Published March 27, 2023
Now in its fourth season, ChoreoLab is a performance and choreographic research laboratory for faculty, graduate and undergraduate dance students, and guest artists. Under the direction of Clinical Assistant Professor Jenna Zavrel, the spring showcase opens this weekend, for four performances in the intimate UB Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, from March 31 – April 2, 2023.
We caught up with Zavrel to find out what’s new with ChoreoLab. She was enthusiastic about the diversity of styles which will be represented. “We have three guest choreographers on the roster this year,” she said. “One is Gaitrie Subryan, a Buffalo local. She specializes in Bollywood and Bharatnatyam, and has her own studio, Devi Bollywood. She also has a dance company that tours regularly throughout Western New York.
“It’s great having Gaitrie as that’s a style of dance that we don’t currently offer at UB,” Zavrel continued. “It’s a completely different technique, with facial gestures that are absolutely part of the movement she’s teaching. It presents a new challenge for our dancers, who are used to expressing mainly though the body. It’s been great to see them rise to the occasion.”
Another guest is James Levy Jr., a hip hop artist and teacher and another Buffalo native. “James often participates in (hip hop dance) battles in the city and Rochester. His piece for ChoreoLab includes a series of different hip hop songs from different time periods. Some are very current and others are throwback, and they are all edited together, much like a DJ set mix,” Zavrel said.
“I’m thrilled about James’ piece because 2023 is the 50th anniversary of hip hop. Some of our dancers have had a lot of hip hop training and others very little. It’s another style that we don’t currently offer inside the curriculum, so it’s nice to bring it in for students to experience in this short window.
“Our third guest is Moriah Markowitz, a recent UB Dance alumna. She has a company operating in New York City called The mo.vement. I’ve been following her career since she graduated and there was a trio that she choreographed a while ago that I thought was beautiful. I asked her to come to restage it for our show.”
Zavrel said that Markowitz was enthusiastic about the opportunity and worked with student dancers during a one-week residency at the beginning of the semester. As a result, Markowitz altered the choreography to make it more specific to the dancers in her cast.
“Moriah is not too far removed from UB, but she’s far enough that she’s established herself and is on her own trajectory. The students really look to her as an example of what’s possible, and they’re mesmerized by her choreography.”
THD faculty is also represented among the choreographers. Dance Chair / Assistant Professor Melanie Aceto has choreographed a piece using numerous paper bags of varying sizes, including “lunch bags and large lawn bags you’d put leaves in. She has the dancers doing all sorts of things with this prop, which become different objects over time. It’s funny and charming.”
Three senior undergraduate choreographers will also be represented. “Circling back to hip hop, Victoria Hyl is skilled and I find her work really interesting because she takes the vocabulary of hip hop and puts it inside a character,” Zavrel explained. “For the Emerging Choreographers Showcase last fall, she had (the dancers portray) dolls which came to life. This time the movement vocabulary is hip hop, but the characters are race jockeys.”
“Sidney Bowers’ piece is also very dense in character development. The dancers begin as one version of themselves, and as the piece progresses, the characters and relationships to themselves and each other begin to change.
“Brennah Woollis’ work is an ode to a dancer’s last bow. She plays with the idea of different types of bowing and gratitude, and retrograding movement material to show the dancers reflecting on memories in the past,” Zavrel said. In choreography, retrograding presents movement in reverse. (Zavrel gestured by swinging her arm across her chest, then “retrograding” it in an opposite arc to where she began.) “It’s like hitting rewind on a video and you see everything backwards,” she said.
Among the graduate student cohort, third year MFA candidate Sam Schmeer “is presenting a piece which is derivative of the ideas she’s showcasing inside her forthcoming thesis which have to do with nature and the dancer being a part of the culture of the environment. And the cast bows (at the end of the show) are really upbeat and celebratory and were choreographed by my assistants Kiara Cieslinski and Sophia Fino."
One unique aspect of this year’s program is the inclusion of UB alum Andrew DG Hunt, who returned as a Visiting Professor to teach lighting design and will also direct all of the student designers who are paired up with the choreographers,” Zavrel said. “And, of course, the show includes all student designers and crew.” Original lighting designs are by Ethan Borrok, Lowden Flower, Devon Hard, and Max Teicher.
Last season, an abundance of student choreographer applicants to the showcase necessitated the addition of an informal showing of nearly a dozen more works outside of the main public program. The “Informal,” as it’s now come to be known, will take place again this year on the Friday afternoon of the show run.
“The ‘Informal’ sort of created itself as a subset of ChoreoLab,” Zavrel said. “The choreographers pick their cast and find their own rehearsal times and are not assigned faculty members (as mentors). This year we have nine informal choreographers It was a hit last year and I am really looking forward to seeing the work that has been created.”
Zavrel’s graduate Student Assistant Natasha McCandless helped direct last year’s “Informal,” and has taken it on fully this spring. McLandless, a third-year MFA candidate, also created a brief behind-the-scenes look at ChoreoLab’s rehearsals.
For more information and to purchase tickets visit: https://arts-sciences.buffalo.edu/content/shared/arts-sciences/theatre-dance/season-productions/2022-2023-season/THD_SP2023_Choreo.html