A few dozen members of Point Park University's Conservatory Dance program will get a taste of the working dance world this weekend when they present four works by some of the industry's top choreographers -- past and present -- as part of the student company's annual production at the Byham Theater, Downtown.
"Bow Out" by Val Caniparoli, "Heretic" by Martha Graham, "Sky" by Kevin Iega Jeff and "Minus 16" by Ohad Naharin will spotlight a sampling of styles, from modern to mambo.
"We choose the choreography based on the needs of our students," said Susan Stowe, associate professor and chair of the department of dance. "We have such an eclectic and diverse group of students we try to find works that will really challenge them and help them to grow artistically."
Selecting the Graham piece even led to an invitation to perform in March at the famed Joyce Theater in New York City. Students from other universities and members of dance company Graham II also took part in the presentation of predominantly Graham works.
"It was an incredible experience," said senior Mikelle Rindflish, 20, of Dallas. "I feel like we all learned a lot just from watching the Graham II company perform."
Students also got to meet dancers from Graham II and other schools and soak up what life in New York is like for a dancer. "It will be an experience we'll all take to our professional careers for sure."
From casting to the final curtain call, the experience of preparing for the Byham performance reflects what professional dancers encounter on the job -- starting with the audition. Eligible students were given numbers and the chance to showcase their talents for visiting judges, who assigned selected dancers to perform a maximum of two pieces.
"We feel that it's important for a dancer to be good at auditioning," Ms. Stowe said. Maintaining a professional demeanor, standing out for the right reasons and booking work -- "that's a skill, so that's why we have a lot of auditions."
Next came the rehearsals, which paired dancers with out-of-town repetiteurs who spent, on average, 10 days teaching students the choreography. Many visiting artists work closely with the choreographers who created the routines or have danced in their works, allowing students to network while they learned.
"Many of [the students] get sought out later for work, or if they audition for that same choreographer, they'll remember them," Ms. Stowe said.
Hours of practice ensued under the direction of Point Park faculty before a couple of days of tech rehearsals and show time at the theater.
At the performance, audiences can expect something for all dance palates, Ms. Stowe said, opening with "Bow Out," a high-energy pointe routine set to music by David Bedford and Roy Powell. It was first staged in 1995 with the Richmond Ballet.
A milestone in dance history will follow with the 1929 work "Heretic." Although just a few minutes long, many regard the aesthetically stark work about a person in opposition to a larger like-minded group as choreography that helped pave the direction for the future of modern dance.
Rounding out the first half will be "Sky," a modern and balletic-infused interpretation of life's transitions, fears, hopes and the unknown.
"Minus 16," which will close the evening, is a melange of cha-cha, mambo and traditional Israeli music debuted in 1999 by Nederlands Dans Theater 2.
"I just hope that they enjoy the energy of the students, their youthful athleticism," Ms. Stowe said. "Hopefully during the course of the evening, they'll smile, they'll laugh, they might cry and they'll see something of beauty."
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org.