During the preparation of Pitt Dance Ensemble’s spring concert, “Awakening“, Emma Zawacki has choreographed one of the most difficult tap dances she has ever performed. “The Big Blue Swing” by Tap Five.
“I choreographed with a friend [Caitlyn Berrini]. It was the first time we choreographed a piece of this magnitude,” said Zawacki, a student in Microbiology and Gender Sexuality and Feminist Studies. “I love this dance. We picked a really fast song and it’s really difficult, but I’m thrilled to see it all pay off and come together.
“Big Blue Swing” was a 1900s-inspired tap dance featuring eight PDE dancers dressed in rustic farmhouse costumes. PDE performed 15 dances during the “awakening”, which took place on Friday and Saturday in the Richard E. Rauh Theater. The show had a nearly full house for each performance, and each dance featured a different style – including ballet, tap, jazz and modern.
Zawacki has been with PDE since her freshman year at Pitt, where she currently serves as Chief Commercial Officer. She said it was the responsibility of the PDE board to produce “Awakening” in its entirety since the retirement of Susan Gilis Krumanthe former program advisor.
“In the fall, it was our job to plan the whole show 一 so it was seven undergraduates trying to figure out how to produce a show,” Zawacki said. “It was definitely a little crazy, but it bonded us more than I ever thought it would.”
The PDE board selected everything for the show, including its name, commercials, dance styles, lighting designers and venue. Zawacki said the board named the show “Awakening” because many activities have returned in person from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we plan the names of the shows, we sort of plan them by working together,” Zawacki said. “Our fall show was called ‘Metamorphosis,’ so it’s just about getting back to dancing as usual after being isolated and online for so long. We’ve all kind of forgotten what it’s like. was to dance with people.
Each piece of “Awakening” was choreographed by current PDE students and alumni, as well as local professional dancers Jil Stifel and Ethan Gwynn. Zawacki said considerable effort was put into this concert, as most of the dancers had rehearsed separately and recorded their concerts last year.
“Last fall I was in a tap dance piece and we would have a rehearsal on Zoom, so I was in my dorm kicking my socks off trying to learn this choreography,” Zawacki said. “When we went to record it for the show, we came out and a few people had wooden tap boards that they brought over and so we recorded it in small groups.”
Marie Akoto, a graduate in political science and English writing, is the secretary of the PDE. She choreographed the piece “You Give Me Fever” with PDE member Jacqueline Perich, a jazz-inspired piece to the song “Fever” by Peggy Lee. She said she was excited to perform the dance because it was different from pieces PDE has performed in the past.
“This dance has eight dancers and it’s a more mature dance than what we’ve done in the past. This one is fun too, but it’s more about love and lust,” Akoto said. “I’m very excited to do something a little more serious with jazz than what is generally expected of him.”
Akoto said “Awakening” was bittersweet for her since, as a senior, it was her last performance with PDE.
“I’m so excited, I’m also so sad because it’s the last time I’m dancing because I’m a senior so I’m crying and smiling at the same time,” Akoto said. “I made a lot of lifelong friends. The person I choreograph with [Perich]we are moving to the same city next year and living together.
The seniors of PDE collaborated to choreograph the last dance of “Awakening”, “2ENIOR2”. The piece was a modern dance inspired by “Dance Moms” and featured a mix of various hits from the 2010s. Lauren Byrne, a major in political science, sociology and psychology, said the seniors tried to incorporate as many styles of dance as possible in the room.
“Part of the reason we’re making it a collaborative piece is that as elders, we don’t all dance the same style, so we really try to play with that,” Byrne said. “Tap dancers can choreograph their little section, ballet people can do their little section, so everyone kind of has a chance to showcase their skills and talents.”
Byrne, president of merchandise for PDE, said one of the most distinctive aspects of the show was its location, as the set usually performs at the Stephen Foster Memorial. Unlike traditional dance concert halls, the stage at the Richard E. Rauh Theater is very close to the audience seats, so many dancers made direct eye contact with audience members during the performance.
“I think we had to work to keep that in mind and create a dance that looks good from every angle,” Byrne said. “So that was an extra challenge, but I think it makes for a really good show.”
Byrne said “Awakening” was a success because of the teamwork between PDE and its alumni and professional choreographers.
“I think it really highlighted the need to lean on other people and work as a team. That couldn’t happen without each person working hard for what they love, and you can feel that. in the studio,” Byrne said. “It reminds me to get out of my head a bit 一 all these people center you on why you’re dancing in the first place.