ST PETER — At first, Gustavus Adolphus College dance instructor Melissa Rolnick was skeptical of Hollie Edlund’s choreography inspiration.
Charged with creating a dance number for the department’s 25th anniversary celebration performance — which debuts tonight — Edlund chose to base her work on the style created by legendary director and dancer Bob Fosse. Using such a giant presence as inspiration, Rolnick said she feared the senior dance major’s choreography would become too derivative.
That is, until she saw it.
While recalling the seductive, cabaret vocabulary that Fosse used to enrich has jazz-based style, Edlund expanded with playful interludes and complex spatial patterns. The result is a work that Rolnick praised as in keeping with the department’s mission of educating dancers who aren’t afraid to establish their own dance vocabulary.
“I’m more interested in what compels and motivates a student to move,” Rolnick said. “Hollie took her idea and ran with it.”
Edlund is one of two student choreographers participating in the 25th anniversary dance concert, which also includes pieces choreographed by faculty members Rolnick, Sarah Hauss, and Jennifer Glaws as well as alumni Philip Flickinger and guest artist Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner. The other student choreographer is junior Mallory Waytashek.
The concert comprises a variety of styles and topics.
Rolnick’s piece, “Called to Place, is a rumination on the fragility of life that was prompted by the impact of humans on ocean life in the Pacific Northwest where she once lived. Over a soundtrack of water sounds and whale speech, Rolnick showcases a relatively new form of dance called Gaga that emphasizes fluidity.
As for Edlund, she created the piece by first studying Fosse’s technique and then asking her cast of dancers to offer some of their own ideas. Though Edlund said there’s no underlying theme to her dance — rather, movement for movement’s sake — she said it represents a turning point in her young career.
“I think in this piece I’ve found my choreography niche,” said Edlund, who has choreographed about a half-dozen dances during her time at Gustavus and intends to be a dance instructor after she graduates. “This felt like me. I enjoyed crafting this dance more than any other.”
And that’s a fitting way to celebrate 25 years of Gustavus dance.
What began as little more than casual conversation between interested students and longtime Gustavus dance instructor Michele Rusinko in 1988 is now a full-fledged program. And along the way, students have played a leading role.
To further celebrate Rusinko’s contributions, a group of 30 or so alumni from all eras of the department’s history has choreographed a dance to honor her dedication.
Rolnick said the performance will showcase the very best of the Gustavus Dance Company.
“In many ways, that’s the legacy — teachers teach the students, and then the students become the teachers,” Rolnick said. “We try and cultivate that as an artistic environment.”