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Raw Edges: Another creative leap into art of dance

Monday, April 20, 2015

Elaina Sutula

The Mercyhurst University Dance Department is gearing up for its 17th annual presentation of Raw Edges, a concert of innovative student-choreographed works set for May 1-3 in the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center.

This year’s concert will also feature the Mercyhurst Dancers in the first movement of The Waldstein Sonata, an unfinished work by modern dance legend José Limón that was completed by Daniel Lewis of the José Limón Dance Foundation. Rounding out the program will be two pieces performed by three Mercyhurst dance alumni.

Assistant professor Solveig Santillano, who’s co-directing the production with Mark Santillano, says the dance department looks forward to Raw Edges every year. “It’s exciting to see our students engage in the creative process,” she said. “They put their hearts and souls into the choreography and they grow so much as artists. I just love seeing what they come up with.”

Five student-choreographers have created works for this year’s production. Each was responsible for developing a theme; running auditions and casting; selecting a sound score; creating, designing, teaching and rehearsing the movements; obtaining costumes; and collaborating with the lighting designer.

Maggie Sullivan’s piece deals with the loss of innocence in the 1960s and is set to music by Simon and Garfunkel, while Katarina Fitzpatrick explores mirror and distorted self-images and Savanna Alfanos weaves the 12 signs of the zodiac into her work. Sophia Schroeder Andreyev explores the elements of time, space and energy in “Vagabond” and Esmae Gold uses the 1784 painting Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David as the foundation of her design and content. 

In addition to the student choreography, the Mercyhurst Dancers will present The Waldstein Sonata, set to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 21 in C Major, Op. 53. Dr. Nathan Hess, chair of the D’Angelo Department of Music and assistant professor of piano, will accompany the ballet, bringing Beethoven’s virtuosic piano score to life.

José Limón began creating the piece in 1971, but it was unfinished at the time of his death. Limón’s protégé, Daniel Lewis, reconstructed the work, completed it in 1975 and premiered it at the Juilliard School of Dance, where he was on faculty before founding his own program at New World School of Dance in Florida.

Solveig Santillano was a student of Lewis at Juilliard. When the two met at a dance conference a few years ago, they began plans to set The Waldstein Sonata on the Mercyhurst Dancers.

Santillano said it was a thrill to have two internationally renowned artists who were so influential during her education visit campus to work with Mercyhurst’s talented young artists.

Nancy Jordan, long-time assistant to Lewis and former ballet mistress at Juilliard School of Dance, reconstructed the ballet for students during January Term. Lewis will spend the last week of April in residence at Mercyhurst to teach master classes and stage the ballet. He’ll also offer a pair of public lectures. He’ll speak on “Dance and Technology” on Wednesday, April 29, at 5:30 p.m. in Zurn Hall 114, and on “The Life and Work of José Limón” on Thursday, April 30, at 5:30 p.m. in Zurn Hall 214. Both talks are free and open to the public.

Funding for The Waldstein Sonata and the Lewis lectures is provided in part by Erie Arts and Culture, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Mercyhurst Lecture Series and a Mercyhurst University Academic Enrichment grant.

Raw Edges will also include two dances by Mercyhurst graduates Rachael Gnatowski, Andrea Lankester and Emily McAveney. The three are currently apprentices with BalletFleming in Philadelphia.

Raw Edges will be performed Friday, May 1, at 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 2, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, May 3, at 2 p.m. Following the Friday and Saturday evening performances, “Talk Back” will allow audience members to meet, talk with and ask questions of the dancers and choreographers.

Tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for seniors and students; $5 for children (12 and younger) and Mercyhurst students (with ID). Call the box office at 814-824-3000 or visit