The University Dance Theater show, “Mortals and Angels,” is a modern dance showcase choreographed by faculty and students of the company. The program consists of eight different performances, but on opening night only six were debuted at SF State.
Out of the six, one was fully choreographed by modern dancer, SF State student Jessica DeFranco.
DeFranco’s choreographed piece, “Please Hold On,” is her biggest milestone since she started dancing for the University Dance Theater company. It took her several attempts at auditioning to finally be a part of the company, but her ambition allowed her to succeed.
DeFranco, 22, began dancing ballet at the age of six and later on studied other categories of dance. By fall semester of 2017, she began to develop her own style.
“I was very scared to get out of that ballet niche,” said DeFranco. “I didn’t know how to dance unless it was balletic and I would instinctively end up in ballet positions.”
“Please Hold On” was inspired by her time of constantly commuting on the Muni train during her summer intensive program at Lines Ballet. DeFranco recalls studying the different sounds of the train and the passengers around her.
“Every time I was on Muni, I would have my headphones in and I would people watch. I was very inspired by the way people moved and interacted on the Muni and swayed to the rhythm of the train,” she said. “I have this tendency to romanticize the ordinary.”
The brilliantly portrayed piece conquers the daily realities of riding the train through movement. Listening to the train’s bells and whistles mixed into the music allows audiences to feel like they’re part of the performance.
DeFranco recalls the process towards creating this piece frustrating and stressful. Being a student choreographer means making many hard decisions and gaining a new responsibility that a full-time student does not want to be burdened with. Even though DeFranco created the piece, she did not expect herself to become an understudy for another dancer.
Rayne Holmes, 22, became severely injured through the process of developing the piece.Holmes was supposed to be in DeFranco’s piece but was forced to sit out of other performances such as the inspirational “House of Divine Children” that dominated the stage on opening night. The piece, choreographed by SF State dance teacher Ray Tadio, explores the underground LGBTQ+ culture.
Holmes, who has been dancing for the company for three years, didn’t let her injuries discourage her.
“I’ve had back injuries and I’m finally recovering,” said Holmes. “But, I feel like for the first night it was actually a great experience. That was the first time I felt everyone dancing in unison together, so that felt good personally.”
DeFranco and Holmes shared the stage in the guest choreographed piece “Speak Angels” and “Halcyon Birds” — a performance illustrating the dancers as a flock of velvet birds.
As DeFranco gets closer to graduation, she reflects on her journey in the company and the growth she has attained as a dancer. In the future, she would like to have a career in modern dancing in the Bay Area, but hopes to explore other opportunities beyond teaching.
“Teaching almost seems like a selfish option because I wouldn’t be giving as much as I could to students if I didn’t expose myself more before going back to the classroom,” said DeFranco.
Jocelyn Satterberg, 24, was also part of the show and showcased her artistic versatility throughout the performances. Being skilled in the art of tap dancing, she has allowed herself to make her mark in the modern dance community.
“You’re not only learning choreography, but you’re making choreography,” said Satterberg. “You’re turning it into your own creative style, you’re learning other people’s strengths and creative styles and as you get closer to the show you bond with everyone and it becomes a strong connection.”
The large production shed light on DeFranco’s artistry, the many talented students gracing the SF State dance community and the six student choreographers presenting their unique style to a wide audience.