A new major and an upcoming festival give UNR dance students a chance to show their skills
The University of Nevada, Reno’s School of the Arts boasts a museum, nationally recognized jazz program and classes ranging from art history to digital media. The school’s contingent of dancers is perhaps less known. Until now, it’s been spotlighted once a year in the Fall Dance Festival. But, as of this fall, students have the option to pursue dance as a major.
“Dancers, in general, are highly committed kinds of people, so even though we haven’t had a B.A. in dance, we’ve had strong dancers, dance technicians, people pursuing MFA degrees even after just having a dance minor,” said Eve Allen, ballet instructor and festival coordinator.
Allen, who was born and raised in Reno, is one such dancer. After majoring in business and minoring in dance at UNR, she went on to receive a graduate degree from the University of Utah. She believes Reno’s support of the arts community in general has set the stage for the expansion of the dance program.
“We’ve always had a smaller program,” Allen said. “But it’s growing, and the interest in dance is growing. Out in the community, the arts—it’s just kind of a prime time for growth right now, and so we’re just keeping pace with what’s happening locally.”
UNR’s theater and dance programs operate under one department. While the addition of a new major could seem like a bid for independence, Allen said the two programs share several core class requirements, and there’s little interest in separating the two departments.
“This is an ideal situation,” she said. “One of the students was interested in a double-theater [major] and thought, ’Well this is perfect,’ and so she became a dance major. She’s a theater and dance major.”
The Fall Dance Festival itself serves as an example of the kind of cooperation she’s referring to. In its first semester, the dance program has about 13 students, but the full cast and crew of the festival numbers around 40, including theater students operating lighting and doing production. This year’s performance will feature eight student-choreographed pieces and two from faculty members—one by Allen and another from dance program adviser Cari Cunningham.
“The student pieces were adjudicated in the spring semester as part of a small, informal showing,”Allen said. “And then we selected the ones that had potential and offered them to be developed.” Students in the festival get a budget for costumes, production and lighting help, and professional videography and photography.
Trisha French is a dance minor and one of the students whose work was chosen for this year’s festival. She began studying dance as a way to remain active during her studies as an English major, but has since found a depth to her dance education she didn’t expect. She’s taken classes in dance criticism, history and theory.
“I started to find out how many possibilities there were that I wasn’t aware of initially,” French said. “All of the different facets of dance that aren’t just auditioning for things on Broadway—that seems to be people’s main idea of what a dancer’s only route to take is.”
Her piece began as a final project for her upper-division choreography class and was inspired by her experience with grapheme-color synesthesia—a type of neurological sensory condition in which she perceives letters and numbers as having specific colors.
“My piece is about that kind of cause-and-effect reaction, where the music motivates the dancers who sort of portray what that music might look like and might feel like kinesthetically and visually, rather than just audibly.” French said. In her piece, four dancers represent four instruments—two violins, a cello and drums.
“They only move when their instrument is playing in the music, and they embody the qualities that the music represents,” she explained. “For example, the drums are very heavy and sharp, whereas the violins are a little bit lighter and more flowy.”
Behind the scenes
Students in the festival also have creative control over the technical aspects of the show, and learning to balance the different elements of the performance can be just as demanding as the actual choreography.
“There’s so much more that goes into it than just the finished piece,” French said. “Like, there’s so many leadership skills, and how well you can work as a team and be responsible. There are so many deadlines with just planning costumes and lighting and being at every rehearsal. There’s a lot that goes into it that isn’t just, ’How good is this dance?’”
French believes that these organization and project management skills will stead her well if she chooses to pursue a career in the arts—and being selected for the festival improves her resume. As the dance degree only just became available in her senior year, French is unsure if she’ll be able to pursue it as a major before graduating, but she believes the program is already opening more opportunities for work in Reno.
“A student that recently graduated started her own company, and a whole bunch of undergraduates auditioned for it,” she said. “It’s called Collateral and Co. There are a lot of graduates now starting their own companies and finding studios in town and teaching classes. It seems like there’s a lot growing in Reno, and I hope that it continues to grow for dance and theater and arts in general.”