By Tanner Kent
---- — Studying abroad in Tuscany, dancing tarantella and butoh under the tutelage of professional performers at the Academia Dell'Arte.
Traveling from Coon Rapids to Los Angeles during high school summers, the dream of becoming a dancer already fully crystallized by the age of 16.
Personal growth, self-reflection, feminine strength and sacrifice.
All these can be found within Kelsey Hanstad's "Libero: La Villa di Belle Donne," one of nine works to be featured during Gustavus Adolphus College's upcoming choreographer's gallery.
"I tried to give my dancers a bit of what I experienced," said the senior dance major, referring specifically to her spring studies in Italy that inspired much of the physical movement in her dance. "For this, I wanted a group of really strong, beautiful women that could take deeper looks into themselves than they are used to."
The rest of Gustavus' lineup for the biennial choreographer's gallery, "Pure Movemwent Plus," is similarly rigorous.
The opening dance, "Relations" by senior Emileah Zumberge, evokes the formation of social bonds with its initially random and untethered movements evolving into a fluid synergy. "Risk" by junior Maggie Arndt suggests societal pressures on the individual with its clutching, grabbing and sense of confinement.
Senior Rebecca Stewart introduces a visual element in "where the light gets in" with the placement of several candles on stage as five women in muslin dresses kindle personal flames in a melodic and dreamy representation of human suffering and compassion.
In senior Johnny Bates emotionally poignant "Holding On," a pair of dancers are seemingly cast in the roles of the dying and the grieving. While the former struggles with movements shaky and unbalanced, the latter is attentive and devoted, closing the sequence with a powerful embrace.
"Pure Movement Plus" closes with the debut of visiting dance instructor Jill Patterson's "Then. Here. Begin." which is a physically demanding performance crafted for the dance program's seven senior students.
As for Hanstad, her piece closes with six dancers arranged in a still shape that represents a collaborative effort to empower women. Hanstad said she asked her dancers to be in character throughout the performance, drawing on their own experiences of self-doubt.
"It's very introspective," Hanstad said. "It's been very mentally draining for the dancers."
Gustavus dance instructor Melissa Rolnick said students applied to participate in the choreographer's gallery last spring. When school resumed this fall, selected students had little more than eight weeks to cast dancers, sharpen the choreography and rehearse.
Despite the strict timeline, Rolnick said she was impressed by both the form and content of her students' work.
"All of these (dances) show craft, and an understanding of structure and development," Rolnick said. "But for any choreographer, anytime you make a dance, it's like bearing your soul. It's a very vulnerable process and that's part of the beauty of it."
If You Go What "Pure Movement Plus" Performances 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday. Also, 2 p.m. on Sunday. All performances at Gustavus' Anderson Theatre. Tickets Available online online at www.gustavustickets.com or by calling 507-933-7590.