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Major Decisions

Sharp Show Artistic Director Bre’Ann Berger on choosing dance as a major, sticking out the hard times and emerging as an artist

Bre'Ann Berger (B.F.A. Dance '14)

Senior dance major Bre’Ann Berger has always been a hard worker. If there’s a lag in her schedule, she’s restless. She’s happiest when her plate is full.

Her plate is very full right now. As artistic director for this year’s Sharp Show, the annual, student-led showcase of original choreography by senior dance majors, Berger is juggling rehearsal schedules and managing countless production details; the job is more demanding this year because the popular January event is moving into the Margo Jones Theatre.

As a senior on the cusp of graduation, Berger is very content with her four years at Meadows as a dance major and elementary education minor. But she admits there was a time when she struggled to define herself as a dancer. Disparaging remarks about her choice of major from acquaintances didn’t help. The question, “Why are you majoring in dance?” was one she heard countless times, she says, and it wasn’t always a pleasant exchange.

“Their questions caused me to question myself,” says Berger. “I had trouble finding value in my art.”

To add to her concerns, she ended up not being cast in any of Meadows’ main stage dance performances over a period of two semesters. “I didn’t understand,” says Berger, a petite, five-foot, one-inch tall jazz dancer. “What was happening? Was I not good enough? Was I too short? What was going on?”

Not being cast during that time made her dig deep and examine what she was doing. “I found myself thinking, ‘Is this really what I want to do? Should I stay the course…or switch majors?’”

Over that year the answers emerged. First, she noticed a pattern about those who challenged her selection of major: Most of the challengers were disconnected from the arts. She noted that her generation tends to be overly absorbed in technology, particularly social media and mobile entertainment; “culture” to many her age means online entertainment, not live, artistic performances.

“A lot of what I’d get is people thinking that dance is what the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders do,” she says. “It’s like there’s this disconnection with the arts. But I’ve learned that I can create something that not only gives me satisfaction but also makes a statement. I think this is the piece that is lost with my generation’s love affair with technology. I know now that being able to exercise my imagination is valuable.”

As she worked through her deliberations, she re-confirmed her passion for both dance and education. During her studies, she was delighted to discover that her two interests can fuse.

“Seeing my two passions come together was really cool, specifically through dance kinesiology with Professor (Christopher) Dolder and dance history with Professor Shelley Berg,” says Berger. “It was in dance history that I saw the value of being an intelligent dancer. We had to write so much every week! But I became a better writer because of it. Being in Berg’s class made me see the possibilities for merging my passion for education and dance and gave me lots of great ideas on how to do that. Being able to see the connection and how they come together was important and meaningful.”

Berger’s contemporary creation for the Sharp Show, titled Jane and the Dragon, uses dance to address the topic of society’s perception of females. The piece was inspired by a book of the same name by Martin Baynton. In the book, Jane is a lady’s maid in a castle who badly wants to be a knight. One day, all the knights go away to war and the town is attacked by a dragon. Jane dresses up as a knight and goes to defeat the dragon, but ends up befriending the dragon instead, and talks him out of destroying the town. The citizens are amazed that it was a girl who saved the day. “I like this book because it shows that girls can do the same thing as boys but they can keep their sympathetic, relational nature,” says Berger.

Berger with fellow dance students meet outside the Margo Jones Theatre.

In Berger’s dance, audience members see two female dancers – one very strong, the other sensual and emotional, both representing the two sides of Jane’s character.

Typically, choreography starts with a theme and then music is found to match the theme. But for Jane and the Dragon, Berger started with music first. Her friends and fellow Meadows seniors, music majors Derek Hawkes (trombone) and Vivian Chen (piano), brought her an original piece of music that fit the choreography well. Hawkes and Chen will play the piece live at the Sharp Show.

As far as her own personal dragon in deciding whether to stick with or drop dance as her major, Berger gradually came to a crossroad: She could either go through the motions in class and then drop the major, or embrace her passion and break through. She chose to persevere, and at the end of the year received some very good news.

“In my evaluation after that whole year, my professors told me I’d gotten into a main stage production, and I started crying because I was so happy!” Berger performed at the Meadows at the Winspear show, where she danced in Professor Danny Buraczeski’s jazz number In the City.

“Being on that stage was the high point for me in my years as a Meadows dancer,” she says. “It made all the other performances seem like rehearsals. It was like, this is what I’ve been training for, this is what I’m here to do. The full audience, the grandeur of the space did a lot for me – those are the types of spaces you perform in when you’re a professional.

“It made everything make sense; I was so satisfied. I walked off the stage with the fullest heart.”

Berger offers a bit of helpful insight to younger dancers just entering the program. “Be patient,” she advises. “Persevere through the hardships and don’t give up on the passion. That year when I was so troubled and questioning, I stuck with it and that is the reason why I grew and became the dancer and the person I am today. It’s through those moments that you learn. There’s almost no doubt that probably every single one of us goes through that at some point, even if you are cast for every single show. At some point there’s going to be the questioning. Patiently persevere!”

Adrian Aguirre (B.F.A. Dance and B.A. Film & Media Arts, ’16)

SHARP SHOW

Shows are Saturday, January 25 at 8 p.m. (SOLD OUT) and Sunday, January 26 at 2 p.m. in the Margo Jones Theatre. Tickets are free but MUST be reserved in advance. Tickets may be reserved online or through the Meadows ticket office at 214-768-2787.

The annual Sharp Show features works choreographed and produced by seniors in the SMU Meadows Division of Dance. Its objective is to allow students to synthesize the artistic visions and skills they've acquired in pursuit of a degree in dance performance. Drawing on their collective knowledge, this production culminates in the realization of these skills, defines their final chapter as senior dance majors at SMU, and marks their transition from students to working artists.

Originally performed in the Charles S. Sharp Performing Arts Studio located in the lower level of the Owen Arts Center, the 2014 show is moving to the larger Margo Jones Theatre in order to better accommodate the yearly sold-out crowd.

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