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Alumni and Students Connect Through Choreography The W&L Repertory Dance Company’s alumni-student dance performance in New York City’s Center for Performance Research returned after a four-year hiatus.

Dance-Performance-In-NYC07-1140x760 Alumni and Students Connect Through ChoreographyW&L Repertory Dance Company students and alumni participate in a joint concert in Brooklyn, NY. Alumni include Rasaq Lawal ’10, Elliot Emadian ’17, Runa King ‘21, and Mary Pace Lewis ‘21.

“Knowing that your engagement with dance can still grow and change after you’ve left W&L is an amazing thing.”

~ Elliot Emadian ’17

By the time Jenefer Davies, artistic director of the W&L Repertory Dance Company, arrived at the Center for Performance Research (CPR) in Brooklyn on Friday, Jan. 26 with 13 W&L student dancers in tow, their alumni counterparts were already warming up for rehearsal.

Dance program alumni and students alike arrived ready to rehearse together on Friday evening and all day on Saturday, Jan. 27, in preparation for an evening showcase of contemporary dance choreography. Davies, professor of dance and chair of W&L’s department of Theater, Dance, and Film Studies, has brought dancers together at CPR for many years to collaborate on a one-night-only performance. This year’s gathering is the first time the weekend has been offered since 2020. Student participants in the weekend’s performance brought work that they had choreographed themselves during Fall Term, including choreography featured in the dance company’s annual W&L Dancers Create event. The performance also includes four W&L dance alumni who are invited to create new choreography or revisit pieces they created or performed while at W&L. Davies launched the joint performance soon after starting the dance program in 2006 to provide off-campus opportunities for dance students to broaden their perspectives and experiences; over the years, it has grown into a beloved tradition for W&L’s dance community.

The weekend is an opportunity for current students to have an immersive experience in New York City as a cultural center for contemporary dance. This year’s student attendees were treated to a performance of “MJ: The Musical,” a new show choreographed by internationally renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. The trip is also a valuable opportunity for mentorship, networking and reconnecting alumni with current dance students. Davies said she was proud to see how former dancers have grown since their time at W&L and to see students refine their work throughout rehearsals.

“They all just blended seamlessly,” Davies said. “They all understand my process regarding rehearsals, tech and dress, so they just picked up where they left off as if no time had passed. The alumni and the students melded into a lovely group. It was magical.”

Dance-Performance-In-NYC06-1140x760 Alumni and Students Connect Through ChoreographyW&L students perform during a dress rehearsal at The Center for Performance Research before an alumni and student W&L Repertory Dance Company concert in Brooklyn, NY.

“Working with alumni was special because you could see what the dance program had given them in terms of opportunities,” said Mikaela Schon ’27. “It was wonderful to be able to visualize how that could be me in the future.” Schon performed in “Geometry Lesson,” a dance choreographed by Elise McPherson ’26 that explored the limitations placed on women by society.

Elliot Reza Emadian ’17 was excited to return to the alumni-student performance. Emadian, a choreographer, video and sound artist, and photographer, is the first alumni of the dance program to go on to receive a terminal degree in the field at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, where they are now a lecturer in dance.

“Jenny was instrumental in my choice to pursue dance as a career, particularly the path that I took in higher education,” Emadian said. “This feels like a really honest way to honor that. The dance program was one of my favorite communities on campus when I was a student.”

Emadian first participated in the alumni-student dance performance during their first year at W&L, and their choreography at the CPR performance — a solo Davies choreographed in 2010 called “This Macaroni and Cheese Crayon Tastes Like Wax” — was a piece they first saw performed by an alum in New York during their time as a student. Emadian said the opportunities Davies gives students at W&L to choreograph and perform were vital to their graduate school search.

“She’s such a proponent of showcasing student work,” Emadian said, “and I think that strengthened my graduate school applications. I was given so many chances to make work during my undergraduate career, and all of those events and venues and pieces showed up on my CV when I was applying to graduate programs.”

Emadian said it was inspiring to see how different program alumni have continued to incorporate dance into their lives after graduation, from pursuing dance professionally to supporting dance events in their cities to staying connected to W&L’s dance program in various ways.

Dance-Performance-In-NYC04-1140x760 Alumni and Students Connect Through ChoreographyElliot Emadian ’17 performs during dress rehearsal at The Center for Performance Research.

“Knowing that your engagement with dance can still grow and change after you’ve left W&L is an amazing thing,” Emadian said, adding that Davies has been instrumental in forging that ethos within the dance community.

CPR’s large studio space, where the group performed and rehearsed, also provided a new learning environment for students as they prepared for the evening’s performance.

“Unlike almost every other theater in this country, it’s completely white,” Davies said. “The walls, the ceiling, the wings. And because of this, as well as the lack of curtains, the lighting saturates the space. Every wall and surface can be lit vibrantly, employed to create shadow or utilized as a projection surface for video or photos, among many other creative options. The entire space becomes the performance.”

Students said they enjoyed the opportunity to rehearse in a dynamic new space.

“The performance space was very different from the Keller Theater,” said Lily Petsinger ’24, who performed a piece, “Duality,” co-choreographed for W&L Dancers Create with Angela Tu ’24. “It was a unique experience to be able to perform there; it reminded me how much I love dance and performing for an audience.”

Rasaq Lawal ’10, who currently serves as the director of student development and family engagement for Musicopia, a pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade music programming nonprofit based in the Philadelphia and Delaware Valley area, fondly remembers his introduction to W&L’s repertory dance company, a decision he says changed his trajectory.

“It all started with the W&L talent showcase where people suggested that I should try and audition for the dance repertory,” said Lawal, who went on to win an award his senior year at W&L for outstanding choreography from the American College Dance Association Conference. “Upon auditioning, Jenefer Davies simply said, ‘Welcome to the dance program,’ and the rest is history. If it wasn’t for Jenefer, I wouldn’t have found the confidence, deep passion and air of professionalism that I have for a dance. I am forever grateful for her.”

Lawal said events like this are an opportunity to give back to the program and that he hopes to further contribute his time to W&L dance students by offering workshops on campus in the future.

“It’s really about coming full circle, having learned and grown from this program and then being able to give back in that capacity,” Lawal said.

W&L’s Office of Alumni Engagement invited alumni from the region and early-decision applicants who have expressed an interest in dance to attend the event and a private reception afterward at a nearby restaurant. The sold-out performance on Saturday evening included W&L alumni as well as parents of alumni and parents of current students. Davies said at the reception following the performance, talk turned to the future.

“We all got a chance to catch up and to start planning for 2026,” Davies said, “which will be the 20th anniversary of when I created the academic program in dance at W&L. Stay tuned!”

Dance-Performance-In-NYC01-1140x760 Alumni and Students Connect Through ChoreographyRuna King ‘21 rehearses with her fellow dancers prior to the group’s performance.