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Mills performers dance into change

A small group of students and faculty gathered in the Haas basement on Oct. 17 to witness the pre-show of this year’s Mills Repertory Dance Company’s (RepCo) State of Change, a series of 5 performances including “Credo in US” and “The Bench Quartet”, among 3 others.

The Mills Repertory Dance Company presented a pre-show performance of State of Change in Haas Pavilion, which they will officially perform in November. (Lauren Soldano)

This year’s 29th annual performance will feature works by faculty members Sonya Delwaide, Molissa Fenley, Yukie Fujimoto and Sheldon Smith as well as guest artist Doug Varone of the New York company Doug Varone and Dancers.

The Mills Repertory Dance Company is open to all dance students, both graduate and undergraduate, although it is typically composed of mostly graduate students. Its main difference from a professional dance company is that its dancers are unpaid, according to graduate Publicity Chair Elizabeth Morales. Students must first audition for the company, and then, once they are cast, they are picked for different performances.

Graduate students fulfilling a performance component of the MFA are required to have three semesters of performing with RepCo. Dancers are given the opportunity to work with professional dancers and choreographers.

“There’s a lot of great people to learn from,” said Rebekah Brown, a first year graduate student.  “Being in the company gives you another level of understanding.”

Brown, who grew up in Ohio and completed her undergraduate degree in Buffalo, New York, was drawn to the dance program at Mills partially because the course Seminar in Interdisciplinary Collaboration reflected what she hopes to study for her masters thesis. Brown has been in various dance companies since she was in the eighth grade. She will be performing in three of the five works presented.

“It’s very competitive to get into the Mills company,” said Kim Ip, a sophomore. Ip’s major is currently undeclared, but she plans to double major in Dance and Computer Science.

“It’s awesome that Mills has a company. I just feel frustrated sometimes with how little publicity it gets,” Ip said.

Before coming to Mills, Ip had mainly done contemporary style dance, which she joked is more of a So You Think You Can Dance? style. She took Elementary Modern Dance her first semester at Mills and has been in modern dance classes since then.

Ip is an understudy for “Credo in US”, a new piece by Mills alumna and professor Molissa Fenley, which was originally choreographed for a collaborative show with the Intermedia Arts department to celebrate the inauguration of Alecia DeCoudreaux. “Credo in US” is set to a piece of music by experimental composer John Cage. The performance includes the use of various props, including tarps, helmets, forks and traffic cones.

“‘Credo In US’ is very cacophonous,” said Elizabeth Morales, the Graduate Assistant of Publicity for the Dance Department and a second-year MFA candidate or student.  “There are a lot of sounds happening, a lot of genres of music thrown in at once.”

The 26-year-old began dancing in high school. After a series of mostly unrelated degrees and jobs in different fields throughout her adult life, she finally decided to pursue her dance career aspirations. Her high school dance teacher Angela Demmel graduated from the MFA dance program at Mills two years ago, and Morales performed in Demmel’s thesis exhibition.

All of the performances in State of Change are new pieces choreographed by Mills faculty, with the exception of “The Bench Quartet”, choreographed by Doug Varone back in 1986. The piece has been performed hundreds of times by over 50 different schools in its 25-year history.

The rehearsal process of “The Bench Quartet” for RepCo dancers is unusual. Since Doug Varone lives in New York and cannot physically oversee their practicing, faculty member Yukie Fuijmoto, the Mills Repertory Dance Company (MRDC) Artistic Director, records their rehearsal and sends the video to Varone. Varone watches the video, writes back with comments and the process starts again. The four performers also had to attend a four-day intensive workshop taught by Dancers choreographer Eric Owen, during which they practiced six hours each day.

“The Bench Quartet” is performed to the tune of Bach Cantata #78, a choral piece with a small orchestra, and each of the four dancers reflect a melodic line in the music. Despite its difference from the other pieces, “The Bench Quartet” — which focuses on change — was included in the exhibition because dance faculty felt it reflected what the school was going through with the inauguration of a new president, but also because it reflects what dancers go through when they perform.

State of Change

at Lisser Hall

Friday, Nov. 18

1-2:30 p.m.

8-9:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 19

8-9:30 p.m.

reception following

General admission $15

Students/seniors with ID $12

Mills Community Free with Mills ID

“Taking a piece from the rehearsal studio and putting it on the stage, there’s a change that happens artistically,” Morales said.  “Every night is different, that’s kind of the beauty of live performance;  there’s always a change within the performer that has to take place in order for it to be a good performance. We have to change our mindset, we have to change what our bodies are doing. Finding that as change within us as rehearsal goes on to really make it a performance rather than just a dance we do in the studio.”

Because of the benefits of professional experience RepCo offers, Ip expressed concern for the Dance Department’s funding — especially in light of recent talk of furloughs. Like most art-related departments, the Dance Department relies largely on money from grants and revenue from exhibitions. Last year, RepCo sold some extra tickets by holding a separate performance in San Francisco.

Morales joked that she had originally pursued a Communications degree as an undergraduate because she felt she had to study something practical in addition to dance.

“With some career paths, you can create something people can use, something tangible.  But with dance, it’s kind of ephemeral,” she said.  “It’s there, and that’s the beauty of it — it’s there for the moment.”

The performance given in the basement of Haas Monday evening was a one-of-a-kind event — it will look radically different during the final performance in November, but Morales marked a distinction between performances of even the same concert.

“You go and see a show and even if they’ve performed it 500 other times, it’s never going to be what you saw.  And that’s what the state of change is about — it’s always changing, it’s always growing, it’s something new and exciting every time — even if it’s the same thing,” said Morales.