Synapse: a dancer's journey

Watching the short statured student choreographer Glenn Rodriguez leap in the air with tightly held poise, it would be hard to believe that he started his journey to soloing at the Synapse show at the Broad Stage as a Biomedical Engineering major at Santa Monica College. He dropped the major two years ago, despite the opposition of his parents, to pursue his dream.

His piece, which he also choreographed, is inspired not only by his own personal journey but by the classic video game "Zelda: A Link to the Past." Rodriguez, relates the Synapse program and teaches to items and quests he used to defeat the bosses of his own end game.

“I took what I had, what i was given, what SMC had to offer, and just took the tools, started using them, manipulating them, and augmenting them so I could use [them to] fulfill my dream of choreographing,” said Rodriguez.

The co-directors of this semester's Synapse show, Jae Lee and Mark Tomasic, chose four student choreographers at the beginning of the semester to round out 12 choreographers made up of dance instructors and guest choreographers. Those choreographers were then part of a rigorous audition process in which many dancers auditioned with each choreographer, one after the other. "It's furious, and fast, and crazy, and it's awesome," said Tomasic.

Tomasic describes the production as "a huge gamut." He described the range of styles in music and dance as well as the styles in production from piece to piece from all of the different choreographers, saying "I'm sure our audience members will find something that they can attach to."

Synapse usually invites guest choreographers to work with students, with this semester landing Kate Hutter, co-founder and Artistic Director of the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, and Joelle Martinec, founder and Artistic Director of SoleVita Dance Company.

"It’s very exciting to have people from the profession bring their expertise, making contact with our students, training our students and then giving our students in return the beginning of a network for when they leave," said Tomasic.

After ten weeks of preparation from auditions to run throughs, the program tests the students most intensely during the final two weeks before they perform live to an audience. "That’s when they get a sense of how much conditioning they need," said Tomasic. Directing these student dancers, Tomasic said takes “knowing when to step in, [and] knowing how much to hold back."

Some dancers may end up performing up to three consecutive pieces and the run throughs have them practicing their performances with one piece separating, so that they do not feel overworked. "[The co-directors] managed the time very well, and my rehearsal schedule, so it wasn't too intense," said Rodriguez. "But I was still at school six days a week."

Tomasic goes over the many paths a dance major can take, highlighting industry or commercial dancing for TV, commercial, film, and stage, modern dance companies which perform in cities around the world, teaching and choreographing. He even mentions less conventional career choices for those in the dance industry like, dance therapy, physical therapy, or massage therapy, and stage management or stage production. "There’s a whole kind of world of opportunity and we really try to make sure our students are aware of all of it," said Tomasic.

"At some point most of us have to stop, because our bodies tell us it’s time one way or another," said Tomasic. "We encourage our students to transfer and get their B.A. degree."

In terms of what the program does for students, Rodriguez relates his own experience, saying "‘Most of my works have been developed through SMC and because of faculty here." He added, "It’s very nurturing for an artist to develop a lot of their craftsmanship in such a unique way."

When the dancers take the stage on Friday, November 21 and Sunday, November 23, the choreographers and dancers will be focused entirely on their performance and connecting their movements with their purpose. Co-director Lee knows her abstract style choreography may no be taken the way she means them to be and says "it’s part of the beauty of modern dance."

Meanwhile, former biomedical engineering major Rodriguez says "I really want it to be more on the emotional level where the audience can feel what I’m feeling and I want them to experience a journey with me.”

“We all have emotions," said Rodriguez, "and that’s the one part that connects the artist and the audience.”