Drexel Dance Ensemble Marks 125 Years

by Gary L Day for The Dance Journal | photo credit Jacques-Jean Tiziou

Drexel Dance Ensemble (DDE) is a component of the Westphal College of Media, Arts & Design, Depatment of Performing Arts at Drexel University. It’s a surprisingly good program, given that it’s part of a school known more for its technical and scientific programs. Several times a year DDE presents programs featuring new choreography by both faculty and students, with dancers drawn entirely from the student body.

Generally these  programs are a mixed bag, with the choreography and the dancing  often reflecting the participants’ lack of professional experience. Because these programs are primarily student efforts, they don’t often get reviewed by professional critics since it’s considered somewhat unfair to the students to publicly judge them by professional level criteria.

I’m one of the exceptions to this, partly because I feel objective criticism would be helpful to a student’s development, but also because there is frequently bright spots of true talent and inspiration that should be noted and encouraged. Such was the case with this program.

The program, called Milestone 125 to mark the 125th anniversary of the school’s dance program, consisted of nine short pieces, six of which were perfectly adequate for student work, competent for its level of training but otherwise unremarkable. The remaining three were at a whole different level, either through conceptualisation or through execution—or both.

“Untitled 01” was choreographed by Marisela Hurtado, a student. It showed some nice out-of-the-box thinking conceptually in that she started with the idea of a chorus line, lining her dancers up against the upstage wall and keeping them there. By restricting her movement to a mostly two-dimensional space, Hurtado removed a layer of possible complication, freeing her up to create greater complexity with less risk of the choreography spinning out of control. While her student dancers occasionally lost their synchronisation, Hurtado’s kinetic movement pushed them just a touch beyond the standard student comfort zone.

“Weathervane,” choreographed by Janet Pilla Marini, a faculty member, was the next high point. It started with the ensemble in a circle, rotating and spinning as if they were individual dolls in a music box. Soon the greater circle began to rotate, creating a carousel effect. Then individual dancers would spin in and out of the greater circle, creating complicated and well-synchronised patterns. It was a well-crafted and controlled piece of work.

However, the high point of the program for me was, surprisingly, a student crafted work called “Orernda” by Nicole DeRoux. This was a duet which featured Tanishq Joshi, not only the single male dancer on the program, but by far the most technically proficient dancer on display. DeRoux’s choreography had a hip-hop motif that was highly demanding, requiring strength and athleticism beyond any other piece. While Joshi’s partner, Alanna Campbell, was fairly good, she was clearly outclassed. But such was DeRoux’s seamless melding of hip-hop, break dancing and traditional modern dance moves, the end result proved to be quite exciting. DeRoux’s conceptualisation was audacious, and her execution inspired. She will definitely be a choreographer to watch.

Milestone 125 was presented by the Drexel Dance Ensemble February 2-4 at the Mandell Theater, 33rd & Chestnut Streets. For information about future Dept. of Performing Arts programs, call 215-895-2451, or visit drexel.edu/westphal.

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