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Tuesday, June 06, 2023 — Houston, TX

Rice Dance Theater reflects on pandemic, past performances


Katherine Hui / Thresher

By Hugo Gerbich-Pais     4/11/23 11:12pm

Returning from a pandemic that saw drops in membership, Rice Dance Theater has doubled down on its mission to bring dance to Rice campus just in time for their 50th year in operation. Their spring 2023 show, “Origins: Celebrating 50 years of Dance at Rice,” ran April 6 to 8. 

Like many groups on campus, the pandemic forced the group to modify its offerings. Dance classes went virtual and performances were held on screens rather than stages. Katie Kirkpatrick, co-president of RDT, said she pursued a leadership role to enhance the club after the pandemic halved membership. 

“It just wasn’t feeling fun,” Kirkpatrick, a Sid Richardson College senior, said. “I wanted to take on a bigger role to be able to create a more inclusive environment and improve the social atmosphere [and] create a more of a community within the company.”

Leigh Gabriely, RDT’s social coordinator, said she has watched RDT evolve through the pandemic, providing a unique opportunity to reinvent the club.

“It was a really different culture than we’re seeing today,” Gabriely, a Hanszen College senior, said. “The pandemic gave us a blank slate … the culture that existed before was deconstructed to a certain extent.” 

The impact of the pandemic is explored within the show itself. RDT commissioned Marlana Doyle, a Houston choreographer and the director of the Institute of Contemporary Dance, as a guest choreographer. Her contemporary jazz piece, titled “sigh,” opens with a solitary dancer on the stage.

“It’s about not being alone and feeling supported,” Doyle said. “The main figure in the beginning of the dance starts by herself, but then the community of dancers comes on to join her. That sense of surrounding and support is what she finds throughout the dance.”

Accompanying the performances are exhibits featuring artifacts spanning the club’s history, and Kirkpatrick said they are the product of a serendipitous find.

“We were clearing out the closet, because it was getting really full and other dance groups needed the space, and we found these three big bins,” Kirkpatrick said. “None of us had looked at these things, we didn’t know they existed”

The memorabilia, from VHS tapes to old programs and posters, highlighted the club’s history and growth but also the broader growth of the arts at Rice, according to Kirkpatrick. They learned RDT used to be led by a full-time Rice employee, who was hired specifically to create a dance program, though this ended by 2016. 

“We just need to keep pushing the arts,” Gabriely said. “It can be so inspiring to students, and we need more of it on this campus.”

Inspired by their remarkable recovery and growth since the pandemic, Kirkpatrick said RDT hopes to continue this momentum and celebrate the arts at Rice.

“I want students to be happy knowing how long dance has been making people happy at Rice, and that it’s continuing to make students happy,” Kirkpatrick said. “And hopefully, it will continue on for another 50 years.”

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