Dancers Balance Fun, Fear

Hotel Hysteria

by Michele DeVinney

Each year Fort Wayne's Fright Night, the big downtown celebration of Halloween and all of its various excesses, seems to get just a little bit bigger. In addition to the venues which are open and ready for some fun trickery, many of the downtown arts organizations also contribute some creative excitement for the evening. One of those arts organizations, Fort Wayne Dance Collective, stretches the fun over two nights and is upping the ante by making things interactive.
One reason for some new twists comes along with a new venue. Having previously hosted their Halloween program in their own cozy studios, they branch out this year to the ArtsLab black box, an increasingly popular place for a variety of arts performances. In making that change, Fort Wayne Dance Collective's artistic director Mandie Kolkman wanted to tweak the show to balance the change in space.
"I thought we should do something more immersive," she says. "I was excited to use the ArtsLab but was afraid we'd lose some intimacy that we've had in our Elliott Studio where we usually hold the performances. The black box is intimate, but there's still a bit more distance between the audience and the performers. So we're making it more immersive to engage the audience as much as possible."
The theme for the performances is Hotel Hysteria, and as guests of the creepy hotel audience members can expect the unexpected.
"Guests will have to 'check-in,'" says Kolkman. "And from that point on they're treated as guests of the hotel. We'll try to take good care of them, but they may be asked to participate in the antics throughout the evening. We want the audience to be as close as possible to where we are."
Although hosted by Fort Wayne Dance Collective, Hotel Hysteria wouldn't be complete without some help from their friends.
"Any time we do something like this we like to engage the community and our arts partners," says Kolkman. "We'll have a guest performance by Mikautadze Dance Theatre, and Fort Wayne Ballet and Project Ballet have choreographed pieces that will be part of the performance as well. We'll also have students from the area - Northeast School of Dance and our South Side High School outreach program - taking part. Our touring company is contributing choreography and will be dancing, as will our Pineapple Dance Project youth company."
Also taking part will be John O'Connell, a friend of Dance Collective and dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at IPFW. While he won't be there in person to perform, he'll be contributing as narrator of the nefarious events at Hotel Hysteria. The balance of fun and fright is as key to the FWDC performance as it is throughout Fright Night's other activities.
"We hear from the community that our show is a Fort Wayne favorite," says Kolkman. "It's a fun way to celebrate and get into the mood for Halloween. It's not too creepy, but we definitely pull out all the stops. Besides the artists who are dancing and choreographing, there's a lot of emphasis on lighting technology which is an art in itself. And we create the performances with that lighting in mind rather than having the lighting being an afterthought."
That effort has not only made them a favorite in Fort Wayne but has put the Collective's Halloween show on the radar of arts organizations around the country.
"Over the summer, we were contacted by a magazine called Studio Dance Life which goes out to dance schools throughout the country," says Kolkman. "They contacted us to specifically ask us about our Halloween show on Fright Night. We knew we were doing something right if a national magazine is aware of it, and they featured us in an issue that came out this summer."
Aside from the change of venue, which allows more people to see each performance, there will be two shows instead of four (at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 20 and Saturday, October 21. Kolkman says that's helpful for the performers who now have only two shows instead of four in about 24 hours.
"It definitely helps the dancers a lot. Now they can give their all in one performance a night instead of having to pace themselves over two each night."
As Kolkman settles into her still relatively new role as artistic director at the Dance Collective, she's proud of the performances the company shares with the community and the reception they receive in whatever context and venue they inhabit.
"I love being part of Fright Night and love this show. I think it truly showcases the creativity of Fort Wayne Dance Collective and engages everyone in the community. I appreciate that we're given these opportunities that aren't just part of the regular schedule for our dance troupe. I think a lot of what we do and are able to do really comes through in this show."