This past weekend, Muhlenberg’s Department of Theatre and Dance presented Moving Stories, a production featuring pieces choreographed by ten Muhlenberg students, as well as one choreographed by Muhlenberg faculty member Teresa VanDenend Sorge.  All eleven pieces were completely original, and incorporated styles such as ballet, modern, hip-hop and more.

Each piece stood out in its own way from the other pieces in Moving Stories. The talent exhibited by the dancers on stage and the choreographers behind the pieces was remarkable, continuing to wow the audience throughout the performance.  The dancers were able to move their bodies in seemingly impossible ways. The performers conveyed emotions ranging from joy to love to loss to fear masterly, enhanced by the amazing work of the choreographers.  Even more impressive was the fact that several of the student choreographers not only created their own pieces, but also performed in other pieces in the show.

The first piece of Moving Stories was “Stick and Stone” by Morgan Litzenberger ’20, whose piece about different types of abuse, coupled with text from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” was both haunting and compelling, a perfect start to the show. Jessica Afflerbach ’19 choreographed “between heads and hands,” which was lyrical in nature and tackled the theme of relationships, especially short-term ones.  “if these cobblestones could talk…” by Tim Janovsky ’19 was a lively and fun piece to watch that blended lyrical movement with gestures from different cultures. Nikki Gagliano ‘19’s piece “6:24 A.M.” went through an interesting shift in mood, starting frantically with a single dancer in silence and then transitioning into a graceful ballet style with the addition of music to the scene.  Faculty choreographer Teresa VanDenend Sorge’s piece “it’s not so far once you’ve been there,” which originally premiered in 2014, closed the first act of Moving Stories in a provocative piece about memory.

Jordan Page ’19 (left) and Nachi Lederer ’19 sway in Tim Janovsky ’19’s “if these cobblestones could talk….” Photo via Ken Ek.

Faith Buckley ’21 was one of the dancers in Gagliano’s piece “6:24 A.M.” which was about, as Buckley explains, “finding the sunrise and coming out of a dark place.”  The rehearsal process for Buckley “started out with finding meaning with the sunrise and creating movement with this [meaning].” Buckley added that the dancers “worked with each other in groups of two to help create movement that Nikki [Gagliano] was able to draw from.  She also gave us movement, and we combined it with our own so that we were able to have more material to work from.” Dancing in Moving Stories was a wonderful experience for Buckley because she was “able to dance as one of the many parts of my choreographer’s vision … it was so interesting to see the progression from what the piece was in the beginning until the time when we danced it on stage. I really treasured finding the meaning within the piece and embodying it for both myself and for an audience.” The work of Buckley and all the other dancers in Moving Stories really shone through in the precision and mastery with which they performed.

Moving Stories’ second act opened with Nadia Ureña ‘19’s piece “Enter Player Two.”  Ureña’s piece transported the audience to the world of a video game and focused on the monsters within them. Ureña explained that to gather inspiration, she “actually played video games and just looked at the creatures in the games. I studied what they looked like, how I imagined they felt like, and how they moved/interacted with the main characters in the game and then I translated that to movement.” Every dancer was a different monster, and each of them had individual choreography that came out of what Ureña describes as a “very collaborative” process in which Ureña had her dancers “improv[ise] movement and then [she] would build choreography and structure off of movement that happened in that moment organically.” This process created a compelling and intriguing piece for the audience to watch, and it was a brilliant way to open the second act of the show.

Shantell Cruz ’19 choreographed “Parts.  Parting. Apart.,” which paired beautiful lyrical movement with different emotions between two pairs of dancers. Cruz’s choreography served as a bridge between the emotions of the couples and the audience. “Third Quarter Moon at Noon” by Audrey Yan was a fascinating piece to watch; the performers frequently danced as individuals with their own unique choreography, but then they came together with sections performed perfectly in sync, creating powerful moments. Heather Downey ’20 drew on her math double major for her piece “Axioms & Automorphisms,” choreographing a piece that was jazz-like in style but utilized the precision of mathematical equations. In “Deep Roots Withstand Frost,” Jessica Hayward ’19 choreographed a stunning depiction of sorrow and community. The final piece of Moving Stories was Caitlyn Kraemer ‘19’s piece “Silhouettes Shifted” which began and ended by creating breathtaking tableaus of the dancers while the lighting made them appear as silhouettes, as well as beautiful movement that was brought out by the simple costumes and lighting of the piece.

Student dancers fly across the stage in Audrey Yan 19’s “Third Quarter Moon at Noon.” Photo via Ken Ek.

Each work in Moving Stories was choreographed and performed brilliantly. The stories told through dance were all beautifully unique, keeping the audience engaged and awestruck throughout all eleven pieces. Everyone involved possessed a remarkable amount of talent, and this made the emotional response for the audience that much stronger.

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