As the large red curtains sweep open, the dancers are isolated in darkness on stage. The first ray of light shines on the individual performers as they sway and synchronize to the music with precision and elegance in each step. But with each movement, a choreographer on the sidelines watches steadily to ensure every move is perfected and crafted in the way they imagined.
Cal State Fullerton’s “Fall Dance Theatre” combines the choreography of students, faculty and guest artist Mike Esperanza, a CSUF alumnus, as they paint pictures with the stage as their canvas and the dancers their brush.
Before the concert is assembled, everyone has their own shoes to tie as choreographers prepare their pieces, dancers audition and tech rehearsals are run.
“There are times where the movements will be similar and I’ll go doing one dance and then I’ll be like, ‘Wait, wrong dance.’ But usually it’s so natural to my body to pick up the choreography,” said dance student Gabriella Bridgmon.
Preparations for the concert can be long and tiring, and auditions were held for both dancers and choreographers. Faculty and set, costume and lighting designers all came together to consider what was best for the show.
“It’s so much different being a dancer versus being a choreographer because a lot of it is a collaborative effort that you don’t really realize as a dancer,” said dance student A’Kaila Willis. “People think it’s all in the steps, but most of what makes a choreographer is all the behind-the-scenes things that people don’t see.”
Every aspect of the performance is formulated from an idea into existence, as what is presented on stage is made to depict the choreographer’s vision precisely.
After extensive dance tryouts, Bridgmon was chosen to perform in five pieces in the concert.
“I was really grateful that a lot of people chose me to be in their dances, but I was also sad because I had to turn down some choreographers but it’s not possible because of the quick changes and back-to-back dances,” Bridgmon said.
During their auditions, dancers were taught small parts of the performances and sometimes not even the movements that the choreographer uses, but the style. Other choreographers asked dancers to improvise and chose them based on that. But the process continues, because out of all the pieces dancers audition for, only a small amount of performances make the cut in the concert.
“I think (Willis) wanted us to realize that it wasn’t just arbitrary. Everything we are doing actually has a purpose and a meaning behind it,” said student dancer Taylor-Anne Murray. “There’s a reason behind all of her movement.”
“Fall Dance Theatre” will be Willis’ first time choreographing a concert. Her segment is a modern dance called “The Bystander Effect” which is based on the common attitude toward police brutality. With her choreography, Willis wants to challenge the audience and make them feel uncomfortable with each movement evoking emotion and portraying controversy.
Student choreographer Alexander Caballero’s “Shedding the Shields” is a contemporary hip-hop piece. He drew inspiration from the three wise monkeys: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and by the phrase “turning a blind eye.”
The piece is also influenced by a modern-day philosophy of people trying to ignore all the negative aspects in their life in an effort to live more happily. With this piece, Caballero is exploring that the ideology is not ideal for living. He said society has to see the negatives as well as the positives in order to live a more prosperous life.
“With (‘Shedding the Shields’) I had this idea that I wanted to create movement upon and then let the audience decide what that movement meant to them, in whatever way it meant to them,” Caballero said. “Whether it’s exactly what I thought or completely opposite, it doesn’t really matter to me as long as it speaks to them on some level.”
The concert gives students the chance to create a message, while also becoming more familiar with a professional setting. As the curtains reopen this semester, students, staff and the CSUF alumnus will unveil their ideas to be viewed and judged by the audience.
“Fall Dance Theatre” will run in the Little Theatre on campus from Nov. 30 to Dec. 10.