Union dance concerts forge connections between the college and surrounding community

Four people, three seated holding arms up

Union College Academy of Lifelong Learning performers join Union College dance students Thursday as they perform 'Visibillis,' part of their Winter Dance Concert to be performed Saturday in the Yulman Theater on campus.

Article Audio:

Dancers ranging from ages 18 to 86 will take the stage at Union College’s Yulman Theater Saturday in a performance that celebrates a new collaboration between the college and the surrounding community.

Called “At the Intersection,” the winter dance concert brings Union students together with adult students in the Union College Academy of Lifelong Learning (UCALL) program. The show, which opened on Wednesday and runs through Saturday, features 10 original pieces choreographed by college students and faculty. 

“This has just been a remarkable experience,” said Joan Mikalson, a Stockade resident and UCALL student.

She’d never taken a dance class prior to starting the program earlier this year and has received a crash course in modern dance. She’s been taking weekly dance classes at the college with Maxine Lautenberg and attended weekly classes and rehearsals working alongside Union students to learn the choreography for the concert.

“I’ve never done anything like this and I’ve never done a dance performance. I’ve never learned choreography ever,” Mikalson noted earlier this week. Beyond the rehearsals, she’s also practiced on her own and taken six pages of notes on the choreography.

“They tell you, as you get older, [to] memorize [and] do crossword puzzles. There’s nothing like this. This is so real. It’s really rewiring your brain,” Mikalson said.

It’s also been a great opportunity to meet students, both older and younger, whom she wouldn’t have connected with otherwise.

“We support each other, we cheer each other on, give each other ideas. It’s just been extraordinary,” Mikalson said.

The collaboration is thanks to Megan Flynn, the Gustave L. Davis ’59 and Susan S. Davis Director of Dance at the college, and Laurie Zabele Cawley, the assistant director of dance.

“This was just such an exciting period of the Union College dance program history to say, Well, how else can we look at a dance concert model? And this changing of the model allowed for us a new way of thinking about incorporating community members,” Flynn said.

Seeing both the UCALL students and Union students interact and connect with each other has been rewarding for Cawley.

“I think it’s pretty incredible. I think seeing the effect on each group as on the other is life-affirming to me. This is what we want to do, to break down assumptions of who we are, and to be able to be seen, and to have these new processes and new experiences to grow together with,” Cawley said.

“I really see the enthusiasm the UCALL [students have] being around the younger students. They love their vitality and enthusiasm. And I think it’s wonderful for our students to witness lifelong learners and the fact that you continue to be curious and explore and take chances, that the possibilities are endless in life,” Cawley added.

For the concert, she and Lautenberg co-choreographed a dance called “Visibilis,” which is based on writings and reflections from the students.

“We began with the students, both Union students and UCALL students, asking [to reflect] on what makes them unique about their multiple identities and what we choose to share what we choose to keep shadow hidden in the shadows and what would it feel like if we were seen as a whole person,” Cawley said.

Students each came up with a movement and those are all incorporated into the piece, which also features music from local composer Andy Iorio.

Student choreographer Zoe Watson, who is a biomedical engineering major with a minor in both dance and electrical engineering, found the concert’s theme of intersection to be spot on.

“My choreography is about the intersection between day and night; the cyclical repetition of passing time and the way that we use it, but also about the beginnings and ends, in nature and in life. There is a fascinating interchange between day and night and where that change occurs,” Watson said.

Other student choreographers include Emily Armlin, Jordan An, Armanda Noel, Isabella Russell and Haylee Snow. Costumes are by Brittney Belz, costume design professor and interim chair of the department. The scenery is by Andrew Mannion and lighting is by Drew Bodd. Beyond Iorio, songs from two other local musicians are featured, including Connor Armbruster of Troy and Darren Nguyen, a Union student.

Flynn hopes the collaboration and the concerts, which opened on Wednesday and run through Saturday, will lead to more connections between Union College and the surrounding community.

“Just to be able to bring more people in conversation because I think that’s what art and dance does,” Flynn said, adding, “We have these beautiful facilities [and] everyone seems so excited about gathering together, especially coming out of this pandemic. I think everyone’s just so hungry to come back and to connect.”

After the performances this week, a group of Union College dance students will be working on adapting the show to present it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the summer.

“We have this amazing opportunity to bring a group of 13 students from Union dance over to Scotland to perform at the Fringe Festival, which is the largest arts festival in the world,” Flynn said. “We’re going to present an adapted version of the winter dance concert with a smaller touring ensemble.”

Performances are set for 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Saturday. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $5 for Union students and senior citizens. For more information visit At the Intersection: Winter Dance Concert on eventbrite.com.

Categories: Entertainment, News, Schenectady County

Leave a Reply