MSU Dancers Collaborate with East Lansing High School Writers

A grid of seven students in dance poses
MSU Dance Students Perform Interpretations of written works by East Lansing High School students

Department of Theatre Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre Brad Willcuts and East Lansing High School (ELHS) Visual Arts Instructor Jacqueline Carroll have brought their students together in a unique collaboration to bring words and movement to life.

“So infrequently do high school writing assignments leave the hands of student or teacher. Often, students end up wondering: ‘Why did I even do this? Why does this matter?” Carroll said. “This collaboration gave students an opportunity to see how others (cool college students, that is) interpreted their work, allowing them to step back and realize that their words have energy and importance.”

East Lansing High School students wrote stories based on the theme of their time in “quarantine” and their classmates then recorded vocal performances of the stories. Michigan State University students enrolled in the Choreography and Composition class (DAN 354) worked as choreographers and performers to interpret the spoken words through dance. The collaboration culminated in a virtual “show and tell” day with everyone. 

The project provided some much-needed artistic expression and human connection during the isolation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It felt like a real-life artistic collaboration again when we were able to work with another school,” Willcuts said. “Jacqui did an awesome job of setting up the get-to-know you section of the day between college students and high school students. We had a blast getting to share all of our videos with one another. I know my students really enjoyed this project.”

One piece in particular, entitled “The Day It All Began,” was written by Emmerson Davis to capture the moment that ELHS students learned that Michigan State University was shifting its classes from in-person to online. Dance student and junior Psychology major, Olivia Walters, filmed her interpretation of the work in the now empty halls of East Lansing High School. After viewing the final video, the feedback from students revealed the piece as successfully capturing that day, with one student saying, “This expressed exactly how I felt when I heard the news.”

Scroll below to view all seven pieces. 

“The Day It All Began” by Emmerson Davis. Reader: Zane Merryman
Choreographer/Dancer: Olivia Walters
“The Fort” Writer: Amiah Morris Reader: Emmerson Davis
Choreographer/Dancer: Nadia Tyson
“Quarantine Story” by Tariq Jackson. Read by Tianna Tran
Choreographer and Dancer: Meghan Parkinson
“First Date” by Hailey Hertel. Reader: Amiah Morris
Choreographer/Dancer: Jake Price
“My ID” by Derrick White. Reader: Aatiyana Davis-Echols
Choreographer/Dancer: Olivia Berutti
“Tubing Adventure” by Fletcher Wasnich. Read by Janie Shappel
Choreographer/Dancer: Lilia Subieta
“The Big Tournament” by Drew Miller. Reader: Lucas Martinez
Choreographer/Dancer: Anna Breitbarth