SMC goes modern with 'Synapse'

Chassés and pas de boureés, techniques used as warm-ups in dance, were in the midst of perfection by Santa Monica College dancers in a rehearsal before the spring semester dance ensemble premiere of "Synapse." An array of contemporary dance styles will be performed this weekend, including modern, contemporary, hip hop, lyrical jazz, jazz, ballet, and fusion.

Director Jae Lee, a full-time SMC faculty member, teaches ballet, modern dance, dance history, and performance classes.When choosing dancers during the audition process for "Synapse," Lee considers dance majors who have performance background and experience.

“We do take dancers who want to dance as a profession, that take higher dance classes and higher ballet classes,” Lee says. “We also look at their creativity level. If we see something different about them, we definitely cast them, but we most likely focus on the dance majors who want to transfer as dance majors.”

Lee says that "Synapse" is more focused on the choreographer’s creativity with imagery, and not necessarily narrative.

"It gives a lot of room for the audience to think about what the piece is really about," Lee says. "It’s about sending the choreographer’s message toward the audience.It’s about giving the audience a message through our bodies, not necessarily telling a story."

Guest choreographers outside of SMC are eye-catching because of their willingness to help student dancers develop, he says.

“I really enjoy [the guest choreographers] because you really see the students grow as a dancer and a choreographer and it’s really amazing to see that their creative idea comes through on stage," says Lee.

In addition to the outside help, student choreographers have the opportunity to choose any theme meaningful to them.

SMC student choreographer Mawiyah Dowd says she has been dancing for 10 years and that this is her first time choreographing for "Synapse."

Dowd's piece is about the journey of five young girls who all come together.

Dowd says her challenge as a young choreographer is getting her dancers to be on the same page and getting them focused to project her style.She wants to touch the audience's soul.

SMC student Isaiah Chancellor is dancing in five pieces in this semester’s "Synapse" performance. He says he has done both "Global Motion" and "Synapse" in the past, but decided to only perform in "Synapse" this semester because he wanted to focus more on his technique.

Chancellor feels the student choreographers bring a different intensity to the dances than the faculty.

“Surprisingly, they push us harder than the faculty, and they really want their voice heard in their dances,” says Chancellor.

“The student level of performance is phenomenal," says Roberta Wolin-Tupas, co-artistic director of "Synapse."

“The audience is seeing art," she says. "This is art. It’s not a recital, it’s not a concert, it’s a beautiful presentation and performance.”

Wolin-Tupas says that the dancers are dedicated, as they put in many extra hours outside of class to rehearse and perfect their pieces.

"Synapse" opens on Friday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Barnum Hall, located at Santa Monica High School. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit