eXpressions’ upcoming spring show, “Evolve,” seems appropriately named considering the group’s evolution since its founding in 1979. eXpressions was Princeton’s first student-run dance company and tended to favor jazz back in the 1980s. Few realize that eXpressions is only a de facto all-female company. There is no clause in the company’s charter that states it will refuse male auditionees, and understandably so, considering the group was originally co-ed. However in recent years, the company has earned a campus reputation as the all-female lyrical dance company filled with girls looking to continue their competition days. Publicity chair Silvia Lundgren ’15, confessed to initially having a negative image of the company as one of the less serious dance groups.
“At first I wasn’t actually going to join. The image I had in my head of eXpressions was that it was not so serious … girls wearing pink and having fun,” Lundgren said.
Lundgren says she wanted a more “legitimate experience” from her dance group to complement her track in Princeton’s dance department. President Rachael Baitel ’14, a self-professed “bunhead,” adds that the company’s girly image is something that eXpressions tries to work through, year after year.
This stereotype of eXpressions doesn’t take into consideration the revolving door of members typical of a collegiate dance company. In a given semester, a campus dance company’s active roster can fluctuate dramatically due to the addition of new members and existing members taking the semester off, studying abroad or coming back from a leave of absence. As a result, the audience sees a different iteration of Princeton’s dance companies each semester. Sarah Rose ’14, one of the artistic directors, emphasized that while it’s exciting for a company to constantly change, it is also important to maintain the company’s culture.
“The ability to maintain that close-knit environment when people are constantly coming and going is important for stability,” she said.
The effects are subtler in larger companies in which the addition or subtraction of members is hardly noticeable, but for eXpressions and other smaller companies, this natural fluctuation can significantly alter a group. This spring, eXpressions saw a proportionally large swell in numbers, as there are more seniors dancing part-time in “Evolve” than in past spring semesters. The company also saw an amazing turnout in their spring auditions, adding four dancers to the existing company, which brought the total up to the mid-20s.
“The new members are so good, so excited and so fresh! Rachael and I choreographed a piece together where we featured them in the beginning,” Lundgren said. “We don’t have to be like, okay you guys have to stand behind us and learn how to dance like us. No! You go do it. We get to show them off.”
Due to eXpressions’ smaller numbers, it cannot afford to do formations by seniority. Instead, eXpressions capitalizes on this by providing its new members with the challenge of being full participating members immediately after acceptance.
“One of the greatest opportunities of being part of eXpressions is to participate right off the bat. As soon as dancers join the company, they are encouraged to suggest and choreograph pieces,” Baitel said. “We’re big on fostering and promoting growth. The size of our company actually helps us expose people, either willingly or unwillingly, to different styles, which is definitely a good thing in the end.”
This framework of support is crucial, as Lundgren now sees the company moving toward more conceptual and artistic choreography and away from their girlier, less substantial image. Besides better focus and stronger technique, Lundgren emphasized that the choreography in “Evolve” is more artistically driven, more than just moves strung together with counts.
“The choreographers were inspired by the music or an idea that shapes the piece,” she said. Coming out of the fall show, “Uprising,” eXpressions sought to create a more cohesive and conceptual show to follow up.
“We really wanted to have innovative choreography, something that you’re not going to see at every other show,” Rose said.
Baitel echoed this sentiment and added that there was a lot more collaboration within the company for this show. This in turn led to more diverse choreography and concepts. Baitel added that she appreciated the input of members who are pursuing dance certificates and the academic perspectives they offer.
“A lot of our members are in the dance department and have been exposed to academic courses in dance, and that has developed a lot of different choreography styles, which are present in this show,” she said. “It has helped a lot of us develop our identity as dancers and choreographers.”
Structurally, the piece order of “Evolve” is a carefully crafted progression that lends order and composure to a show that contains various styles including modern, improvisation, jazz, contemporary and hip-hop among its lyrical pieces. The number of styles incorporated in this show is in part inspired by the experience of classically trained dancers coming to Princeton and experiencing the rich dance culture on campus.
“It’s amazing to have such a community. There are so many collaborations between groups, and the diversity of styles that all these groups bring to the table is amazing,” Rose said. “I had never had exposure to belly dancing and all that stuff prior to coming to Princeton.”
“Evolve” reflects those influences and pushes eXpressions’ dancers by constantly taking them out of their element. As a result, eXpressions’ 2013 spring show is poised to challenge people’s expectations and really change the game for them. Given that eXpressions can execute all of its lofty ideals, this could be a great opportunity to reshape their image.
“This show is very different from past shows, and one of the strongest, in my opinion,” Baitel said.
“Evolve” opens this Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Frist Film/Performance Theatre, running from April 4–6.