For over three decades, Mainstage Dance has premiered professionally choreographed works performed by students in the Bachelor of Arts dance program. These University of Calgary students get a rare opportunity to participate in a collaborative process and create a piece of original dance work.
"I've never done this type of piece before," says Jason Galeos, a third-year dance student performing in his first Mainstage. "I started out a street dancer and going from that, being able to expand and try something different is something I'm still learning."
Galeos states his background as a street dancer taught him a very direct form of dancing that was grounded and low and performed to an even and repetitive rhythm. This piece asks him to move indirectly, more unevenly and less predictably -- a different style entirely.
"I used to question it, but now I try not to think about it, just 'do what you don't know.' "
Galeos is performing in a piece choreographed by Melissa Monteros, the artistic director for this year's production. Monteros' piece, currently untitled, employs a form of physical theatre that combines movement concepts with the theatrical.
"[Mainstage Dance] changes all the time because of the students," says Monteros. "What I find is we're always, as professional choreographers, trying to not just build the artistic work that we have in our heads, but to respond to the artist or the emerging artists that are in front of us."
The other three pieces are choreographed by Melanie Kloetzel, Maya Lewandowsky and Hannah Stilwell. While they vary in collaborative input, each piece evolves organically and invites students to contribute to the creative process. The works are completely independent, and do not follow a singular theme or style.
"Often in music or in theatre, that's a very particular way of working, that you would have the unifying theme that leads you through, but because of the nature of the choreographers we're really often be[ing] driven by their own artistic vision," says Monteros.
"We're not setting that kind of limitation on them. The only thing we ask them to do is to give students a spectacular experience that's going to really lead them forward in their own careers."
Monteros' piece focuses on family and the long-term relationships formed in it.
"Melissa had told us, right at the beginning at the rehearsals . . . that a lot of her family comes from relationships that have lasted a long time, like her parents have been together for 'x' amount of years, and her sisters, and stuff like that. So she wanted to explore that in dance, and that's where the idea came from," says Caileen Bennett, who performs in both Monteros' and Stilwell's pieces.
Monteros is working in a much more collaborative style than normal. She is not making up all of her own movements for the dancers to perform, instead, she allows the students to improvise before inserting her own suggestions periodically. She cites two reasons for this.
"One is that sometimes they look much better doing their own movement than doing [mine], and sometimes it's good for them to step out of their own comfortable vocabulary and do my movement," says Monteros.
Monteros highlights the fact that the dancers would not necessarily be duplicating her ideas, but instead interpreting them while expressing themselves in their own vocabulary through her specific direction.
"She lets us experiment how we interpret the movement a few times," says Galeos. "The more she sees it, later on she might change it, and she's not going to stop until the very end."
"Changes are always going to be made to make it bigger, better. Different combinations of dancers and movements. Looking for something that sticks out or finds a connection, or an individual portrayed very strongly, she really holds onto it."
2010's Mainstage Dance marks the first time in over two years where male performers have taken to the stage, which Galeos sees as a positive.
"I believe that people need to see that guys can dance," says Galeos, who states he has introduced over a dozen male students to the program, which has shifted the dynamics on the dance floor.
"From watching their shows, it totally changes, atmosphere-wise. In a good way, because that way, dance is not just seen where girls are only dancing in this specific style and guys are only dancing in this specific style. We don't have to engage the stereotype. I like to break that."