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DITA hosts Education Day for local students at Wealthy Theatre

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For hundreds of students, the opening piece from this year's TRIP THE LIGHT event became the centerpiece for a dynamic object lesson about the impact of light and sound on a visual experience.
Underwriting support from:

Dance in the Annex (DITA)

With a focus on artistry and technique, creativity and collaboration, Dance In The Annex’s (DITA) mission is to secure, promote and enhance contemporary dance in Grand Rapids by fostering an appreciation of dance through education and performance opportunities.

DITA and Wealthy Theatre present two annual modern-dance events that serve as a platform for collaboration for hundreds of West Michigan artists: Salmagundi (Autumn) and TRIP THE LIGHT (Spring.)

DITA hosts regular master classes at the Wealthy Theatre Annex, including an upcoming class with Matthew Farmer on May 19.

April 30 marked the first ever Dance in the Annex (DITA) Education Day. On this day, three events drew students from around the city to Wealthy Theatre, to learn about the science of stage lighting, the importance of colors and costumes, and the dramatic impact of technical elements of live performance.

Students at Education Day got to see a full dance piece in a "before and after" presentation: the first run featured work lights (no stage lighting), street clothes instead of costumes and minimal audio; the second run featured full tech, as it was performed May 11, 2013 before a sold-out crowd at "TRIP THE LIGHT: MYTHICAL."

DITA Artistic Director Amy Wilson says the event provided a chance to introduce area students to modern dance, but moreover "to explain the science of stagecraft and its impact on what you see, and how you feel about it," she says.

She chose to highlight the first piece from the May 11 "TRIP THE LIGHT: MYTHICAL" event for students, because it offered an opportunity to partner with Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Dance Department Professor Shawn T. Bible, who choreographed the piece.

"As a professional educator, Shawn [Bible] was able to communicate effortlessly with the young students about the piece he created," Wilson says. "He asked them questions and talked about their answers, which made the entire experience interactive and more like a laboratory than a lecture."

Education is part of DITA's mission statement, Wilson says, and dancers and technical crew donated time to present the three different components of Education Day.

"[This event] allows us to serve as ambassadors of modern dance to the next generation, and to honor the tradition of stagecraft by sharing this gift with young people," she says.

The first half of Education Day involved students from various Grand Rapids elementary schools. This was a chance to take students through the process of developing a dance from its conception, through rehearsal and technical additions, to a final performance.

Live music was provided by artist Michael Schaeffer, with lighting design by DITA board member Johanna Schuyten.

Students laughed, asked curious questions and even had the opportunity to dance across the stage at Wealthy Theatre.

"It was such a compelling opportunity for Wealthy Theatre to partner with the dance educators from DITA and GVSU and to use the stage itself as the educational tool," says Wealthy Theatre Director Erin Wilson. "You could see from the young people's faces how captivated they were to see us deconstruct the science involved in producing an event. It was a dynamic object lesson in living color, and we're grateful to Steelcase Inc. for making it possible."

Wealthy Theatre is owned and operated by Grand Rapids Community Media Center (CMC), which offers educational opportunities to community members of all ages, Erin Wilson says.

"CMC has a mobile educational program that goes into schools, using technology to help educators to pique interest and keep kids engaged," says Erin Wilson. "But today we were able to make Wealthy Theatre the lab, to utilize the technologies that exist throughout Wealthy Theatre's Peter Wege Auditorium, taking advantage of all this exciting technology in a way that made basic principles of physics interesting, through the art of stagecraft."

"Leonardo [Da Vinci] would have been proud of the way we combined art and science, today," he says.

Photographer Lora Robertson hosted a workshop for photography students under the direction of Dennis Grantz of the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT). They were able to practice shooting live dance on the stage, complete with professionally designed lighting. The images for this article are just a small sampling of the work these students made as they applied their skills at an afternoon performance of a piece entitled Scapegoat."

"Even as exciting as technology can be, it's only a tool. There has to be something interesting happening," Erin Wilson says. "The dance piece is engaging; but more importantly, the students connected with the presenters from DITA, because they made it interesting."

A third and final component to DITA’s Education Day was a performance for Press Club students from the Creative Youth Center (CYC). After this performance, Bible and Amy Wilson hosted a press conference so that the day began similarly to how the field trip ended: with questions, answers and one more chance for students to add their thoughts about modern dance. The CYC Press Club published an article in The Rapidian about their experience.

WMCAT’s students shared their photographs for the Press Club’s article. They also presented some of their best pictures in the lobby of Wealthy Theatre, which will be displayed for several weeks, courtesy of Community Media Center.

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