleil’s theatrical style incorporated hip-hop and jazzy movements to resemble a rambunctious circus act. Dancers were dressed in an assortment of circus costumes such as lions, mimes, ballerinas and clowns. All the dancers performed the sharp hip-hop moves in total synchronization.

Achieving that level of coordination can be challenging, especially for dances with a large cast. Choreographer Flynn Aldrich (junior), who had about 50 student dancers in his piece, “Chopped,” explained that rehearsals were, at times, hard to manage.

“It’s sometimes really hard to coordinate a group that large but getting to know each of my dancers and getting to spend time with them while doing something I love is really special for me,” Aldrich said.

For many participants, Dance Production is a unique experience, as many have not performed for an audience before. Even for more seasoned dancers, the production was distinct from other dance recitals.

“I’ve been dancing since I was three but Dance Production is a unique experience because you get the chance to participate in a variety of dance styles,” Esme Brown (sohpomore) said. “If I could participate in every dance, I would — especially the cultural pieces that are more out of my comfort zone.”

Brown performed in two dances, “33 GOD,” a contemporary piece by Michelle Levitt (sophomore), and “Wicked, Wicked, Wicked,” a hip-hop dance by Onye Nwabueze (senior). 

Experienced or not, this year’s dancers showcased their ability to shine independently yet also cohesively as a larger group. This was most evident in the response Saturday night’s finale generated from the audience.

“The audience screaming and cheering is probably my favorite part of the show,” Matt Hao (sophomore) said. “It gets all of us more pumped up and is a reassurance that people are liking what we’re doing. There was a literal roar at the end of the performance [Saturday] that was probably the best part about being in dance production.”

The buzz of the crowd sounded from the moment the lights dimmed as the performance began. Within the first couple minutes of the opening video montage, students shouted enthusiastically for friends and classmates.

“It’s so exciting to be able to recognize dancers on stage and see them do things you would never consider them doing in real life. It’s nuts — a really great display of all the talent at Occidental,” Lily Atau (sophomore) said.

Kreitlow and Share strived to incorporate as many styles as possible in an effort to make the show more dynamic.

“Overall, we thought this year went extremely well. Our e-board and choreographers were so flexible and professional with challenges, that everything ended up going off without a hitch. We are so thankful to our dancers and everyone involved in the production,” Share said.

The finale ended with a rush of dancers flooding the rows. Their smiles inspired many audience members to get up and dance while they shuffled out of Thorne for the conclusion of another year of Dance Production.

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