Opinion—Review: Save the date for CO/LAB Collective

Akasha Khalsa, Opinion Editor

This week, I was privileged to attend and review a dress rehearsal of the upcoming CO/LAB Collective at Forest Roberts Theater. I left the theater feeling uplifted and inspired by the range of expression I had witnessed.

Anyone interested in dance or performance arts should certainly consider attending the production when public performances begin on Sept. 30. Not only will this be the first in-person performance in the theater since the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine in Dec. 2019, it features exciting student-led choreography. In fact, four out of the five pieces are choreographed by students, according to Director Jill Grundstrom.

“If we can help them build up a portfolio of creation as well as performance, that’s really beneficial,” Grundstrom said. “It’s great that the students get some work being the choreographers and dancing in each other’s pieces but they also then get to work with a faculty member.”

Each of these pieces are stunning in their individuality. The opener for the performance, “Thunderstruck” is backed by a cover of AC/DC’s song by local band Tease, and choreographed by senior dance major Gracie Fries, who also sings live vocals during the piece. 

My impression of this portion of the performance was of intense emotion, an expression of pure angst. The dancers move across the stage with passion and energy. The red background for the piece matches the shimmering red boots of Fries herself, the centerpiece of the number. In the back of the stage, live drums and guitar augment the experience of a live rock band.

The second number, choreographed by sophomore dance major Logan Stoner, is titled “To Have a Body” and deals with issues of body image often experienced by dancers. This piece, more melancholy and reflective than the first, is backed by a reading of a poem by English graduate teaching assistant Jessica Hudson. 

The heavyhearted movements of the dancers help communicate the betrayal Stoner herself experienced when trying to live up to the impossible standards set for dancers. The performers in this piece wear skin-tone briefs and tops, dancing in front of a bar and mirror, scrutinizing the proportions of their own bodies. They are vulnerable to criticism from others, and from themselves. Through dance, they portray the pain caused by the standards set forth for young dancers.

Third in the line-up is “Heavy Clouds” choreographed by senior sports science major Maisie Zahn. Musical backing for this piece is performed live by local singer and songwriter Gretchen McKenzie-Trost.

This piece is a moody, sensuous portrayal of frustrated love. Dancers use four chairs to support themselves while their shifting bodies express a sultry, lingering heat. The teamwork between dancers and singer, all committed to their unique tone, make this piece a success.

“Breathe” was created by senior health and fitness management major Skylar Taavola and performed by the entire NMU Dance Team. This particularly soulful number gave me chills because of the intensity of expression. Several shifts within the piece build a sense of development and structure.

The final piece is also the lengthiest: “Je Suis un Cactus” a contemporary ballet movement piece choreographed by Assistant Director Karina Johnson, a professional dancer and choreographer. This is her first time choreographing for college students, Johnson said.

This piece expressed the widest range of emotion, drawing from three songs by French singer Camille. Ranging from frustration, confusion and relational distress to a final display of unmitigated joy, this piece is fascinating to watch. Johnson explained that while creating this number, she drew inspiration from the natural movements of her students.

“I didn’t choreograph any of it beforehand. As soon as I got in the studio, I turned on the music and I said ‘Dance for me’ and I looked to see how they move as their own people. And from there I formed moves for them,” Johnson said.

In this way, her piece lives up to the guiding principle of the CO/LAB Collective, that all pieces must feature a collaboration of some sort. This ideal fosters a mixture of creative ideas which blossoms fully in this upcoming performance ripe with musical and physical artistry.