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Performing arts students collaborate in COIL

[media-credit name=”Source: Erik Stern” align=”alignright” width=”200″][/media-credit]Students from Weber State University’s Department of Performing Arts are gearing up for COIL, the Orchesis Dance Theatre Spring Concert.

WSU Moving Company director Erik Stern said that one aspect makes this performance different and unique: collaboration.

Over 50 collaborators from WSU’s dance, choral and English departments are joining forces from April 5-7. The performance will feature 28 dancers and 24 choir members, as well as several faculty and staff designers. It is what Stern said is a “very ambitious project.”

“This is why it is exciting. This is about putting the students forward, and all of them are involved in the creative process,” Stern said. “All of the works are original, so they are all part of creating something from the ground up.”

Five different choreographers created pieces that will be featured in the performance: Joanne Lawrence, Tawna Halbert, Erik Stern, Elizabeth Stich and Alicia Trump.

The second half of the performance will feature the title piece COIL, choreographed by Stern. He said that this two-part work was inspired by a piece of literature titled “Meditation 17,” by John Donne. Donne wrote the famous line, “No man is an island, entire of itself,” over 400 years ago.

“The message is so apt, it is hard to overstate. It is saying, we are all connected,” Stern said. “I think there is something in our world today that makes us think we are more connected because of our technologies, but I would ask, who is more connected?”

Stern, who has been a dance professor at WSU for 19 years, said that this is the most ambitious thing he has ever tried. According to Stern, at every stage, the students have risen to the occasion because collaboration is always a risk when it involves a large amount of people.

“It is possible for that many cooks to end up with really nasty broth, but I don’t think we did,” Stern said. “People have been very positive and excited about the dance and dealing with this large gauntlet that Donne’s writing lays down before us.”

Amelia Martinez, senior and dance student at WSU, said that the theme of COIL and the quote “No man is an island” has special meaning to her life.

“For me . . . I always think of my parents,” Martinez said. “My parents are deaf, and a lot of their lives were spent kind of isolated because they weren’t able to communicate with a lot of people. ‘No man is an island’. . . shows the fact that they are not really totally isolated. They have all of these other deaf people and a whole culture to go with.”

The creation of this piece has been in progress since last March. Stern said that one thing that makes this particular piece unique is a two-inch thick 200-pound rope.

“The rope is an extended metaphor; the essence of it is it shows the connection among people,” Stern said. “Donne challenged me to not only choreograph, but to find a metaphor that is visual that allowed me to play and meditate on his ideas.”

Jessica Haslip, sophomore and dance student at WSU, said that the most difficult part of COIL was trying to handle the ropes.

“You wouldn’t expect them to be so heavy when you pick them up,” Haslip said. “We kind of made the pieces by playing with the rope because the whole piece is centered around it.”

The WSU Chamber Choir will also take part in this improvisational piece. Kimberly Graff, a senior and member of the choir, said that this type of collaboration and improvisation is new to the choir.

“We are used to being handed music and singing what is on the page. The only interpretive things we do have to do with dynamics, how loud how soft, or what vowel shape we want,” Graff said. “But this was pretty much, ‘Okay, we are dancing, so sing something for us.’”

Graff said students should come to the performance because it is very innovative and is something that has never been done before.

“This is one of those things where we collaborated and we created something new that has not already been done, already written by somebody . . .” Graff said. “This is something we made, and I think that has value.”

COIL will take place April 5-7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Val A. Browning Center’s Allred Theater. Tickets are $11 and can be purchased at or by calling 1-800-WSU-TIKS.

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