The Collegian
Friday, April 19, 2024

University Dancers welcome guest choreographer Patrick Coker

<p>A dancer at the dress rehearsal for the fast/FORWARD concert on Feb. 23 2022.</p>

A dancer at the dress rehearsal for the fast/FORWARD concert on Feb. 23 2022.

University Dancers, the University of Richmond’s student dance company, recently welcomed guest choreographer Patrick Coker for a visiting artist residency, during which he choreographed an original dance piece for their Feb. 24-26  fast/FORWARD concert.

This year’s performances will mark the 38th annual University Dancers concert, which will feature original performances from guest choreographers Charlotte Boye-Christensen and Stephanie Martinez, in addition to Coker’s piece. Another hallmark of the performance is that students from the theater and dance departments are involved in every aspect of production, from onstage performance,costume and lighting design, according to the concert’s artistic director, Anne Van Gelder.

The students’ creative agency played a direct role in the development of Coker’s piece as he worked with them in the studio during his four-day residency. Coker sometimes gave the dancers an initial phrase—a series of choreographic movements—and then gave them an opportunity to reinterpret it, he said. 

“I think that’s the nice thing about creation and choreography,” Coker said. “That’s what’s really special about it, is that what we created is so unique to what happened in that room the past three days.”

Senior University Dancers captain Aiko Decker agreed, emphasizing the extent to which Coker encouraged creative collaboration. 

“We were able to manipulate the choreography based upon prompts that he gave us, so we were really able to highlight our own strengths,” she said. “And in that regard, we got to highlight the community aspect because we all bring such different strengths to the company.”

Community is also the theme of Coker’s piece, although that was not his original intention.  Recently, he has been fascinated by ideas of growing up and growing old, an interest exacerbated by his recent visit to his hometown of Chester, Virginia, but the theme shifted once he met the dancers at UR, he said.

“Through having conversations and creating movement, and what they interpreted, the piece actually became more about, like, interconnectedness and community, and how we can’t be alone,” Coker said. “We can be lonely, and we can be isolated, but there’s always some sort of community, right?”

The idea of having something to return to was important to 29-year-old Coker, who at 16 moved away from his native Virginia to New York City, where he now dances for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 

“It’s more in the vein of letting go to make space [for new things] and knowing that that thing will be there,” he said of the piece’s relation to his own homecoming. “And that you’re then able to come back to it. In a sense, it’s no different than my journey of moving to New York dancing, and then coming back and spending time at home right now in this Virginia community.”

With his residency concluded, Coker has now returned to New York while the University Dancers continue to rehearse the piece in preparation for this month’s concert, which will include three public performances as well as a matinee performance intended for schoolchildren in the greater Richmond area. 

“For me, this is the final opportunity to showcase all the hard work that we put in,” Decker said, who is in her final semester at UR. “I think that’s what’s gonna definitely come through the show—just the energy. We’re all super proud of the work we did, and we hope that people will come and watch not only our work, but the amazing work of the choreographers.”

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Fast/FORWARD will take place at the Alice Jepson Theatre in the Modlin Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25 and at 2:00 p.m. Feb. 26. Tickets are available through the Modlin Center for the Arts website.

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