Orchesis Dance Theatre proudly presented its Fall 2019 Concert, Friday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m., in Eliza Battle Pittman Auditorium. The concert featured choreography by Saint Mary’s dance faculty, Lisa Yount and Michelle Pearson, with guest artist choreography by Valonda Calloway and Natalie Morton.
“Orchesis dancers have worked tirelessly since August for this concert, and we are thrilled to present this concert featuring our company of amazing and talented dancers and choreographers,” says Orchesis President Frances Williams ’20. “It is my fourth and final year with Orchesis, and I could not be more grateful for everything this company has given to me. I have made the best of friends and had the most rewarding experiences dancing alongside so many talented artists.”
Founded more than 80 years ago, Orchesis Dance Theatre has a long and rich history at Saint Mary’s. According to The Heritage by Martha Sprouse Stoops, Saint Mary’s was, in fact, one of the first educational institutions in the state to teach modern dance.
“In the 1930s, all students took creative dancing once a week for physical education,” wrote Mrs. Stoops. “Jane Goss went to Saint Mary’s in 1938 to teach dance and was director of the physical education department, 1943-1951. She was educated at Cortland State Normal and the University of Wisconsin. At Saint Mary’s, she immediately organized Orchesis, a dance club composed of her advanced students. Each year, those students, under her direction, took the lead in planning, writing, costuming, and choreographing the May Day pageant. Enthusiastic and friendly, Jane Goss was a campus favorite. She married longtime Saint Mary’s faculty member William Guess in 1941.” A stained-glass window in the east transept of the Chapel memorializes the couple, who were beloved by Saint Mary’s students.
In the 1960s, two other dance clubs were formed – the Caperettes tap dance club and Gillie Callum Scottish Dancers. Orchesis remained the honorary modern dance club made up of the best dancers and choreographers. Doris Bailey arranged master classes for Orchesis with well-known dance teachers, and her students were invited to take part in fine arts festivals on college campuses.
Today, Orchesis Dance Theatre is Saint Mary’s student dance company. Students who are serious about performing participate in the company by the invitation of the dance faculty. All Orchesis company members must enroll each semester in dance technique classes. Students enrolled in technique classes at another training facility will be considered for Orchesis upon review by dance faculty.
There are two formal Orchesis concerts each year. Students perform dances choreographed by Saint Mary's dance faculty, guest artists and can invest time exploring their own choreography. Working in group ensembles, as well as in more personalized contexts for solos, duets and trios, students perform varied works of choreography in modern, contemporary and classical ballet, jazz, and hip hop.
Students performing in Orchesis have primarily been trained in classical ballet, modern, and/or jazz. In rehearsal and performance settings, a student’s previously learned skills are respected. The rehearsal process provides new information to further their knowledge, breadth, and scope of dance.
“We are such a strong company this year, and I am so proud of what this group has accomplished,” says Williams. “We hope you enjoyed the performance as much as we do.”
Mary Virginia Swain '77C
Director of Public Relations and Publications