School of Music, Theatre and Dance

Oakland Dance Theatre, Repertory Dance Company to perform annual Fall Showcase

Concert to feature choreography by guest artists, including DIAVOLO’s Matt Wagner

icon of a calendarNovember 30, 2018

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Oakland Dance Theatre, Repertory Dance Company to perform annual Fall Showcase
Matt Wagner with Oakland University dance students
DIAVOLO's Matt Wagner, an Oakland University alum, works with OU dance students as they prepare for the annual Fall Showcase, which will take place Dec. 6-8 in Varner Recital Hall on the OU campus. (Photos courtesy JLBoone Photography)

Oakland Dance Theatre and OU Repertory Dance Company will be performing their annual Fall Showcase on Thursday, Dec. 6 through Saturday, Dec. 8 in Varner Recital Hall on the OU campus.

The concert will feature works choreographed by OU faculty — including Associate Professor Ali Woerner, Special Lecturer Christina Tasco, and Lecturer Rebecca Crimmins — as well as guest artists Stephanie Pizzo, Eisenhower Dance Detroit (EDD) artistic director and OU dance program graduate; Sandra Torijano, University of Michigan dance professor; Molly McMullen, company member of Eisenhower Dance Detroit; and Jacques Heim, artistic director and founder of DIAVOLO, a California-based professional company known for their use of large sets and acrobatic choreography.

The latter work will be reconstructed by DIAVOLO company members Amy Tuley and Matt Wagner, an OU Dance Department alumnus who has been performing with the group for three seasons and was there when DIAVOLO was a finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2017.

Matt Wagner with Oakland University dance students

“That was a surreal experience,” he said. “It was also a lot of fun.”

Wagner visited the OU campus from Oct.15-30 to work with students who will be performing one of DAVOLO’s works during the Fall Showcase.

“It feels great to be back at OU,” said Wagner, who received his B.F.A. in Dance from Oakland University in 2015. “I love teaching, it’s part of who I am, so to be able to come back to OU and share my experience with the students has been awesome.”

Wagner grew up in southwest Michigan, just south of Kalamazoo. He attended Western Michigan University for two years before transferring to Oakland University after hearing about the university’s outstanding dance program.

“As part of the program, you have to see shows that demonstrate the technique you’re specializing in, such as ballet, and write a critique on it,” he said. “It’s a way to make sure the students are out there in the field seeing the art that they’re going to be working in.”

For Wagner, that meant attending a performance by DIAVOLO at the Detroit Opera House.

Matt Wagner with Oakland University dance students

“I loved watching it and I wanted to see if I could do it, as well,” he said. “At a Q&A after the show, I asked them if they have intensives because I wanted to see if I really enjoyed doing it, not just watching it. They did, so I went out to Los Angeles for a week and did an intensive with them and it was amazing, mind-blowing and life-changing.”

During his senior year at OU, Wagner travelled to Dallas to audition for DIAVOLO and was offered an apprenticeship at the company’s training facility.

“Five years later, here we are,” Wagner said. “One of the reasons I came back to OU was because while I was going through this program we had a lot of very similar guest artists. I’m here today to try to bring a different perspective.

“A lot of the time we get bogged down as dancers that it’s got to be exactly the right step or you’re not going to be able to do what you’re trying to do,” he added. “But a lot of the time it’s just about bringing who you are to bear and selling whatever you end up showing. The reality, especially for performers, is there are so many people trying to do the exact same thing that, unless you’re lucky enough to have certain connections that can get you a job, you have to have something that sets you apart.”

Matt Wagner with Oakland University dance students

While working with students at OU, Wagner encouraged the dancers to look beyond the physical movements they were learning and understand the reasoning behind it.

“There has to be a reason for doing what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it,” he said. “In DIAVOLO, there’s a part of the performance where I get chased off what is essentially a big staircase to do a big cartwheel in the air. But it’s not about what I’m doing, it’s about why I’m doing it. I’m on the stairs, somebody is running at me and if I don’t move I’m going to be hit. I want the audience to understand that. I want them to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Wagner also advised the students explore other interests, such as martial arts or gymnastics, and to vary their training and experience as much as possible.

“The more you know, the better off you’ll be,” he said. “It’s not even just about technique; get into a studio and try lighting stuff, try costuming stuff, figure out how to build things because even if you don’t need to use it, knowing what everyone is doing and going through so you can put on your show — it’s very appreciated,” Wagner said. “It really does take a village to put on a production. It’s so important to know what it takes to do it.”

Tickets to the Oakland Dance Theatre and OU Repertory Dance Company’s Fall Showcase are $8 for students, $14 for the general public and can be purchased online at

"The Oakland Dance Theatre and OU Repertory Dance Company performance, directed by Christina Tasco and Thayer Jonutz, highlights the incredible work of OU dance majors and the choreographers they work closely with,” said Gregory Patterson, associate professor and chair of the OU Dance Department.

For more information, call 248-370-2030 or email

Performance Schedule:

Thursday, December 6, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

• Friday, December 7, 2018 at 8 p.m.

• Saturday, December 8, 2018 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.




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