Chaos suddenly fills a narrow hallway of the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Multiple conversations blend together, creating an overwhelming jumble of noise, as students race to their lockers alongside their friends.
It is a Friday afternoon, and although most of the students are dismissed for the day, those in the dance department are just preparing for rehearsal. After a quick warm-up class, the dancers gradually assemble in a large studio. Seven girls assume their starting positions, forming a circle in the center of the room, while the rest of the young dancers become a makeshift audience, sitting with the faculty along the front wall.
The dancers proceed to run through six pieces, each of which was choreographed by an ASFA student in his or her senior year. The works will debut this weekend (Feb. 26-27) in the school’s Senior Dance Composition Showcase at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater.
Two of the six student choreographers are Carter Holder, 18, and Alexandria Fuller, 17, both Birmingham natives who have studied at ASFA since the seventh grade.
“Having the artistic license to create whatever you want to create is kind of a daunting task,” Holder said. “It’s hard to make something that’s cohesive.”
The choreographic challenge serves as a graduation requirement for all seniors in the dance department, explained David Keener, dance chair. The process begins in early December, when the seniors work together to audition the underclassmen and then cast each of their works. In the following months, they must also choose or create their own costumes and communicate with a lighting designer.
The project is all-encompassing, but the dancers have prepped for it since the beginning of their junior year in a comprehensive class called Professional Dance Practicum. Each session has a different focus, Holder explained, whether it is a choreography workshop, a music class, or a seminar on dance history or dance theory.
“And the process kind of develops,” he said. “We start with just making up choreography, but then we learn how to edit it and change the dynamics.”
Nodding in agreement, Fuller quickly added, “Change timing, change spacing, anything like that.”
While they are given a great amount of artistic freedom in their creative process, they are also expected to abide by certain restrictions. The faculty sets parameters on the length of each piece, as well as the style of music. “Nothing with vocals, no opera,” Keener said. “It has to be instrumental, and it has to be classical.”
Holder found inspiration in the sprightliness of two compositions by Bach and one by Mendelssohn. With a light and fluid quality, the movement in his piece, titled “Migration,” reflects the many flight patterns of birds. “There are lots of little transitions with different groups, jumping in and out, off and on stage,” he said.
Fuller’s work, on the other hand, is “a fire-blazing, fierce kind of piece,” rightly named “Préndelo,” meaning “fire it up.” Set to a Beethoven piano sonata, she used fast-paced movement meant to convey her dancers’ energetic personalities, as well as her own fiery spirit. “I wanted everything to be somewhat similar to how I am,” she said. “I’m very out there, and I have to be moving constantly.”
Having to transition from student to choreographer, Fuller explained, provided her with one of the most telling lessons she learned throughout the process. “You kind of step into the shoes of how our teachers are, and you see what they go through when they have to choreograph a piece or teach us anything,” she said.
In this way, the showcase is more than a graduation requirement. It’s an inkling of reality, a small glimpse into the responsibilities that will be expected of them beyond high school, whether they have a career in dance or they decide to transition into another field.
“We are growing kids to be people through the arts,” Keener said. “Become an adult, take responsibility, guide dancers through the process of learning a piece of choreography, stumble and fall as much as you need to, but pick yourself up and move forward.”