Three dance students from the Performing Arts Department at Western Wyoming Community College took top honors at the American College Dance Association’s Northwest Conference Gala, which was held March 13 at the University of Wyoming. The WWCC trio led a field of 44 dance performances at an event featuring 31 two- and four-year schools. That distinction earned the students a June trip to Washington D.C. to perform the same work at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The recognized work, Visible Sketch v.3, was performed by freshman Brooke Whitby, of Bedford, WY, sophomore Katherine Riedl, of Cheyenne, WY, and third-year student Gabriela Cipili, of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and was directed and choreographed by Dance Faculty Britta Joy Peterson, MFA. Visible Sketch v.3 was performed alongside dance works from colleges and universities in California, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Utah, and Maryland, among other states. It was among 13 pieces selected by a panel of three dance professionals who adjudicated the initial performances to select presenters for the March 13 gala, and from those selected the top three finishers and two alternates for national presentation.
In their joint statement about Visible Sketch v.3, adjudicators David Dorfman, Virginia Johnson and Tiffany Mills called the work “an imaginistic evocation of a unique world inhabited by committed mover/vocalists whose transformative journey visits a series of evolutionary states.”
Visible Sketch v.3 is accompanied by an original piece of music by Garrett Johnson, a collaborator whom Peterson met while doing her graduate work at Arizona State University. Johnson composed a score for the work that blends recorded music with vocals from Cipili, Riedl and Whitby. The adjudicators acknowledged that the live vocals add an element of vulnerability, and they noted that it takes an experienced performer to vocalize and dance simultaneously.
Riedl, Cipili and Whitby have enjoyed prior success with both: Riedl portrayed the title role in the musical “Mary Poppins” at Western last November, and Whitby played Fannie in the same production. Cipili played Lena Lamont in “Singin’ in the Rain” in Fall 2014. The integrated nature of the Performing Arts Department’s related programs – Music, Dance, Technical Theatre, and Musical Theatre – ensures that students have access to a variety of performance opportunities and are able to develop multiple skill sets.
The intricately stylized costumes for Visible Sketch v.3 were created by guest costume designer Gwendolyn Quitberg.
"Gwendolyn has a clear artist's eye for costume design and is always looking to create marriages for garments and artistry," Peterson said. "She has put in hours of literal blood and sweat into the dresses, figuring out how to construct them with the difficult materials I had in mind. The current iteration of those garments is made out of aluminum screening, electrical snake and plastic boning. The results are these stunning shields that the dancers wear, and that transfer incredibly diverse images to the viewers."
Two other regional schools rounded out the top three honorees at the Northwest Conference and will also perform in Washington, D.C.: Utah Valley University and the University of Wyoming. That Western led such a prestigious field of institutions illustrates the national caliber of the College’s Dance Program and of the entire Performing Arts program of which it is part, Peterson said.
“We are totally overwhelmed by the honor,” she said. “This is a huge honor for our school, our students, and for me as a choreographer and educator. We were in the presence of major programs like University of Utah, Brigham Young University, University of Oregon, and University of Wyoming. This honor recognizes the work that we’re doing at WWCC at a national level.”
The ACDA’s National Conference, where Western will perform, is June 8 – 11 in Washington D.C. Before then, however, local audiences can see an upgraded version of Visible Sketch v.3 – titled, appropriately, Visible Sketch v.4 – as part of Desert Dance Theatre’s Spring Concert, which takes the stage Thursday, April 21, Friday, April 22, and Saturday, April 23 in the WWCC Theatre. Peterson said the concert version will incorporate interactive technology that will digitally enhance and modify the accompanying music based on the dancers’ movements.
“Composer Garrett Johnson will be using cameras that will read the dancers’ bodies in space,” she explained. “That will then run through his software system and change the music. He will also be manipulating the live vocals with digital tech. So it will be bigger and better than Visible Sketch v.3.”
Whitby, Riedl, Cipili and Peterson will also participate in a free behind-the-scenes program, See-thru – Movement Speaks: conversations about dance, on Thursday, April 21, at 10 a.m. in the WWCC Theatre. The community is invited to attend this informative program on the practice and creation of dance as an art form. The students will discuss the preparation and creative processes that help them to bring Visible Sketch v.3 and other works to life.
The ACDA recognition is just the latest accolade for Western’s Performing Arts Department. In February, Peterson, who choreographed “Mary Poppins,” and Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre Chris Will, MPMT, MFA, who directed it, both received awards for their work from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.