Students mix dance, theater experience in 'Seven Deadly Sins'
Students in TaMara Swank's Dance Concert class at Seton Hill University this fall knew they were expected to participate in a major dance performance at the end of the semester.
What some of them didn't know was how much their theater experience would help them to exceed their professor's expectations.
Swank, assistant professor of theater and co-coordinator of the Seton Hill University Dance Academy, is director and choreographer for "The Seven Deadly Sins: Vice and Virtue in Music and Movement," the annual collaborative production of the dance and theater departments' faculty and students.
She says that for several of her students who are theater majors at Seton Hill, this concert is an introduction to dance.
"Some of them had theater background but very little dance experience," she says. "The amazing performance quality these students bring is so intense. It has shown me as a choreographer how important it is for a dancer to have stage experience."
The production explores the theme of the seven deadly sins -- wrath, envy, gluttony, avarice (greed), lust, sloth and pride -- that originated in early Christian teachings and have inspired many writers and artists. The sins are depicted in the order the students felt they are experienced in the course of a lifetime, from childhood through death.
Swank says students did research in class on the historical aspect of each of the sins and, with her help, came up with complementing modern dance movements for seven dance numbers, in addition to opening and closing ensemble numbers. There are 15 students in the production, 13 performers and two understudies.
"My acting experience and training has given me the ability to connect with the material and find ways to embody and portray gluttony and wrath through body language and facial expression," says Natalie Moretti of Cheswick, a sophomore music/theater major.
For Laura Stracko of Nazareth, Northampton County, a senior music/theater major who portrays anger and gluttony, the production has helped to show her the value of dance in her work.
"If there is one thing I will take from my dance experience at Seton Hill, it is that I am capable of filling movement with expression and emotion," she says. "Feeling comfortable in one's body is essential to an honest performance onstage. Dance is so helpful with that."
Sophomore theater/performance major Juistina Chiappelli of Penfield, Clearfield County, says her role as a dancer in Avarice and Envy has been a personal achievement, and her background in theater has helped to make the story and the effects of the sins she portrays "come to life."
"I took dance class when I was little, but I was the little girl who stood onstage and waved to my mom," she says. "This has been a learning experience for me."
Other Seton Hill students in "The Seven Deadly Sins" are Laura Barron of Grove City; Jessica Florian of Washington, Pa.; Adriana Gissendanner of Clairton; Emily Heinicka of Irwin; Jeanette Lundell of Sewickley; Jennifer Makowski of New Kensington; Erik Ortiz of New York, N.Y.; Elizabeth Serra of Latrobe; J.T. White of New Windsor, Md.; and Darcy Wood of Orlando, Fla. Nate Errett of West Huntingdon, Pa., and Victoria Serra of Latrobe are the understudies.
'The Seven Deadly Sins: Vice and Virtue in Music and Movement'
When: 8 p.m. today, Saturday and Thursday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
Admission: $12; student rush tickets available five minutes before curtain to any student with ID for $5, subject to availability
Where: Reeves Theatre, ground floor, Reeves Memorial Library, Seton Hill University , Route 130 West, Greensburg