FORT WAYNE — More than 20 local choreographers will showcase original dance performances at the Choreographer’s Lab Performances presented by the Fort Wayne Dance Collective March 14-15. The show features pieces created and performed by both professional and emerging local dancers.

The performances are the product of a series of lab sessions designed to provide creative and technical support to choreographers. The Dance Collective has offered the program on and off throughout its 41-year history, said Artistic Director Mandie Kolkman. She and Artistic Manager Ashley Benninghoff lead the cohort of participating artists through the creation process.

Each year, the Choreographer’s Lab explores a different theme. This year, “the choreographers were challenged to either be thinking about technology or emotion to inspire their piece,” Kolkman said.

They were also encouraged to collaborate with another local artist, add a musician, visual artist, spoken work and other mediums to their work. Zoe Moore, a Homestead High School graduate, will incorporate film into her performance, according to a press release from the Dance Collective.

“Generally, I make my art through film and writing, but FWDC’s encouragement for creators of all backgrounds motivates me as I work in a different medium,” she said.

Cram sessions

Weekly lab sessions focus on different topics to give choreographers a strong foundation on which to build their vision. Kolkman said they cover a range of topics including the fundamentals of dance, the creative process, storytelling, visual details and administrative considerations.

“You have to think about costumes, you have to think about hair, you have to think about makeup,” she said.

“We sometimes say that for every one minute of choreography, it takes an hour to create or teach.”

The cohort will also learn about lighting from lighting designer, Luke Holliger, technical director at Arts United. If a choreographer has never worked with a lighting designer, they might not know how to express what they want, Kolkman said.

“As dancers, we might say ‘something happy,’ but that doesn’t really mean anything,” she said.

The crash course will give choreographers the vocabulary to describe the lighting they want for their pieces to the show’s lighting designer Diane Gaby.

The program also provides choreographers with a rehearsal space and the opportunity to work with dancers, share their work and receive feedback. Each piece includes between one and 13 dancers.

Artistic expression

The creative process is an opportunity for choreographers to reflect on their own experiences and explore areas of interest.

Annalise Highley, who recently moved to Fort Wayne from Ann Arbor, Michigan, will perform her piece with Madeline Miller.

“My piece is called ‘Tulipa,’ which is the Latin name for tulip,” Highley said.

Through the unique and ephemeral nature of a tulip, she wants to challenge the idea that there is only one definition of beauty and to explore how beauty evolves over time.

“Tulips were historically very valuable because they were so unique and so transitory. They only came once a season and then they were gone,” she said.

Emily Koch, 17, will share her experience with bullying in her solo performance titled “The Forgotten Warrior.”

“When I was younger, I was probably 7, we lived in California. This one child, we were playing on the playground, and he told me that I couldn’t go on the slide because I was black,” she recalled.

Koch said the experience scarred her, but her piece is an opportunity to express how she has dealt with the emotional trauma.

“It’s about how people try to tear you down and disregard you as a human being. It’s about how I rise from the ashes of them bullying me,” she said.

Rachel Stratton, a junior at Carroll High School, will reflect on her struggles with anxiety and depression in her piece.

“My piece is meant to be representative of my mental health journey over the last few years. I in general have had struggles with anxiety and depression, but I’m a very high functioning person. I do well in school, and I work really, really hard. And having those things weighing me down has made enjoying things like dance and enjoying learning and figuring out who I am really, really difficult,” she said.

“A lot of people go through things like that where they fight that battle every day to just get out of bed. I wanted to put that into my art and my dancers have done a really good job of taking that message and making it personal to them and making my vision come to life.”

Audiences have three opportunities to see the Choreographer’s Lab Performances with shows at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 15. Performances will take place at the Elliot Studio Theatre at the Arts Campus Fort Wayne, 437 E. Berry St. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling 260-424-6574 or by visiting

Choreographers scheduled to present new works over the course of the weekend include: Brandi Armstrong, Ashley Benninghoff, Yaro Carpenter, Aquilla Carpenter, Sadie Fenstermacher, Annalise Highley, Emily Koch, Madeline Koch, Mandie Kolkman, Gabbi Mack, Fiona McKinney, Madeline Miller, Zoe Moore, Faith Patterson, Torion Pickett, Micah Shannon, Sophia Shaw, Cheyenne Stoppenhagen, Rachel Stratton and Shaylah Weaver. Project Ballet, a local dance organization, will also be performing a piece.

The program is made possible with funding from Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne, Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, City of Fort Wayne, Cable Fund Access Board, Edward M. and Mary McCrea Wilson Foundation, English Bonter Mitchell Foundation, Foellinger Foundation, Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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