After weeks of hard work and preparation, Fresno State’s contemporary dance ensemble (CDE)—a group of 11 students who perform as a part of the theatre department’s Dance 163 course—will premiere their newest program, “Syntheses,” tonight at the John Wright Theatre.
For Jessica Arnold, a Fresno State dance student who will graduate this semester, the performance will be her last at the university.
“I have learned so much, and I will miss the people I work with, but I’m ready to move on to the next stage in my dance career,” she said.
While most dancers begin their craft as children, Arnold developed her passion for dance at the age of 16 when she joined a dance reparatory program at her high school for fun.
After graduating from high school, Arnold applied to Fresno State, but was unsure of what to major in. Eventually, she chose dance.
During that time, Arnold acknowledged that she could always change her major if dance did not work out. After taking her first technique classes in modern dance and ballet, Arnold said she never considered switching her major again.
Modern dance, she said, allowed her a freedom of movement and expression that was undeniable. Through that freedom, Arnold was able to find her own style.
“I consider myself more of a grounded dancer,” she said. “I enjoy working on the floor and using the floor. I think because I’m not a very light dancer—I’m more of a heavy dancer—it just came more naturally for me to spend time on the floor.”
Once her relationship with the floor started, Arnold said it continued to grow and helped her find fluidity in her movements.
“I find it really interesting knowing how to use it with your body, because the floor becomes part of you in a sense,” she said. “You can push off of it and make interesting shapes or you can propel yourself off the floor using your feet or hands. It’s really interesting the relationship you can build with the floor.”
Due to her late start and an absence of professional training, Arnold said she had to push harder and work more to catch up with other Fresno State dancers who began their training at a young age.
In addition to mandatory practice sessions and rehearsals, Arnold said she also trains outside of class at least a few hours a week. Without outside training, she said, improvement is unlikely.
“There would be weeks I wouldn’t go into the studio just because I was busy, but then there would be weeks where I would go in twice a week for a few hours,” she said. “I ended up injuring myself that way because I was going too much.”
Arnold said hard work and dedication made it easier for her to keep up with some of the best dancers in the department.
“I know that I’ve learned a lot, and I can tell,” she said. “I love the fact I can notice in my own movement the changes that have happened. I can notice when I’ve stopped having to think about doing something and my body just does it. I love that part.”
Arnold, a Smittcamp Family Honors student, also balances extra practice with homework and full time work at the costume workshop on campus.
Kelly Curry, Fresno State’s costume technician, said Arnold works on everything from sewing, altering and dyeing costumes to building entire outfits from scratch and training new students who want to work in the costume workshop.
“She’s a very hard worker, and she’s very dedicated to everything she does,” Curry said. “When she’s here, she is always really invested in the things we do and is learning new skills all the time.”
Curry, who has worked with the dancer since she was a freshman, said time has made all the difference in Arnold’s abilities.
“It’s really amazing to see the transformation from her being a first semester freshman and not really getting the whole ‘college thing’ to how much she takes ownership of everything now and is able to trust her instincts, move forward on projects and have a lot of confidence in herself,” Curry said.
Curry joked that she enjoys working with Arnold so much that she is “actively looking for ways to prevent her from graduating.”
For Arnold, self expression and being able to influence others is the most gratifying aspect of dance.
“When I go and see someone perform, it inspires me to make a difference,” she said. “Dance is like any other art. You can use it to make statements or to help people understand their own emotions.”
Syntheses, she said, does just that.
The show, which was choreographed by four different composers—Seda Arbay, Kenneth Balint, Katherine Dorn and Rogelio Lopez—will present six different repertory dance works about tales of injustice, identity, personal relationships, absurdity, competition and beauty through athleticism, wit and psychological insight.
Kenneth Balint, the show’s artistic director, said all of the dancers in the ensemble have been practicing admirably.
“Each dancer has had to persevere through a full schedule of academics, outside work responsibilities and personal issues like the flu, dance and non-dance related injuries and family and friend issues,” he said. “Each dancer has made many sacrifices in order for this concert to come together. At this point, right before opening night, the group is mentally and physically tired, banged up and bruised, all while putting the final touches together. Luckily most of that disappears when the curtain goes up and the music goes on.”
Balint said working with the dancers is an experience he enjoys throughout semester.
“Working with these young talented artists is truly a robust and provocative experience,” he said. “The best part of working with them is that they are all so very different and that we somehow find common ground as a group to produce credible art.”
Arnold said she would encourage her fellow students to come enjoy the show and take a break from their busy lives for a night.
“It’s good to see what other students are capable of on your campus,” she said. “These are students who are doing their homework, working and still putting an exorbitant amount of time into this production. When we have a full audience, we are so encouraged and inspired by what we do, because then we know that people are actually enjoying what we’re doing and partaking in our own effort.”
Ticket information and show times are available at www.fresnostate.edu/theatrearts.