March 5, 2020 — Transformative. That’s how Katie Zhang ’21 described the experience of performing with NMH’s Senior Dance Company (SDC) at the National High School Dance Festival in Pittsburgh in February.
In front of an audience of 1,300, the SDC performed Dies Irae, a piece choreographed by NMH dance teacher Taylor King that debuted at the NMH fall dance concert.
“It was an incredible honor to be chosen for a performance like this,” Gretel Schatz, NMH dance program director, said. King added, “The audience was full, and for some of these dancers, this was the largest audience they have ever performed for.”
The Senior Dance Company is NMH’s most advanced dance ensemble. Members train six days a week, developing and performing three major school dance concerts each year.
Hundreds of schools applied to perform at the five-day festival, and a panel of experts chose which schools would perform. In addition to showcase performances and informal concerts, the festival offered master classes, auditions for college dance programs and summer intensives, and workshops on college admissions and careers in the arts.
Schatz said, “Not only did our dancers get to watch and perform alongside some of the top performing arts schools, the festival can open doors for them — they met professional dancers, met with representatives from colleges, and saw shows by major choreographers.”
King said her choreography for the performance grew out of an idea to focus on the theme of fear. She created the piece in collaboration with NMH dancers.
“I asked the cast to journal about fears that give them a physical response, and I used these to create movement. I also had the dancers improvise, then turned their improvisation into choreography,” she said.
“‘Dies Irae’ means ‘day of wrath.’ Many dances are light and pretty, but I wanted to challenge the dancers to do really athletic movements that were dark and ‘ugly.’”
Katie Zhang ’21 said performing at the festival was a big part of her experience growing as a dancer at NMH.
“I started as a dancer who had never taken a formal ballet class and I became a dancer able to perform in front of a large audience at the national festival,” she said. “NMH dance company has supported my personal growth.”
Ella Bathory-Peeler ’20, a tap dancer, said the trip left her “overwhelmingly happy and energetically revived.” The festival’s daily rhythm tap dance classes allowed her to connect with “like-minded young artists who share my love for rhythm and music.”
“I barely stopped smiling all week,” she said.
Annika Voorheis ’20 said most of the other dancers at the festival came from performing arts schools.
“Proving ourselves as a competitive dance company among those schools felt amazing and made me proud of NMH and all the hard work we do,” she said.
King said she is proud of the dancers and their dedication to the work. “I could not have brought it to life without them,” she said. “I will be forever grateful to be in a space where I can have students who are so committed and be a part of a department that allows me to freely create.”