Anita Morgan, a University of Oregon senior, cannot figure out why her modern dance choreography isn’t lining up with the music. She glances at Brianne Waller, another UO student and the soloist for this dance, who raises her eyebrows, shrugs and attempts the choreography again. Her dark, curly hair flows freely with her movements and creates shadows across her face.
Morgan looks to the ceiling and closes her eyes, but her arms and feet continue to move silently, marking through the steps of the routine.
The room, a large rectangular box with only a few small slit windows, has black Marley floors, a surface made specifically for dancing. All of the walls are lined with velvety, golden yellow curtains.
Morgan wears a black crop top with navy blue sweatpants. Her pants are neatly tucked into tall socks and her belly button piercing sparkles in the light as she turns. Waller’s outfit is similar, but with a black leotard under her sweats and bare feet leading her around the room as she jumps, twists and slides on the floor.
“Oh, I’ve got it!” Morgan says, opening her eyes wide. She consults with Waller and a few moments later the dancer runs through the piece again, only this time the dance lines up perfectly with the cool, calm beat of the music.
“Nailed it!” Waller exclaims at the end of the phrase. “That was it!”
This joyful scene is hidden away in a performance room of the dance building on campus, the Gerlinger Annex. On Friday, the same building will host the first ever Fall Dance Loft, a showcase of pieces choreographed and performed by students. In the past, the Dance Loft series was done only in the winter and spring, but fall has now been added to the list.
For Morgan, a dance minor and human physiology major, this will be her first time presenting her choreography in an official setting. Her piece, dealing with race and social issues, will be shown along with nine others and one short film at Friday’s performance.
“The process of choreographing is a challenge,” Morgan said. “I had to figure out how do I take the topic of race and social issues and display that through movement?”
It was not an easy task for her. At one point she even scrapped an entire section of the dance because she felt that it didn’t fit correctly.
“I came in with a fresh mind, nixed everything and had to start anew,” she said. “Sometimes you have to tear everything down in order to build it back up.”
She also realized the importance of small elements working together in the big picture. “Not everything has a meaning,” Morgan said, “but overall you can capture the essence of it.”
Lila Reid, a graduate student and another one of the nine choreographers, agrees about the struggles of process, but says that eventually, with enough time put in, it clicks.
“The thing is, when it finally happens you know it right away as a choreographer, and as a dancer too,” Reid said. The moment that it all clicks can be euphoric, especially if both the choreographer and the dancer realize it together.
UO student and dancer Victoria Brown has been part of student works in the past. ”If the choreographer feels confident in the movement that they are giving you, then you feel more confident too, and that shows,” she said of the dancer and teacher relationship.
“I’ve found that when the dancer is actually living the experience and not just regurgitating what they are being told, then it shows right away,” Reid said. “I always go for that as a choreographer.”
Back in the room of golden curtains, Morgan and Waller laugh in short bursts as they breathe heavily after completing the final phrase of the dance. Their laughter fills the open spaces of the large room and it is clear that the moment has happened: it has clicked for both of them.
As far as Friday’s performance, Morgan is excited for the audience to see not only her work, but that of the other choreographers as well. “Each piece has something that you have to admire about it,“ she said. “At some point you’re going to say, ‘Wow that’s something that I’ve never felt before.’”
The University of Oregon’s dance program will be presenting the Fall Dance Loft on Friday, December 2 at 8 p.m. in the Dougherty Dance Theatre in the Gerlinger Annex. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for general admission and can be purchased at the door or online at the UO Ticket Office.