Audience participation was highly encouraged at this year’s Fall Studio Works. University of Montana students and Missoula community members choreographed and performed innovative dances at the biannual, student-run showcase.
People of all abilities and dance backgrounds participated in two sets of productions on Friday evening. The two showings drew in over 300 viewers to a full room called the Open Space, a studio in the PARTV building’s basement.
Dance director Heidi Jones Eggert choreographed and performed in the night’s opening piece by New Visions Dance, an all-abilities dance class and partnership between the UM School of Theatre and Dance and Very Special Arts Montana.
All seats were filled, and an overflow of audience members sat on the floor in front of the stage. They sang along and clapped to The Beatles songs during New Visions’ performance.
“The audience is the best audience ever, they’re so supportive,” said Eggert.
VSA was just one of many community collaborators at Studio Works. The Downtown Dance Collective performed salsa and pulled audience members on stage to join. The UM Pacific Islanders Club and a group of young acrobats from Roots Acro of Missoula both performed as well.
It was also a night for UM student debuts.
“A lot of people in an intro class, they’ve never performed in front of an audience before,” said Eggert.
The ticket sales from Fall Studio Works will help fund UM students’ travel to this year’s American College Dance Association regional dance conference in Spokane, which is open to all majors.
Eggert said Studio Works “is a little bit … renegade. Grassroots.” The dancers use their own wardrobes for dance attire, and lighting is simple.
Kyle Robinson agreed. A dance major, he performed in several pieces Friday night.
“It’s very down to earth,” Robinson said. “The whole entire purpose is to have fun and spread art for art’s sake.”
Dance student Rakel Tangvald did just that when she performed the iconic dance solo from Napoleon Dynamite. She learned the dance from a YouTube tutorial the night before dress rehearsal and sharpied “Vote for Pedro” on a T-shirt.
She pushed her prop glasses up on her nose a few times during the dance to the audience’s delight.
Isabella Kasper, a sophomore dance and psychology major, choreographed and performed a dance with Georgia Littig where they ate toast on stage.
“We just wanted to create a piece that was kind of about nothing. And also about our relationship, our friendship,” Kasper said.
“[We were] moving for ourselves rather than for the audience, and playing with traditional and non-traditional movement,” said Kasper. Some of these non-traditional practices included entering from the wrong side of the stage and bowing backward.
Talia Randle and Wyeth Patton, who have been dating for about a year, performed a duet.
“She said she’d buy me a drink if I danced. That was the deal,” said Patton, a wildlife biology major.
“I’m not a dancer,” he added.
Studio Works offered a mix of these informal, casual pieces with weightier performances. For Eggert, representing different cultures at the show was a way to bring people together through dance.
“Every culture has particular song and dance and food, attire, colors, language,” said Eggert.
The UM African Dance class performed a traditional dance used to call for gifts from spirits. With four drummers in the back and call-and-response chanting and singing, the piece was high-energy and a collaboration between everyone in the room. The dancers even brought audience members on stage to join them.
Elijah Fisher, a second-year graduate getting his MFA in acting, was one of the performers in the African dance.
“It’s a huge celebration,” said Fisher. “It’s a lot about building that community. Getting everybody on stage at the end was a huge part of that.”
Jolyn Tausa values the ability to share her culture at Studio Works. A senior majoring in psychology, she is the vice president of the UM Pacific Islanders Club, which performed a piece entitled “Perpetuate.” The club practiced for about five weeks.
Club members hand-stitched the long yellow skirts they wore during the performance, and a club member’s mother picked Ti Leaves from Maui that dancers intertwined in their bracelet and hair accessories.
“I feel like I’m educating, as well as sharing my soul through dance,” Tausa said.
Studio Works is a long-standing UM tradition, and Eggert believes this one was a success.
“It was good energy,” said Eggert. “I’m grateful for the people that were able to be here and share it with us. It was really special.”