Students to perform at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park while surrounded by sculpture inspiring the presentation

A dancer is on their knees, bending back with arms reaching out. Other dancers are in the background.
Laina Stanton, foreground, and fellow dance students rehearse their dance routine for the upcoming performance of “Utopia: A Music and Dance Ambient Experience” at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park February 25. The Dance Company will be performing with the New Music Ensemble.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Grand Valley students this month will present special musical and dance performances at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park that are inspired by a sculpture that greets visitors in the Garden Pavilion in the Welcome Center. 

"Utopia: A Music and Dance Ambient Experience" is slated for Feb. 25. The GVSU New Music Ensemble and students who are part of the GVSU Dance Company will perform pieces specially composed and choreographed by faculty members to complement the sculpture, "Utopia" by artist Jaume Plensa . The human face is the subject of the sculpture, which fills each wall of the space.

There will be two performances times, 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., to allow Meijer Gardens visitors that day to enjoy the experience. 

A space with benches and a sculpture on faces on the wall.
The Garden Pavilion at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and features the sculpture "Utopia" by Jaume Plensa.
Image credit - Courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

GVSU faculty member Bill Ryan, director of the New Music Ensemble , composed the 82-minute musical part of the performance. Hannah Seidel, who works with the GVSU Dance Company, a class that offers students performing opportunities, choreographed a contemporary modern dance for 12 performers.

Ryan said his composition focused on what he said that space is all about: the sculpture.

" My intentions were simply for the music to be an outgrowth of this sculpture and the space," Ryan said, "and invite people to reflect on the space, and maybe the music and dance themselves."

A person playing the flute closes their eyes. A microphone is above.
Image credit - Photos by Amanda Pitts
Two people play instruments. Both are blowing into their instruments. One person wears a hat. A cello is in the foreground.
Members of the New Music Ensemble rehearse for their performances at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

Seidel said the emphasis for the dancers is to "play to the moment."

"The dancers aren't trying to find particular cues within the music," Seidel said. "They're playing off the qualities within what they hear, and they have a structure within which they are able to do that in the choreography."

Both Ryan and Seidel said an off-campus performance such as this helps the students grow artistically. The audience will be different. The space is new. The dancers will not have a backstage. The musicians will adjust to the acoustics.

Dancers kneeling on the floor embrace the lower legs of other dancers.
Image credit - Photos by Kendra Stanley-Mills
Dancers hold their arms in different poses.
Members of the Dance Company rehearse.

This opportunity arose through efforts by Henry Luttikhuizen, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Scholar in Residence , who works to emphasize the importance of arts and humanities in lifelong learning and to maximize GVSU's ties to community institutions and organizations working in those disciplines.

Luttikhuizen said he helped connect CLAS Dean Jennifer Drake with leaders at Meijer Gardens to explore creating an event such as this that was mutually beneficial to both institutions. The Feb. 25 event stems from proposals that emanated from those discussions.

John VanderHaagen, director of communications for Meijer Gardens, said: "We are thrilled to collaborate with Grand Valley State University in hosting this inaugural, experimental fusion of music and dance. This partnership reflects our commitment to celebrating diverse artistic expressions and enriching our community's cultural experience."

A closeup of a person playing a cello. The person's hand is seen drawing a bow across the strings.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts


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