Student Matinee Study Guide

Welcome to teachers and students to the 2015 special matinee performance of Washington University Dance Theatre: Shadows and Light. Each year, we bring this event to several hundred students from the St. Louis region to expose young people to dance as artwork made from human movement.

You and your students may like to return to see the entire program during the weekend, December 4 & 5 @ 8pm, and December 6 @ 2pm.  We hope that this study guide will help you to prepare for this opportunity. Welcome, and enjoy the show!

                                                                           David Marchant, Coordinator, Student Matinee Performance

Home Leaving


"Home Leaving" is a fully improvised composition: there is no "set" movement or score for the dancers to rely on-- only the skill and presence of their bodies and minds, spontaneously relating in movement.  In this dance we explore the dynamic, unpredictable relationships between people we live with, and also the "familiar" bond we form with the place we live.

To us, improvisation became the most authentic process with which to explore and artistically represent the theme of this work. Like real life, in every performance the dancers enter without knowing what will happen today.

Background or Historical Context:

There is an entire professional sub-genre of dance performance that is improvised. Whereas choreography is set and generally performed by traditional dancers with ballet-based technique, improvisers often avoid and even rebel against stylistic and technical training of traditional concert dance. As such, improvised artwork can seem less formal to audiences, without familiar attributes of choreography appearing unstructured and “weird.” I have been developing a “fusion,” blending aesthetic values of traditional choreographic form into spontaneous composition strategies so that improvisation can look surprisingly indistinguishable from a “set” dance.


People who live with each other, like family members or roommates often develop ways of communicating that are non-verbal. They learn to understand the facial expressions, the body language without saying words. So this is also a kind of improvisation that we do every day in our real lives.  

1-3 Questions

  1. What cues do you use to understand people you live with, even when nothing is said?
  2. Even without talking, can you still feel what is happening between these people?

Suggested Activities

  1. Put students into groups of 3-4 and have them start a “conversation” in movement. Without speaking, can you use only action to convey what is happening?

My Soul Remainer

choreographED BY: JOck Soto

"My Soul Remainer" is an abstract dance-- You can look at it and have yoru own vew and interpretation of what it is.  The man is being tormented by five women.  He is struggling to save something and they are trying to help him.

Inquiry Dynamic

choreographED BY: Nathan Trice

Dynamic Inquiry is an artistic platform where dancers express their thoughts and perspectives on being human.  It's a commentary on society's need to revisit the basics of connection, co-existence and humanism.

We are using art/dance to express questions and thought about humanism and how to communicate and listen to each other.

Hint/Clue: Notice what happens when all the dancers speak or when they make eye contact.


What does it mean and take to be human?  What do you have to do to understand what someone is saying? What does the title mean to you?

Suggested Activities:

The students can make up a movement or gesture that expresses each word they came up with. They can come up with 3 words each and put them in any order they want and then share with the class. This is how we build choreography. You can develop the choreography by having each student pick 1 or 2 gestures from someone else and add to their own. Afterwards you can have a brief conversation about the similarities or differences everyone has between words and gesture/movement. 



Mashup Moves

choreographED BY: Mary-jean cowell

Mashup:  mixture or fusion of disparate elements.  The dancers contributed significantly in creating the moves mashed up to evoke shifting moods in this dance.  The fusion of the movement material interacts with three different pieces of music by Switched on Bach, Sigur Ros, and Dave Brubeck.

Background or Historical Context:  

A current expanded definition of “mashup” is:   something created by combining elements from two or more sources: as a : a piece of music created by digitally overlaying an instrumental track with a vocal track from a different recording b : a movie or video having characters or situations from other sources .


Watch for how the look and feel of movements change when they have to be done slower or faster and with a different musical “partner.”  


  1. How does the choreography relate to a “mashup” movie or video that has “characters or situations from other sources.”  
  2. Do you see the movement differently when its context is different:  in other words, when it happens between movements you haven’t seen before so that it’s part of a new sequence of movement?  
  3. How would you describe the difference in mood in the three sections?   How much do the  dancers’ facial expressions influence the way that the movements create each mood?

