Creating a dance for others to perform on stage is a huge undertaking given the need to sort out costumes, lighting and stage effects as well as figure out the choreography and movement of the dancers. 

Christian von Howard took all the challenges that come with creating a dance, but managed them in one week of rehearsal with unfamiliar dancers when he arrived at the University of Richmond on Oct. 22 to work with nine of the University Dancers.

“Part of the challenge is that you’re meeting new minds and meeting new bodies, and they’re not necessarily adapt or skilled in how I move,” von Howard said.

Von Howard primarily has a classical ballet background, but said he has dabbled with various types of dance.

Currently the artistic director of the VON HOWARD PROJECT, he created the contemporary dance company based in New York City after dancing and choreographing for various companies internationally. 

Von Howard started the piece by auditioning all the University Dancers, choosing nine who he would work with throughout the week. 

The theme of the piece was the alpha in society and creating it through a contemporary style, he said.

“It’s about establishing the alpha role and this is usually about men, but we’re exploring the alpha queen,” von Howard said. “It’s about the transfer of power in this group of women. I didn’t want to make something that was traditional or sweet or cute.”

To convey this power, von Howard created a dance that was physically extensive, saying that he simply started throwing the choreography at the dancers the first day.

“I feel like it’s very physical and athletic and there’s a lot of momentum,” Julia Oates, senior, a member of University Dancers, said. “It never really stops. I feel like it exhibits a lot of strength that we’ve built up over the week.”

Von Howard emphasized that in this piece, the dancers were never allowed to be comfortable. 

“There are moments where they’re standing, but even then, their energy is directed toward something,” he said.

Before starting rehearsals, von Howard walked around the room, closing the curtains that surround the new dance studio in the Modlin Center for the Arts and blocking the dancers from the mirrors. Von Howard did this regularly to allow dancers to be in the moment and get away from their egos, he said.

“This was just one of the best experiences that I have had so far just with the choreographer in general,” Cristina Peters, senior, a member of University Dancers, said. “I definitely feel like my dancing has a whole different layer to it after working with him.”

Anne Van Gelder, director of dance at UR who works with the University Dancers, had worked with von Howard in the past. His pieces challenged the dancers, she said, and she wanted to bring in a new style. 

“The dynamic movement and his use of stillness is compelling,” Van Gelder said. 

Van Gelder added that the high-energy piece will add a great deal to the annual University Dancers' show, titled CONVERGE this year, which will feature this dance and others from March 2-4.

“This piece really does exemplify the word ‘converge’ because there’s a lot of partnering and lifts and us coming together all at once,” Peters said. “It’s going to be a surprise for the audience no matter where it is in the show.”

After choreographing, von Howard met with Johann Stegmeir, department of theatre and dance chair, and Maja White, the lighting designer, to plan how the piece will look in March.

Because von Howard was at UR until Oct. 29, the dancers will rehearse the piece once a week until the show and Stegmeir, White and Van Gelder will work on how the piece develops through costumes, lighting and staging.

“I think what makes it unique is that, for the audience, it will kind of look like you are looking in on the experience of the dancers versus the dancers performing for the audience,” Isabella Brafman, senior, a member of University Dancers, said. “It just looks very internalized.”

Before leaving, von Howard said he hoped the dancers had felt different after the week working with him. 

Edie Sanders, senior, a member of University Dancers, said she felt that von Howard had played to their strengths while still getting his vision across.

“It’s nice seeing them meet the challenges and see how they dive into my own aesthetic,” von Howard said. “These women have different sides to them, they’re multilayered and multidimensional. It’s not just the battle of me against you, but of us against the world.”

Contact news writer Stacey Dec at stacey.dec@richmond.edu.

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