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The hellos and goodbyes of Mayfield’s Choreographers’ Ball

Last night, Mayfield’s Choreographers’ Ball opened to an enthusiastic audience. This annual performance highlights the talents of the Dance and Technical Theatre Conservatories, with student choreography and student lighting design. This year featured choreography by Dance Conservatory’s nine upperclasswomen. And the pithy title “hello. goodbye.” brings to mind all of the in-between spaces associated at the beginning and end of things. And these choreographers have a lot to reflect on during their high school years: from the retirement of their longtime dance teacher (Denise Leitner) to the hiring of their energetic new teacher (Sarah Alaways), from the COVID lockdowns to the anxious/exciting deliberations of imagining their lives beyond the Bellefontaine campus—and much, much more. We had a chance to sit down for a round-table discussion with several of the choreographers and their Dance Teacher, Ms. Alaways, as they opened up about parts of their creation, the bitter and the sweet…
The title of the piece “hello. goodbye.” is very evocative. What is it referencing? How did you arrive on that name?

Jordan Kona ’23: At least for the seniors, I think that “hello. goodbye.’ means a lot of saying goodbye to each other, saying goodbye to the program, saying goodbye to dance for a lot of us. At the same time, saying hello to new people that are incoming, that are gonna continue this program when we leave. And saying hello to a new teacher who has given us a lot of knowledge and wisdom and help.

Ms: Alaways: I have heard a lot of people saying that obviously dance wasn't the same during COVID. Some people kind of took a break from dance during COVID. And this kind of feels like a “normal year.” No masks while we're performing. It’s a bit of a theme—dance is coming back now. Taking a break and coming back. 

What are some of the specific “hellos” and/or “goodbyes” that some of you associate with this piece?

Jordan: Goodbye to face masks! Hello to facial expressions! (Everyone laughs)

Lina Wallgren ’24: I guess being a junior, it's “hello” to being an upperclassman. Saying goodbye to being the lowerclassman, as juniors got the chance to choreograph this semester.

Sophia Barriga '23: I stopped doing “cheer” so that was an end for me. But once I started doing conservatory, it was kind of a “hello!” Because I was still able to do hip hop and the genres I wasn't really that comfortable with before. I've learned new techniques, so it was a nice hello.

Kendall Cuenca ’23: Goodbye to the “cyc!”

Ms. Alaways: (Explaining) I made an executive decision to not use the cyclorama (“cyc”) for this performance. It's a backdrop, usually white and translucent, that is used for lighting a lot in dance (which can allow crossovers behind it). The idea was using a black box and not depending on the cyc as a tool. So in creating their choreography and also in the rehearsal process, they took on a new challenge because they've never worked without having a crossover before.

That’s a great segue actually because it calls up other challenges you might have found in creating this piece. Can you mention any specific moments of growth? Or happy surprises?

Mayali Sanchez '23: At the beginning of this year, Ms. Alaways said, “You guys can choreograph a duet if you want. Or you don't have to be in the piece you choreograph.” Usually with Ms. Leitner, we did group dances or you were in the dance you choreographed. I thought “this is something new” that I never really thought I would do. Then, I ended up choreographing a duet, and I am in it, but that was challenging because it was my first time. But I'm really glad that I did it.

Kendall: I choreographed a duet too but I wasn't in my duet. I think what was challenging for me in that process was the vision for my piece, about a connection that was lost between two people. And there’s a lot of movement throughout the piece, but they're not doing the same movement. So when I choreographed it, I choreographed both people separately and I think it was hard for me to envision how they would look together until I could work with my dancers. 

Mayali: I feel like another challenge was just having a new teacher as a senior. At first that was a challenge for me, so I was really closed off at the beginning. And my mom told me, “Just give your new teacher a chance. You don't know. Maybe you'll love her.” It was challenging to be open-minded to creating a bond with a new teacher. But I think a challenge that was worth it because Ms. Alaways is awesome. We love her!

Ms. Alaways: It was really scary coming in and thinking “half the class is seniors” and I expected so much resistance. Our first meeting that we had, before Conservatory started, was just seniors, I think. I wanted to have a meeting where we just sat down and got to know each other before because I know it’s probably really hard to transition to a new teacher as a senior. But they were so open-hearted and brought me into the studio with open arms. I felt like I was coming into their world. I wanted to really support the environment that they already had while also bringing myself into it. And they were very open to that. The seniors and the juniors were so welcoming, it just made my transition so much easier. 

Now that you’ve had dance experiences with both Ms. Leitner and Ms. Alaways, can you identify ways their instructions might have shaped how you approach your work? And do you think some of your work might have changed/grown during this time of transition?

Rachel Towner ’23: I definitely picked up different perspectives, especially styles of dances from each teacher. I know Ms. Leitner, her main focus was really jazz, and getting different perspectives on different types of dances was really helpful for the show because I feel Ms. Alaways had a lot of different input for ideas for our dances. And she helped a lot with formations and ways to make dances dynamic. I thought that was a really unique perspective to the show because I personally have never thought about making my dances more dynamic until she kind of brought that idea to surface.

Kendall: Ms. Leitner, she gave us a lot of freedom and independence when we were working on our pieces. With Ms. Alaways, we had a workshop to learn how to choreograph and she looked at our pieces and was always available to help us whenever we were stuck in our choreographic process. So that was really nice as well.

Mayali: Saying goodbye to Ms. Leitner was really, really hard for me. Because I grew close to her. I think we all did. But, Ms. Alaways was also a breath of fresh air. They both have a lot of passion for what they do, in different ways. You can see it when they talk about dance, when they are helping us, you can just see that they really both care about their students a lot and help us grow a lot.

What do you hope audience members will be thinking about after they see this piece?

Jordan: I have made so many friends throughout dance, and I think that our bonds and the chemistry we have together really reflects itself on stage when we perform. If I had to choose one thing for the audience to really remember and reflect on, it would be seeing that connection.

Mayali: I get nervous before I go on stage, I have to tell myself: “This is my passion. This is what I love to do.” I think I want the audience to walk away thinking, “They love to do this and they put so much hard work into this and they made this show together.” We're students, we're not professional choreographers, but we put on a whole show. And the lighting students too! So it's all student-based, hard work from people that are passionate.

Kendall: A lot of our pieces have sort of a story behind them or an initial vision that they're recreating. We hope that the audience can sort of relate or put themselves in that. They can resonate with the pieces and their messages and stories as well. I hope that everyone can find a piece that they resonate with, and can connect to their life in some way, no matter what piece it is. 

Ms. Alaways: It really is the students’ show! But I feel really very proud that this is the first show that's going out with me as the Director. I could not be more thankful for the group of seniors that I got to work with.

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A few days after this round table, the dancers had a unique chance to connect with their former teacher Ms. Leitner briefly before this performance. After her retirement, Ms. Leitner continued her work as an accomplished photographer, and Ms. Alaways invited her into Pike to photograph their dress rehearsal for this show. There were plenty of smiles, some tears, and a lot of “hellos” and “goodbyes,” long before the audiences arrived.

Please purchase your tickets now and introduce yourself to Ms. Alaways! Performances are in Pike Auditorium on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 at 7pm and Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be found at mayfieldseniortickets.bpt.me. Email boxoffice@mayfieldsenior.org with any questions.
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.