Suggested Activities

Teacher asks students to each create a short solo from movements that they like.  This should be organized to counts:  e.g., 4 blocks of 8 counts, 8 measures of ¾, etc.  The teacher may want to have a piece of music with an obvious rhythmic structure for the students to use with this part of the dance so that the tempo and counting of all the solos is the same.  All the students show their solos, either individually or in small groups.  Then the students write their names on slips of paper, and someone draws groups of 3 dancers.  The students in each group watch each other’s solos and create a mashup:  a group dance (a trio) combining movements from all of the solos.  While some of the movements may stay in the same sequence as in the original solo, at least some of the movements should be reorganized into a new sequence.  Depending upon the level of the class, the trio can perform the mashed up dance in unison or can experiment with having internal variations such as two dancers performing one mashed up sequence at the same time that the third dancer performs a different mashed up sequence.  The objective is to achieve both a sense of newness, even surprise, but also to have a feeling of unity or cohesion (fusion) in the choreography.  If the class has enough time, the trio mashups should then be tried with a very different piece of music at a faster or slower tempo so that the dancers can feel how the movement has to change, how the mood can change even when the sequence remains the same.

Des Poèmes de Prévert

choreographED BY: Dawn Karlovsky

Des Poèmes de Prévert is inspired by the writings of Jacques Prévert, French poet and screenwriter (1900-1977). These poems reflect the hardships, struggles, political influences, and the anticipated hopefulness of the people of France during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.


The dance is not a literal translation of the words in the poems/songs, but it instead expresses the physical and emotional struggle of a group and of an individual within an oppressive society. Look at the differences in movement qualities (the percussive gestures, the use of weight of the body, etc.) and observe how the space is used in the opening sections and then compare it to the last section of the piece.

1-3 Questions

  1. How does the relationships among the movers on stage develop as the dance progresses?
  2. What does this development communicate to you?
  3. How much does the music influence your reaction to the work?

Suggested Activities

Composition study:
Have students perform 3 different everyday type movements (possible examples: pulling up socks, opening a book, putting a box on a shelf,etc). Then ask them to perform these actions in a way that is less literal and more abstract (for example: using your elbows instead of your hands to “put a box on a shelf”. ) Next, have students create a link or transition (a traveling step, a turn, etc.) between these movements to create a short movement pattern. These can be performed individually or as small groups.

Two, and Only Two

choreographED BY: Christine Knolbauch-O'neal

This work grew out of a duet of a dance I created last year for WUDT.  The duet always felt as if there was something more to investigate, to look into, and so I hose to do just that.  The duet has grown into three duets each revealing a part of this pairing, this relationship, and together create, not necessarily a whole, but a journey through the interior of what makes the relationship impossible and what makes it possible.  


Look for the moment when this relationship begins to erode.  What set off the moment of conflict?

Do the couple ever resolve their differences, issues, problems?  And, if yes when?

1-3 Questions

In a relationship of any kind, there is and remains only the two people involved and they have a responsibility to build the relationship, keep it healthy for both, and resolve any conflicts that arise.  If the two people do not resolve conflicts, the issue(s) that sparks problems or conflicts remains, even if covered, tamped down, hidden, or ignored.  But, there only remains a moment of a spark, a tension, a look or a lack of attention to ignite the continued problem.

Watch for the moment of ignition in this conflict.  Does this couple resolve their issues?  What is the issue?  Can you tell?

Suggested Activities

How do you resolve conflict which truly resolves the conflict and doesn’t just cover it or mask it?  What skills of understanding, hearing, and respect does it take to truly resolve conflict?

Ask yourself: are you quick to judge, hold grudges, are quick to temper?  How can you improve your response mechanism to produce positive results during difficult times?

Tribal Dreams

choreographED BY: cecil slaughter

This work is an abstract dance about the rite of passage for a young man from one fixed point in a social structure to another.


What are some of the images/movements that seem ritualistic to you?

What type of ritual do you think the dance conveys?

December 2 & 3 at 8pm

December 4 at 2pm
Edison Theatre

Click HERE for tickets or call (314) 935-6543