Lured to the 'Dark Side'

By Stefanie Pohl

Pink Floyd-themed concert coincides with leadership change at Happendance

Missy Lilje couldn’t have planned it better if she had tried. She was recently named executive director for Happendance, the area’s only self-sustained professional dance company, mere weeks before fulfilling a lifelong dream — setting choreography to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

“The first time I heard Pink Floyd, I was in high school, a time in a person’s life where you’re trying to find your own voice,” she said. “I found that this was some great music that not a lot of my friends had heard of before. And it just stuck.”

The album, which turns 40 years old in March, has been a source of inspiration for Lilje for years. Lilje admits the choice of music was “pretty self-indulgent.”

“It’s always been a dream to just make one giant dance out of it,” she said. “And I thought, why not this year?”

As artistic director for the last seven years, Lilje, 37, has had much experience directing performances but until now hasn’t been responsible for the entire content of a piece.

“I just felt that I needed to take this next step and bite off a bigger project for my own development,” she said. “And when I thought about doing something long, (“Dark Side of the Moon”) was the first thing that came to mind.”

Lilje hopes that by using a mainstream, popular piece of music, there will be an opportunity for a broader audience to be interested in and enjoy modern dance. The Pink Floyd section will last 45 minutes. Other pieces include one by Danielle Selby, one of Happendance’s professional dancers.

Another component to the production is what Lilje calls “structured improvisation” of dance, inspired by text provided by members of the community about how they feel about “Dark Side of the Moon.” In interpreting the music to create a narrative for the dance piece, Lilje used her own experiences as a mother of two for inspiration, particularly in the realm of “sleep deprivation and feeling just a bit crazy at the end of the day.” Those themes, Lilje says, are universal for parents and non-parents alike.

The dance piece Lilje has choreographed tracks the journey of one woman coping with insomnia who goes through a breakdown before finding a peaceful resolution.

At an afterglow party this weekend, Lilje takes over as Happendance´s executive director from Diane Newman, who founded the professional company 37 years ago. In 1976, the company produced its first concert outdoors on the banks of the Red Cedar River at Michigan State University. As Lilje explains, these dance events — called “happenings” — would have company members taking dance out of the theaters and into places where anyone might just walk by and see it happening. Accessibility has been the priority of Happendance ever since.

Lilje met Newman when she began taking classes with the company at 7 years old. Thirty years later, her connection with Happendance — and its founder — runs deep. Although this event coincides with Newman’s retirement from CEO duties with Happendance, she will continue to direct and teach at the school. The opportunity for Lilje to choreograph a full, concert-length piece at the time of this transition has become a tribute of sorts to her mentor.

“I feel like a product of Happendance,” Lilje said. “And not just me, but thousands of other students who are very successful and empowered. (Diane) is a part of our worldview. We are confident, worthy, determined — she just keeps pumping out women into the world with these traits. Anything I’ve offered to Happendance she is responsible for.”

“This Is Happendance”
featuring the music of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”
Jan. 25-26
8 p.m.
Adults $15/students & seniors $12
(Preview night, 8 p.m. Jan. 24)
LCC’s Dart Auditorium
500 N. Capitol Ave., Lansing