FRT ‘NMU Dance Concert’ features first collaboration of choral and dance programs, addresses social issues

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The NMU Hip Hop Dance Crew busts moves on stage at the Forest Roberts Theatre. The crew, along with other students of the NMU dance and choir programs, will join together Feb. 22 through 24 for the “NMU Dance Concert” to create performances meant to bring awareness to social and mental health issues, such as bullying, hate crimes, mental illness and suicide. Photo by: Neil Flavin

Isabelle Tavares

Charlie Edwards raises his head under the white spotlight, with a long silver chain hanging heavily from his hands. The melody of “Midnight” by Coldplay ricochets off of Edwards’ twisting movements. He gradually wraps the chain around himself in a physical representation of suicide. The song gathers speed and power, lifting Edwards from a puddle on the floor. The chain slinks out from his hand, and finally he is free.

Edwards’ piece is one of four performances that will grace the Forest Roberts Theatre stage at the “NMU Dance Concert” from Feb. 22 to 24. This is the first time that the Arts Chorale, an active student choral ensemble, and NMU’s dance minor have collaborated.

“Our message centers on addressing bullying, hate crimes, mental illness and suicide awareness,” said Colwitz. “We hope to show the facets of these social issues and how we can bring different sides of a conversation together to create a dialogue.”

It came about through a conversation between Erin Colwitz, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities, and Jill Grundstrom, director of the dance minor. The two were talking about songs that Colwitz was programming for the Arts Chorale. The partnership helps the student performers’ education, since in working with another art form they learn more about self-expression, Colwitz said.

“We are using artistic expression to address topical health and social issues,” Colwitz explained.

The music selected for the concert tells the story of uniting a community, while showcasing the reality of the effects of discrimination and mental illness, Colwitz said. She hopes to raise awareness and consideration of these pertinent and prevalent issues through music and movement.

“Music and the arts articulate things that we can’t express,”
Colwitz said.

The performance “Please Stay” is inspired by two songs: “Please Stay,” a song composed by Jake Runestad on suicide awareness, and “All of Us,” a cantata dedicated to Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten to death in 1998.

The chorus sings out the lyrics “Only in the love, only in the love,” exclaiming the message that love and acceptance is the way to move beyond the kind of hate crimes that took Shepard’s life, Colwitz said.

Tweets from “I Kept Living,” a Twitter campaign which aims to raise awareness of suicide prevention, will be read during “Please Stay” to create a moving and profound experience, Colwitz said. Students will read “My happiness is no longer in the hands of someone else,” “It’s OK to be a work in progress” and “It was hard as hell, but I kept
living.”

The concert will end with an arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s song “True Colors,” sending a strong message about love and acceptance, Colwitz said.

For the student performers, suicide and LGBT discrimination are issues that concern them, and the theme of love and acceptance is close to their hearts, Colwitz said. To prepare, the performers are tapping into something deep and emotional but also practice not breaking character on stage, she added.

“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be tears,” said one of the dancers, junior biochemistry major and dance minor Maggie Bohm. “For us, it’s remembering that we have a job to do to spread a message.”

The NMU Dance Concert has showings in the Forest Roberts Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and a matinee showing at 1 p.m. Saturday. Tickets cost $5 for NMU students, $10 for other students and $15 for the general public.