The first collaboration between Northern Michigan University’s dance minor and Arts Chorale will use artistic expression to address topical health and social issues such as suicide, homophobia and bullying. As one component of the NMU Dance Concert, 25 student vocalists under the guidance of Director of Choirs Erin Colwitz will perform alongside 14 dancers led by Dance Minor Program Director Jill Grundstrom.
“I think what we can accomplish here is actually showing the different facets of these social issues and how you can bring different sides of a conversation together to create a dialogue about what is going on,” said Grundstrom. “We have a lot of student crossover between music and dance involvement at NMU and we are looking to integrate these two art forms more.”
The performance is titled Please Stay. It is inspired by two songs: Please Stay, a song about depression and suicide awareness by Jake Runestad; and All of Us by Craig Hella Johnson and Michael Browne. All of Us is the final movement in a cantata titled Considering Matthew Shepard, which reflects on the 1998 beating death of Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student.
“I was planning on having my choir perform these songs,” said Colwitz. “I told Jill about it and that led to the collaboration. First of all, the music is extremely poignant and relevant to the students’ lives at this time. But, I also think certainly the idea of any collaboration across campus is a positive one. Collaboration in the arts benefits everyone. My students get to see how a dancer expresses his or herself and a dancer sees how a vocalist expresses his or herself. We learn from each other, and it’s a win-win situation.”
The performance is tailored to the community, both on campus and in the surrounding area. It will incorporate the projection of relevant statistics and readings of direct quotes that were tweeted as part of To Write Love on Her Arms’ “And So I Kept Living” campaign, which inspired the text of Please Stay. Some of those direct quotes will be translated into a physical manifestation during the performance. To Write Love on Her Arms is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.
“Certainly self-expression is very important for these student performers,” said Colwitz. “Sometimes music, dance and art give you a voice for something you couldn’t articulate. In a lot of ways, that can help them work through their personal issues, whatever that may be. It gives them an outlet, and it gives audiences exposure to these issues that our college students and the community at large both face.”
The collaborative performance is divided into four sections. It will include a dance solo by Charlie Edwards that physically depicts what it is like to spiral out of control, under the directorial guidance of Keli Crawford-Truckey. The piece will conclude with a full ensemble performance of True Colors by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly.
“True Colors is about acceptance, and that is the idea in our piece of a resolution,” said Colwitz.
Grundstrom added, “It is meant to be uplifting, and to say ‘It is okay to be who you are. There might be days that are really hard. But, there are people here who will do their best to support you.’”
NMU Dance Concert performances are Thursday, Feb. 22-Saturday, Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m. with a 1 p.m. matinee performance Saturday at Forest Roberts Theatre. Tickets are $5 for NMU students, $10 for students and $15 for the public. The collaborative piece will also be performed Sunday, Feb. 25, at 1 p.m. as part of the University Choir and Arts Chorale Alumni Concert.