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Student choreographers go footloose for X Dances

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • January 31, 2013

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X Dance, held on campus in the Greene Theater, begins today at 8 p.m., and will run through the weekend.
X Dance, held on campus in the Greene Theater, begins today at 8 p.m., and will run through the weekend.

Whimsical romance, sobering melancholy, and pure joy exude from the performances in the rehearsal studio as dancers and choreographers put the final touches on their pieces for X Dance, the nearly decade old showcase for some of Emerson’s most skilled dancers. 

X Dance, held on campus in the Greene Theater, starts Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. and runs through the weekend. Three student choreographers are presenting their dances, which run 10 to 15 minutes in length. Marlena Yannetti, Emerson’s senior dancer-in-residence and artistic director of X Dance, trusts her choreographers to offer a uniquely singular vision on a campus full of performing arts. 

“This is not musical theater,” said Yannetti. “It’s about the choreographers’ and dancers’ concepts and their lives. I’m just a guide to allow them to bring their visions to life.”

One such vision comes from senior performing arts major Chelsea Holifield. Holifield choreographed a dance performance exploring the importance of touch. according to the narration that starts the number. The message of the piece is that a touch received is almost as good as a touch given.

“Touch is something I don’t think we do enough as people because it has a lot of negative connotations,” said Holifield, a dance minor. “We don’t touch strangers, but [through my piece] I want to show that human contact and warmth is a good thing.”

The dancing in Holifield’s choreography is up-tempo with rapid hand movement — something that she felt was very important to illustrate in her routine. She also emphasized the organic nature of movement with hand gestures.

“Generally, we touch with our hands,” said Holifield. “I think there is a lot to be discovered through them.” 

Eliza Solomon, a sophomore theater education major, is one of the performers in Holifield’s dance. She said she thinks the piece successfully conveys just how vital touch is. 

“I’m hoping the audience will walk away feeling that movement matters,” said Solomon. 

Another segment from student choreographer Katharyn Burke, a senior film production major, is a stirring number in which five dancers each represent a different human emotion. With swirling ribbons of red, yellow and green representing different emotions such as happiness and guilt, this piece aims to visually arrest the audience. 

“X Dance gives you the chance to really explore an idea or theme intensely,” said sophomore theater studies major Gabriel Nesser, a dancer in the segment. “You search inside yourself to find what the emotion means to you and have the freedom to explore your own style of movement to bring to the piece.”

Nesser embodies guilt with a grief-stricken face and weary, seen-it-all-before eyes. As the segment continues, all five dancers’ exchange and intertwine their individual emotions with the ribbons to create the singular human psyche.

“It’s like seeing a play without words,” said sophomore acting major Vanessa Boss, another dancer in the piece. “It’s definitely more than just a dance show; storytelling is a huge part of it.”

The last piece, like the other two, does not feature any sort of formulaic narrative. It’s interpretive dance filled with raw emotions conveyed through movement. Choreographer Jaclyn Pipolo, a senior perofming  arts major, was interested in creating love stories through contemporary dance. 

Pipolo said the performance will still be tweaked until show night, but the experience has been the most rewarding and challenging task she has ever done at Emerson.

“We are creating the work, that’s why its so special,” said Pipolo. “It wasn’t given to us, it was created by us.”

In addition to the regular dance concert, this year the showcase will feature the 20-minute piece “Games” by Brown University professor George Houston Bass Jr., directed by Emerson’s Senior Distinguished Producer-In-Residence Benny Ambush. After a lack of choreographers signed up for X Dance, Yannetti and Ambush decided to create X Dance Plus to fill the time. 

The performance, starring the entire junior BFA acting class of the performing arts department, features bebop jazz music and is a morality tale that takes place on an urban playground about the mob-mentality bullying that happens there.

“It’s about the collateral damage of bullying for not just the victim, but the bullies,” said Ambush, who hopes Games proves potent for the audience. “Bullying is a really big issue in this country right now.” 

The three student pieces are not interconnected, nor is the standalone Games, but Yannetti believes the performances will still hit a nerve with the audience. 


Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that X Dance starts tonight. The show starts Thursday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.