The Making of Merged VII
Throughout the past seven years, an acclaimed dance collaboration series has been built from some of Brockport's best — through trials and triumphs.
After attending the first Keybank Rochester Fringe Festival in 2012, international choreographers James Hansen and Heather Roffe '08 became inspired to create something that hadn't been done before.
Merged, a classical modern dance collaboration, was born.
The duo brought its creation to Fringe in its second year — and to the next five after that. It became a repeat CITY Newspaper Critics’ Pick. And as 2013's debut of Merged became Merged II in 2014, Merged III in 2015, and so on, dancers with ties to SUNY Brockport continued to see the spotlight on downtown stages festival after festival, year after year.
Throughout all seven of those years, Hansen, a professor of dance at the College, and Roffe, director of dance at Nazareth College who earned a Master of Fine Arts from Brockport, were at the helm.
Hansen compares repertoire concert Merged to a series of short one-act plays, as it features separate and individually choreographed dances. While the show is prepared for Fringe Festival each year, where it's performed across multiple nights, the dancers perform segments from Merged across the United States throughout the year.
Hansen: "We've had a core group of people over the years, and the vast majority have had a Brockport affiliation. There have been occasional guest artists that we've invited in. Everyone from my work and most of the people from Heather's work had ties to Brockport this year," said Hansen. He went on to note that only one performer from one dance didn't have a Brockport connection — until he remembered the performer's father is a Brockport professor. "So, everyone does have a connection to Brockport this year," Hansen said with a laugh.
Assistant Professor of Dance Stevie Oakes, Laura Murawski '18 (Bachelor of Fine Arts), Cassie Burns '15/'17 (Master of Fine Arts), and Devon Monin '12 (Bachelor of Fine Arts) are among the Merged VII performers. Monin has performed in every professional dance Hansen has produced in the last 10 years.
Hansen: "The tech rehearsals are all day long the first day of the show. We're all so overwhelmed making sure the costumes are right, communicating with the lighting designer who we just met that day, and communicating with the sound designer. It's so hectic, there's not time to be nervous. We're the most physically exhausted during the actual performance, but the adrenaline kicks in. This year, we got to Geva [Theatre Center], and they asked if we wanted to check our film or not. I said, 'Yeah, let's check it for sound levels.' The film was completely messed up. It was stopping and starting, and they couldn't figure out what was wrong. Finally, one of the managers at Geva figured out we needed to resize it. We fixed it with literally one minute left to spare."
Hansen: "It's modern dance, and I would say that it exists somewhere between a style that is classical modern and post-modern. Work that's being created right now has more of a theatrical element to it or can be slightly avant-garde. This work is different in that it relies heavily on the line of the body and moves largely through space, rather than to a confined area that's more character-driven. It's what you think of when you think of dance. We define our choreography separately, but Heather performs in my choreography. It's a very collaborative process. I seek her feedback on what I'm doing as an artist, and she seeks mine, as well. Before we do anything, Heather and I put together concepts that have some united flow to them."
Hansen: "Costumes for my new dance, Cotillion, were borrowed from Nazareth College. It's kind of a comic wink and nod to debutante balls, so I needed very period evening gowns. The dancers went in between waltzing and dancing and boxing matches, which was very funny."
The Port: "What was your favorite part of the performance this year?"
Hansen: "I was really excited that I made my first dance film that was part of the show."
The Port: "What did that entail?"
Hansen: *smiles and sighs*
The Port: "Lots of work?"
Hansen: "It was my sabbatical project. I worked on it through the Spring 2019 semester. I think we finally finished all of the editing about a week before the opening of Merged, because it took so long to get it together."
The Port: "What is a dance film?"
Hansen: "It gives the choreographer a lot of new tools to work with by providing so many different perspectives, textures, and tones that you can do to film but you can't do to live performance. For instance, I might make a phrase of movement that you would look at on a stage, but in the film, you're going to be viewing it from above."
The Port: "Where did you film the dance film?"
Hansen: "That's funny, because I was going to film a lot of it in California and shoot footage in the ocean, but it didn't work out. So, I decided that I'd film it in Lake Ontario. We couldn't film in Lake Ontario because the water levels were so high."
The Port: "Bad timing."
Hansen: "I know. So, I ended up cutting that whole part of it and decided we're not going to deal with water. So instead, we shot that part of it in Corn Hill Landing walking on the cement with the water in the background."
The Port: "So, there was some water."
Hansen: "There was some water there somewhere."
Hansen: "I have very mixed feelings, because it's a lot of work. And every year, once the show is over, Heather and I say, 'That's it. No more Merged. We're done merging.' And then after we've had a break, around January, Heather will give me a little wink, like, 'What do you think?' And I'll want to do it again. I love the people that I work with. We have such a good time. It's fulfilling to work with artists of that quality. This is a very, very stressful thing that we take on, but we don't respond to each other with stress. We laugh, we joke about all the madness that goes on, and we really just enjoy each other's artistry."