Students Collaborate on World Premiere Dance and Film

Unique opportunities connect students with celebrated choreographer Doug Elkins

Former B-Boy and award-winning choreographer Doug Elkins seamlessly melds everything from breakdancing and ballet to vogueing and hip-hop into distinctive, inventive dances. From April 20-23, he presented Montclair State audiences with a program of his works – including dance and film world premieres – that had given students exceptional opportunities for creative collaboration. It is opportunities like this that place Montclair State’s BFA Dance program fifth in the nation on the OnStage Top 10 Dance Programs list.

“At Montclair State, we’re committed to connecting our students with the professional world they’ll soon be entering. In the College of the Arts, this translates into fostering opportunities to collaborate with artists who are leaders in their field,” says College of the Arts Dean Daniel Gurskis. “An on-campus collaboration with a guest artist like Doug Elkins offers a unique opportunity for undergraduates to appear on stage with some extraordinary performers. What’s particularly impressive is that the audience never notices who the professionals are and who the students are. How great is that!”

The world premieres of O, round desire, a new dance commissioned and co-produced by Peak Performances, and Elkins’ film A Hundred Indecisions, the third in the Dance for Film on Location at Montclair State series supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Choreographers on Campus Initiative, headlined the doug elkins choreography, etc. program.

“Doug Elkins is a peerless communicator. Famous for saying ’I do not have one train of thought, I have a whole squadron of planes of thought,’ he connected with students on every level of his creative process in making both A Hundred Indecisions and O, round desire,” says Executive Director of Arts and Cultural Programming Jedediah Wheeler. “Both projects reflected the true excitement of our students in response to his playful energy.”

Student Eric Parra was one of six University students who danced in the movement chorus of O, round desire – a dance inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Love in the Time of Cholera. “It’s such a privilege to be part of a world premiere by a major choreographer,” says Parra. “It makes the whole experience that much more meaningful.”

Elkins also taught a master class on campus. “It allowed me to learn more about his movement, and it acted as additional rehearsal time before the big show,” says movement chorus dancer Chelsea Vargas. 

Shot on campus in various locations in September, Elkins’ film A Hundred Indecisions takes its title from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and is the third film in the Dance for Film on Location at Montclair State. A truly collaborative effort, coordinated by Dance for Film Project Coordinator Natalie Romero, it featured School of Communication and Media professors Ben Wolf as director of photography and Tony Pemberton as editor and line producer. The film’s crew was largely composed of 17 students from the departments of Theatre and Dance, and English, and the Filmmaking program.

According to Romero, six other students produced ELKINS, Can You Doug It? a documentary on the making of Elkins’ film, which premiered on campus in early April. Woravan Tangtrakul, a student editor on the film, says, “This documentary was smooth sailing from beginning to end.”

“Doug is a zany mastermind and you have to keep up with him, as he tends to work at 70 miles per hour,” says Can You Doug It? director and videographer J.S. Ali. “The response to the film was phenomenal. I’ve been told that my documentary is essential viewing alongside A Hundred Indecisions, which in my book is a success on my team’s part.”

For University students, working with Elkins was an inspiring and transformative experience. “He sparked something in me that made me fall in love with dance all over again,” says Vargas. “For dancers, there will always be another dance and performance. But this is one dance experience I never wanted to end.”