By Rebecca Fox
Special to The Meadville Tribune
One hundred and seven students. Sixteen student choreographers. Two communities connected through dance.
Allegheny College is hosting its yearly Orchesis community show on Nov. 6. The performance includes two students with Meadville ties.
Orchesis derives from the Greek word “god of dance” and the organization has been a tradition at Allegheny for many years. Students of many backgrounds work towards the goal of not only bringing together the Allegheny community, but also the surrounding area of Meadville. What started as a small dance company has grown into the largest student run organization at Allegheny College.
Orchesis brings together students with a variety of dance experience, allowing them to perform in front of peers and the community. Erin Sumerfield, class of 2014, president of Orchesis, grew up in Meadville, as well as the promotions chair, Victoria Pless. Together, they want to share this performance with the community.
“Our goal is to put on a show that all people within the Crawford County community can sit down and enjoy,” said Sumerfield. “We as a company are working hard to get the world out to the surrounding areas.”
So how exactly does a production as big as Orchesis come together in two short months? The answer is found in each and every participant’s passion and determination. Whether the organization serves as an outlet for stress, an expression of students’ passions or an opportunity to experience newfound passions, it draws in large numbers every year.
“Orchesis allows me to explore one of the things I have ever been truly passionate about,” Sumerfield said. “It’s hard knowing that my college career is probably where my dancing stops, but just for a little while, I can do what I love and share that passion with others both in the audience and on stage.”
Orchesis plays a similar role for Amelia Jones, class of 2016, who has been dancing all her life. For her, Orchesis also helps keep her grounded during stressful courses at Allegheny. Jones said, “l love being at rehearsals at the end of stressful or busy days because it’s very easy to forget about everything else you have going on and focus instead on learning choreography, getting a workout, and having fun.”
Austin Cosgrove, class of ’15, said Orchesis allows him to explore a passion of his that he never knew existed. Cosgrove is going into his second year of Orchesis as a choreographer and appreciates every moment he has had with this organization.
“I have found such a deep passion for dancing in this past year,” he said “It may seem like a rather short amount of time, but dancing is what truly makes me happy. It is my personal outlet. I can't imagine my Allegheny career without Orchesis Dance.”
One of the many reasons Orchesis is so popular is that no dance experience is required to audition and there are no cuts. Students have the opportunity to either audition as a dancer or a choreographer.
Jones is experiencing her second year of Orchesis and her first year as a choreographer. Looking back at her freshman year audition process, Jones admits it was a lot to take in at first.
“I was nervous before auditions because I didn’t know what to expect. Once we started dancing I was more comfortable with the process,” Jones said.
This year, Jones is a choreographer alongside her sister, Lydia Jones, class of ’14. She is choreographing a lyrical piece to “Stay” by Rihanna consisting of 14 dancers. She admits that choreographing can be a long process but that her dancing experience certainly helps.
“Once we figure out which moves look best and can see our dancers try them during rehearsals, it is a very rewarding experience and makes me even more excited for the show,” Amelia Jones said.
Cosgrove differs from Jones because he has had no formal dance training.
“I decided to try out to be a choreographer because I wanted to challenge myself as a dancer,” Cosgrove said. “Without ever being technically trained, I wanted to see what I could envision and create on stage.”
Cosgrove’s piece to, “Sail,” enforces the idea of society’s apprehensions toward breaking its social norms. With 30 dancers in his “hard-hitting contemporary” piece, Cosgrove admits that it is sometimes difficult to convey what he wants from his dancers without knowing technical dance terms.
“The most rewarding thing about choreographing is to see your hard work pay off through the beautiful movements of your dancers,” Cosgrove said. “I have my own style and my own way of dancing, but it is so gratifying to see your choreography be interpreted differently by each dancer.”
Orchesis at Allegheny College incorporates students of different backgrounds working together towards one performance with the hopes of uniting the Allegheny and surrounding Meadville community. While each participant in Orchesis experiences different hardships and gratification, they are all connected through their appreciation of dance.
“Dance, I think, connects to the students differently. Each person has a different idea of what they think dance is and how it makes them feel,” said Sumerfield. “I aim to make people feel something, on top of the fantastic show they are enjoying. But each audience member feels something different. Whether or not they are there for a class or to support friends or significant others, or simply to enjoy whatever they are watching, each of those is a connection.”
Fox is a student at Allegheny College.
You can go
Allegheny College’s student-operated Orchesis dance company offers a free, open-to-the-public performance Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. at Shafer Auditorium in the Henderson Campus Center.