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Mills Repertory Dance Company leaps into a new production

On a sunny Monday afternoon, the Mills College Repertory Dance Company is hard at work — and they’ve got the sore muscles to prove it. Their Haas rehearsal room is thick with the smell of soothing muscle balm and Ace bandages peek out from several duffel bags.

Members of the Repertory Company practicing on Nov. 2. (Rashida Harmon)
Members of the Repertory Company practicing on Nov. 2. (Rashida Harmon)

Everywhere you look there’s motion. The dancers, all graduate students with the exception of two, spin in unison and extend their legs at astonishing angles. Even the dancers who aren’t rehearsing can’t sit still. One bounces on pointed toes while another slides effortlessly into the splits.

The Repertory Dance Company is a yearlong course for experienced dance students, all of whom have to audition to get in. Each class culminates in an annual performance that features the work of choreographers from all over the country. With this year’s Nov. 12-14 performances looming, the dancers are putting final touches on the five modern dance pieces that make up their performance. Many of the pieces feature intricate interaction among dancers, a reflection of the title of this year’s show, “Intersections.”

“I had a few words in my mind when Sonya told me how she would like to tie the connection between East Coast and West Coast choreographers,” said Yukie Fujimoto, referring to Sonya Delwaide, the head of the Mills dance department. Fujimoto is a visiting assistant professor and the artistic director of the Mills Repertory Dance Company

“I also thought much about Sonya’s vision of the future of the dance department, which is diversity, innovation and community. I felt like perhaps ‘Intersections’ addressed all of those things,” she said.

Members of the acclaimed San Francisco dance company ODC/Dance will also make a special appearance at the debut performance of “Intersections,” and its finale will be held in the ODC theater.

This year’s performance is in honor of Ellen Rogers, a Mills alumna and former trustee, who has been an active member of the Mills alumnae association since she graduated in 1963.

Her degree is in history but Rogers is passionate about dance. She practiced ballet for nine years and initially came to Mills to study the craft. Though she quit studying dance after two years at Mills, mostly at her parents’ urging, Rogers’ passion for the art has yet to cool.

(Rashida Harmon)
(Rashida Harmon)

When she learned that her beloved dance department was going through financial difficulties in the 1990s, Rogers took it upon herself to help in any way she could. She used the fundraising skills she acquired after she graduated Mills and eventually raised enough money to enhance existing dance programs and advance the department’s performance series. In 2004 she established the Rogers Endowed Career Development Fund for Dancers.

Needless to say, few would be surprised that the Repertory Dance Company chose to honor the woman whose unwavering support has enabled the Repertory Dance Company to thrive. Few, that is, besides Rogers herself.

“I was speechless and overwhelmed. It was not at all expected,” Rogers said of her reaction to hearing the news. “But when I thought about it, I thought, ‘this is a beautiful way to say thank you to somebody that has put time and effort and funds into the program.’”

Most of the dancers in “Intersections” have dedicated their lives to dance. Kristine Anderson, who will perform in choreographer Brenda Way’s piece, is no exception. The first year graduate student has been dancing for 19 years and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“Being able to move all day long, you have emotional release, you have the physical joy of using your body,” Anderson said. “As a dancer you use your body to create movement that says something about you, about where you come from.”

Her goal is to dance full-time for ODC/Dance, but for now she balances her work in the Mills dance department with her coveted ODC apprenticeship. Anderson says she owes much of her emotional and physical well-being to dance, but readily admits that it isn’t always easy.

“It feels isolating because you’re in a career where you’re always being physically picked at and you’re under a microscope,” she said. “But it’s a small percentage of people who have dedicated their lives to dance, so in that way it’s a close-knit circle.”

Fujimoto, a former dancer at ODC, couldn’t agree more.

“It’s like a drug. There is nothing in this world for me that can replace it … You build real relationships being with each other seven hours a day, six days a week, months at a time on tour. You end up spending more time with the company members than with your significant other,” she said.

“You cannot escape yourself or cheat yourself. You are confronted with who you are and tested every single day in class, rehearsal or performance.”

Performances of “Intersections” are being held Nov. 12 and 13 in Lisser Hall, and Nov. 14 at the ODC/Dance Commons in San Francisco. All performances are at 8 pm.