This time last year Director of Cal Poly’s dance company Orchesis Diana Stanton had begun planning this year’s big show — “Shift.”
And this coming Friday, “Shift” premieres at Alex & Faye Spanos Theatre, and will feature 13 pieces from all over the modern dance radar.
The concert will feature pieces choreographed by students, faculty and guest choreographers, ranging from a calm and subdued spiritual piece to Gregorian chant to a jazzy broadway-esque piece complimented by Ella Fitzgerald.
The company — comprised of 22 Cal Poly students who were selected based on auditions at the beginning of the school year — is a relatively new mix of talent this year. Social sciences senior McKenna Friend said the company is split between new and returning dancers, whereas in the past the new crop only consisted of about five or six.
“I feel like we’ve all become a family,” Friend said. “And when there’s newer people, you want to bring them in.”
This immediate bond is apparently uncommon in dance companies, Friend said. Animal sciences sophomore and new Orchesis member Mattie Leach said she’s gotten used to the exclusion associated with being the new kid in the company.
“I was kind of surprised,” Leach said. “In my dance experience, like the new places that I’ve gone, you’re not included at all.”
And it’s a good thing the girls bonded fast. Everything the company works for is directed toward the winter concert. Out of the 13 dances, six are faculty-choreographed, three are the work of students and three are the work of renowned guest choreographers whom Stanton and assistant director Michelle Walter brought in to work with the company.
And that’s not including the finale, which may encompass the largest “shift” the company has seen to date.
The 13-minute final dance — which includes all 22 women — is a take on tango, focusing on the motifs and essence of the historical dance that started back in the slums of Argentina.
But that’s not all. The finale will be complimented by a backdrop film featuring the Orchesis dancers, which was created by Cal Poly Liberal Arts Engineering Studies (LAES) students in a special projects class.
Stanton said she’d done a similar dance-and-film pairing in the past, but on a much smaller scale. Stanton said this is a huge project for both the company and the class to take on.
“It is definitely an experiment in terms of how it’s going to read and what it’s going to do,” Stanton said. “But we’re really trying to push this idea of new artistic perspectives that are happening and blending the arts with technology.”
So, in the beginning of the school year, LAES students walked into their special projects class, not knowing what to expect. Liberal arts engineering studies senior Patrick Robertson said he recalled the first day when the class was introduced to the project.
“I walked into LAES 411 and this song was playing — there is this long train intro, then this beat comes in,” Robertson said. “This is what I walked into class to; we were just shuffling around trying to find seats. Then he starts to write things on the board — he writes Tango.”
At that point, the project was set in place, but everything was new — both for the dancers and the LAES students, or “techies” as they were later coined. Robertson said the sudden introduction was tough to adjust to, especially with no blueprints.
“It was kind of, at first, really really vague,” Robertson said. “Because that’s the way Diana works.”
Yet the class researched tango, how it was presented through film, the history, and would present new ideas from time to time to Stanton and Gillette. Yet Stanton did have one major request — to incorporate the essence of tango.
“I wanted to make a film about those ideas,” Stanton said. “They’re not really tango dancers, but there’s this feeling about tango that’s the essence of dance — the essence of connection and going on a journey together and sharing with the audience.”
And the dancers, being natural performers, adapted quite well. Mechanical engineeing junior Aimee Warner said she enjoyed all the quirks that accompany being filmed, like dressing up and frolicking around campus.
“It was completely different for us,” Warner said. “It was fun in the sense that we really had to think about what we wanted videoed to contribute to the piece that the finale is.”
Warner said she thinks it’s important for Orchesis to explore the option of fusing technology and the arts — for the sake of preservation.
“I feel that if we want dance to be as accessible, and as important to others as it is to us, we need to explore those options in order to connect,” Warner said. “I don’t think that the technology needs to become the forefront, but I think it can definitely enhance and work with dance.”
Although it’s been quite tedious and a new experience for both the dancers and LAES students, Stanton said the collaboration has been a very cool experiment.
“I mean the idea was, let’s make a dance film,” she said. “Then once you start making it, you don’t really know what you’re doing. It makes itself, so to speak. It made a project that I couldn’t envision, which is a way that I like to work — not really knowing what’s going to happen.”
The six performances will take place this Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and next Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13 for general admission and $10 for students.