IC Students Get Creative with Choreography

By Sherrie Negrea, June 22, 2020
Quarantine necessitates unusual solutions to unique assignment.

Emily Mesa ’22 thought the assignment was a bit odd: choreograph a 90-second dance in your bathroom that is humorous, serious, or dramatic, and record it live in one take.

Mesa donned black leggings, a black shirt and black makeup to create a dance that evoked a nightmare, starting with her positioned upside down on the toilet and ending with her in a handstand in the bathtub in her home in Houston, Texas.

“I’ve never danced in my bathroom before, but to come up with choreography for it was so intense,” said Mesa, an acting major and dance minor. “It was very interesting to use the architecture of the bathroom in ways that we’re not used to.”

Emily Mesa dancing in her bathroom

Emily Mesa '22 performed a dance from her home in Houston, Texas.

The assignment was part of the Dance Composition class at Ithaca College, which went online in March. While Dance Composition might seem like one of the most difficult classes to teach online, the students in the course, taught by Assistant Professor Daniel Gwirtzman, said they learned more in the virtual class than if they had continued meeting in the dance studio in Dillingham Center.

“My authenticity and creativity were challenged and expanded by the new opportunities presented by the virtual class set-up,” said Lucia Vecchio ’20, an acting major from San Diego who composed dances for a staircase outside her Ithaca apartment and for a side street on South Hill.

Every two years, the dance composition course culminates with an outdoor performance to celebrate spring at various locations on campus. This year, the concert, called the Wings of Spring, was presented online to more than 100 students, faculty and family members across the country on May 11.

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“It was nice because a broader audience could see it,” Mesa said. “My parents couldn’t travel up to Ithaca very often to see some of the work that I’m doing. It was the first time they had seen me dance in Ithaca.”

Gwirtzman said it was easy to transition the class online because its focus during the second half of the semester was on composing solo dances for both interior and exterior spaces. With students quarantined in their families’ homes or in their apartments in Ithaca, Gwirtzman revised the syllabus to include the bathroom study as one of six dances assigned after the course moved online.

“The purpose was to learn how to adapt choreography for a specific space,” said Gwirtzman, who runs the Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company, a nonprofit organization in New York City. “I realized that a bathroom is something that everyone would have access to.”

The 13 students in the course, who came from majors across campus, selected an eclectic range of locations for their choreography, from a Jacuzzi in a backyard patio to a playground in a public park. Each week, they videotaped their compositions and uploaded them for the class to critique.

Lydia Kelly ’21, an acting major and dance minor from Syracuse, composed her exterior dances on a basketball court, in a park and on a dead-end street in her neighborhood. “I think the course worked really well because we used spaces that were near us,” she said.

Gwirtzman, who joined the IC faculty last fall, said he was impressed with the energy the students brought to their compositions, in some cases under difficult circumstances. “I have taught dance composition at universities for 20 years, and this was the most successful class that I’ve ever had,” he said. “It just speaks to the students — how insightful and articulate they are. They were so interested and invested and really went above and beyond with their work.”

Watch an Excerpt

Watch portions of the dances on Vimeo.