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Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater gives students the lead in the Choreography Project

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The Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater will present its annual Choreography Project, giving students the opportunity to cast and choreograph their own ballet piece. 

The event will be presented at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on April 26 at the Musical Arts Center and will be streamed online through IUMusicLIVE! as well. 

Prior to the student choreography showcase, there will be a presentation of “Animal Tales,” a short ballet choreographed by six ballet students — featuring six original compositions by Jacobs students based on the stories written by Stacey Painter’s third grade class at Fairview Elementary. 

Sarah Macgregor, an IU junior, was the designated coordinator for “Animal Tales,” helping the student composers and choreographers work together to create something original. Macgregor had choreographed pieces prior to this year; however, she found an intriguing challenge with bringing the written stories for “Animal Tales” to life. 

Related: [Jacobs School of Music receives grant from National Endowment for the Humanities] 

“It was finding that sweet spot where it’s still movement and difficult enough for the dancers, but where the children can see parts of their story come to life,” Macgregor said.  

It was important for Macgregor to find a balance between complete movements that allowed the dancers to challenge themselves while avoiding becoming too abstract so that the story wasn’t lost to the audience. Finding this balance meant extensive notes and reworkings of movements when creating the choreography. 

“It’s a lot of trial and error. I’ll come up with things in my head and write them down and then we’ll go into the studio,” Macgregor said. “Once you see it out in front of you, then you can kind of gauge if it's telling the story you want it to tell.” 

After “Animal Tales,” the students of the Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater program will have the opportunity to display their own choreographed pieces featuring a cast of their fellow students set to the music of David N. Baker. 

Aram Hengen, an IU junior, set his piece to Baker’s “Concerto for Cello,” a slow piece featuring IU sophomore Jessica Ousterhout and IU freshman Bryan Gregory. Hengen choreographed this piece as a story of one-sided love that eventually wins over the initially cold-hearted dancer performed by Ousterhout. 

“There are multiple sections, so there’s a vulnerable section where she starts to realize she wants him and needs help,” Hengen said. “The first part, she’s on her own, and finally they come together at the end and go off stage together.” 

Having learned from choreographing a piece in the showcase last year, Hengen found himself less stressed when blocking out the steps for the piece, allowing his dancers to bring their own ideas to the stage for a more collaborative performance. 

“Last year I went in with the approach that I knew my steps before the rehearsals,” Hengen said. “This year I feel like Jessica and Bryan are trying stuff out so if they do something naturally, I’m more inclined to use the way they want to move naturally because it’s more them.” 

Related: [IU music professor Brent Wallarab to premiere new work April 29] 

Ruth Connelly, an IU junior, is also presenting a choreographed piece in the showcase set to Baker’s “Untitled,” featuring IU seniors Sarah Pfeiffer and Elaina da Fonte. Connelly’s piece explores the idea of letting go to let someone else in — an idea that she chose Pfeiffer and da Fonte for specifically. 

“I chose them because they’re friends and I wanted to play off their friendship,” Connelly said. “In the end it’s kind of sad because I have them going different directions because they’re both seniors.” 

To convey their friendship, Connelly had the two dancers move side by side, showing the strength of their reliance on one another — not shying away from unavoidable fights found in the strongest of friendships. It was the ending of the piece that Connelly found the most powerful in the sense of friendship. 

“They have this moment where they look at each other and stop,” Connelly said. “Then they keep looking at each other as they run away, so it’s like ‘I’ll always be with you, but it’s time to move on.’” 

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