Artistic independence in Butler Ballet

Dancers unleash their creativity while practicing their choreography for the showcase. Photo by Faith Delamarter


Some of the best art comes from working within a strict set of rules, and that is certainly true for dance. Butler Ballet students dedicate countless hours to perfecting their art in and out of class. However, this academic mindset does not encompass all that dance has to offer. Butler Ballet puts on the Student Choreography Showcase each year in order to give students an opportunity to embrace their creative side. This year’s showcase is on Oct. 19 and 20 in Lilly Hall Room 310, with doors opening at 7:15 p.m. 

The showcase is fully student led, from the director and dancers to lighting and sound. Brita Gilbert, a senior dance arts administration major, is the student director this year. She participated in the show as a performer and assistant director in past years and is excited to share what students have been working on with a wider audience. 

For Gilbert, the best part is seeing students thrive outside the normal limitations of class and take on a new sense of independence. 

“[Students] get to work on every aspect of producing a piece,” Gilbert said. “They have to think about costumes, lighting, and how those two are going to go together. They have to think about the intention and meaning behind their piece. They have to create this narrative for themselves, unprompted.” 

Exposure to such a wide array of positions provides valuable career experience for students. Those who perform but rarely choreograph get to see what the other side looks like and use that knowledge to work with choreographers better. Students must let their art stand on its own two feet and craft a meaningful piece in collaboration with their peers. This serves as a testing ground for experimentation. Performers and choreographers alike can venture into unknown territory when their piece is not so closely tied to a grade. 

Senior dance performance major Kiara Christian had the opportunity to pursue a newfound passion when Gilbert asked her to be the promotional videographer for the show. Christian films behind-the-scenes rehearsal videos and interviews choreographers, then edits them together to create advertisements for the showcase. 

“Dance cinematography is fascinating to me because you get to see the small details of the choreography or movement you’re doing that aren’t always seen by the audience in a normal stage-to-audience setting,” Christian said. “I think it adds to the element of what dance has to offer.” 

Christian is taking advantage of the uniquely physical aspect of dance as an art form. Dance is defined by the flow of movements in a way that poetry or art are not. An art piece can suggest movement, and a poem can create it in our minds, but dancers are able to physically point the audience to wherever the piece is going. 

Students have the freedom to explore that movement for themselves in showcase rehearsals. There is no teacher telling them to point their foot a certain way. They can dive into the depth of their performance on their own terms, and emerge as richer artists. Of course, none of these elements of dance would have the same effect without an audience. Performing live is what sets the showcase apart from working in the classroom or practicing alone. 

“[Dance transports] the audience members to another world, or brings to light things that are already in their world that they haven’t thought of yet,” Christian said. 

The power to move audiences so deeply, and see that movement in real time, is a unique joy of dance. The showcase being held in Lilly Hall Room 310 adds to this experience. There is less space between the audience and performers than there would be in other on-campus venues like Clowes Memorial Hall or Schrott Center for the Arts, which helps create a sense of closeness. 

Junior dance performance major Eliza Cranton enjoys this connection between the audience and the dancers during performances. 

“When you’re [dancing] by yourself, it’s definitely [an inner experience],” Cranton said. “When you’re performing, it’s an outward expression. You want to make the audience understand the piece. It’s not about yourself, but about entertaining others. Performing is the main reason I dance.” 

It can be argued that the heart of any art is sharing it with others. The experience of taking something intensely personal and molding it into a form that can be sent outwards is transformative for the artist. Ideas that were once half-formed, lying in the recesses of the artist’s heart, now have a voice. That voice can be shared with the audience and create the same feeling in them. Whether the goal is laughter or tears, the performance creates a temporary but powerful sense of empathy. 

Equally as important, though, is finding community with one’s peers. The showcase offers a way for students to see their peers shine. Performers attempt new roles and are inspired by each other. The showcase’s more relaxed environment serves to strengthen bonds and encourage creative risk-taking. 

Christian is grateful for the opportunity to participate in performances so frequently during her time at Butler. She has found her own creative calling in part through them. 

“I came here liking to choreograph, but it wasn’t a need or passion of mine,” Christian said. “As the years went on, I [grew to feel] that I can’t go without it. [Among other projects,] I’m doing dance films over the next two semesters and showing them in spring. I have this innate need now to create, and it’s all thanks to Butler Ballet’s encouragement to do it.” 

The only way to improve at anything is practice. With each class, each stumble and each wild success, dancers grow the repertoire of skills they can use to express themselves. That path leads to new creative outlets and collaborations. Inspiration changes from being something that seems magical and born out of thin air to something tangible, a spark within that only needs to be fanned. 

Gilbert’s journey to director has coalesced all of these factors into the goal of being the best mentor possible for her peers. For her, the Butler Ballet community is a group that stretches far into the future. 

“[The showcase] has helped me feel connected to everyone around me, and given me a greater purpose in the department,” Gilbert said. “I get to help carry on a legacy.” 

More information about the showcase can be found on Butler Engage and through Butler Ballet’s Instagram account


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