Growing “Better 2Gether”: Students perform in annual Dance Production


Selina Xu

Yasmin Sudarsanam (10), Eileen Ma (12) and Maya Affaki (10) dance to “Peer Pressure.” Eileen choreographed the dance by translating her favorite moments from the song to dance movements.

The curtains draw back as the Patil Theater is plunged into darkness. Suddenly, strings of neon light descend, illuminating the stage as the first notes of “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock break the silence. Four neon stick figures materialize from the shadows, and, in an instant, the rest of Kinetic Krew (KK) rushes in from the wings, dancing to the rhythm in glowing sunglasses.

As fast as they appeared, they are replaced by Harker Dance Company (HDC), showcasing a synchronized jazz combination filled with energetic jumps and turns as their fringe reflects the light around the theater. HDC invites KK to the stage for a series of electric partner moves. The song abruptly stops, leaving the senior captains, Anja Ree and BB Ajlouny, posing in the spotlight. The lights black out, and the annual dance production begins.

102 dancers participated in the upper school’s 2023 dance production which consisted of 18 dances on Jan. 27 and 28. Themed “Better 2Gether,” the production was split into two acts, with the first focusing on mashups and the latter on duets. Eleven students, juniors Callie Yuan, Selina Chen, Kuga Pence and Luke Mehta and seniors Nick Delfino, Anja Ree, BB Ajlouny, Eileen Ma, Nupur Gupta, Linette Hoffman and Makayla Aguilar-Zuniga, each choreographed one dance. All student choreographers took the Dance Composition and Choreography classes prior to choreographing dance production. Three guest choreographers also contributed to the production: tap specialist and Lincoln High School dance teacher Jessica Chatfields and Harker middle school dance teachers and hip hop specialists Kim Teodoro and Kento Vo.

Preparations began early September with auditions, and dancers were placed into groups depending on their schedule and technical abilities. After meeting with their assigned dancers and assessing their skills, choreographers worked to create dance routines highlighting the group’s strengths.

“When it comes to choreography, I think this year, my approach was to do movement that was not necessarily extremely intricate or complicated,” “Can’t Hold Us” choreographer Nupur said. “[Instead I wanted] something that was doable, but still looks really good, and uses formations and staging to really help make my dancers look even better.”

Eileen, choreographer of “Peer Pressure,” a lyrical dance set to a favorite song by Julia Michaels and James Bay, began choreographing by listening to the music and thinking of which key shapes and moments she wanted to highlight. She described the process of translating her ideas into dance.

“The most rewarding part about choreography is seeing it all come together with my dancers,” Eileen said. “I can’t actually envision [my ideas] until I get to the dance room. Sometimes I’ll bring in choreography and it turns out so much better than I could have ever imagined.”

Kai Stinson (11) strikes a pose during “Can’t Hold Us.” With their school uniforms and desk-based moves, the performers brought a youthful explosiveness to the stage.  (Selina Xu)

From flowy skirts to edgy chains and flannel, the dance production showcased a variety of costumes across dances, all chosen by their respective choreographers. Combined with the lighting work of lighting designer Natalie Pierce Thompson, the outfits created a unique identity for each dance, a synergy of the choreographer’s vision and dancers’ personalities. 

“Luke and I spent a lot of our time on the lights with Ms. Thompson,” student choreographer and KK member Kuga Pence said. “Hearing the audience go ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ as soon as the lights turned on was a really nice moment for me.”

This year’s show was both a reprise of dance shows past and a redefinition of what a Harker dance production means. Previously, the pandemic limited costumes to items dancers could buy directly from Amazon and cut dancer numbers from 180 to 80 during the Zoom years. As dancer counts bounced back, the number of dance numbers also increased compared to pre-pandemic shows. Upper school dance teacher Rachelle Haun headed the dance show for the first time this year. 

“We’ve gone through some interesting waves,” she said. “We got more and more people every year, but it was just me and [former upper school dance teacher Karl] Kuehn. COVID-19 broke our numbers a bit, but I think the hundred dancers this year is what we can handle. Though our evolution has been all over the place, the talent of our dancers has continued going up every single year, and they care more and try harder.”

Student choreographers also worked closely with Haun, discussing their ideas for dances, music, costuming and more. Though there were some ideological differences between her and choreographers, communication and compromise smoothed those out as the months passed.

“We always run into students who have danced for a long time,” she said. “They think ‘I know how to choreograph, I know everything about it, you’re not going to teach me anything new.’ It took a lot of examples, going through pieces from famous choreographers they admire and going over the techniques they used…[In the end] it was all about figuring how to put it in their dancing language.”

Apart from organizing auditions, costumes, schedules and more, Haun also worked with Teodoro, middle school choreographer and originator of the “Better 2Gether” concept, to choreograph “Stay,” “Fields of Gold” and the senior dance “Under Pressure,” as well as “Opening” and “Finale” with dance teacher and assistant director Jill Yager. Haun described her experience working with the seniors. 

“There wasn’t rehearsal time for [the senior dance],” she said. “We learned it over four lunches and [then it was performance], but that’s part of the joy of a senior dance: they learn quickly and look great on stage … I’ve really gotten to know them, and they’re basically my friends at this point. [The seniors] are some of my strongest dancers and are so much fun, but at the same time it’s sad because I realize I’m not going to get to work with them next year.”

Though the seniors had no set rehearsal times, most of the other dances met after school. Guest choreographers also held classes in their area of expertise, such as a tap class led by Jessica Chatfields. These classes not only allowed advanced dancers more exposure in those genres than usual, but also allowed novice dancers to explore new styles. Five of the tappers in Chatfield’s class had never tap danced before, but they were, as Haun describes, confident and smooth by the time they performed “Bad Blood” in the production.

The Monday before dance production, Jan. 23, was the first time all the dances came together for the first full rehearsals. Dancers thrummed with excitement to see all the pieces, while student choreographers worried about the feedback from their friends. As rehearsal progressed, tensions released, with student choreographers beaming with pride and other dancers basking in the atmosphere. 

“My favorite part is tech week,” KK, “Bad Blood,” “Finesse” and “Mic Drop” dancer Arthur Wu (10) said. “I liked sitting in the audience watching the show for the first time, trying to guess which students choreographed which dances. [The student choreographers] are some of my close friends … Rehearsal is exciting for them and exciting for me too.”

In a flurry of tech run-throughs, quick changes and rehearsals, the week before the performances flew by. Before they knew it, the dancers were backstage, watching HDC and KK wait in the wings for their entrance to open the show.

“The most rewarding part was opening night,” “Sun in Our Eyes” choreographer Selina said. “Performing for the first time officially, with all the costumes and accessories ready. In that ending pose, it felt so rewarding, like all our work had paid off.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly captioned a photo as “Kai Stinson (11) strikes a pose during ‘Finesse'” instead of “Kai Stinson (11) strikes a pose during ‘Can’t Hold Us.'” The previous version also incorrectly stated that Rachelle Haun choreographed “Opening” and “Finale” by herself instead of with Jill Yager. These errors were corrected on Feb. 21, 2023.