“Opening a Space so that We Can Declare Ourselves:” Devyn Itula on the Performing Arts

When she was three, Devyn Itula, ’18, began finding her way in what would become one of her greatest passions: dance.

Devyn Itula

Devyn Itula

While she only took “baby classes” once or twice a week, her routine of dance classes evolved; by the time she was seven, she was taking classes three days a week. Classes varied from ballet to lyrical to jazz to, occasionally, tap. By the time she was eleven, Devyn was dancing competitively on a team that she would continue to work with through age fifteen.

“I had a teacher who was an influential leader in my life,” Devyn says. “She was both my dance teacher and my first-grade teacher. She was young, full of energy, and a professional dancer. She was just a genuine human being. You could tell that she cared in the classroom and also through her movement. She didn’t throw anything away. She meant everything she did; she was intentional.” This teacher continued to be a mentor and inspiration in how Devyn sees dance and life.

 “The discipline I learned in dance has become a center for many other passions I have,” she says. Her road with dance, which gathered skills and role models and habits, led her to a passion that even rivals dance: theatre.

“At one point, I had pneumonia for two months when I was in fifth grade, so I was out for a bit and really out of shape. I didn’t feel like dance was for me anymore. I wanted to quit. My mom told me to stick it out, I could do it, and I’m glad she did,” she says. “Even though I loved dance, I was dreading it.”

At around this time, her school was putting on a play, and Devyn had the opportunity to be in her very first production.

Theatre had always been in her consciousness; Devyn’s grandmother was a season ticket holder for a big theatre in Los Angeles, so she had always taken Devyn to shows.

“I was raised viewing theatre and appreciating the performing arts,” she says. “I was so excited that my school was putting on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“I absolutely loved it. This was where my theatre journey began,” she says. That year, she played Hermia. The next year, in Alice in Wonderland, she played the Mad Hatter.

When Devyn got to Dublin School, she was excited to experience what the Performing Arts had to offer, and she, over the course of her time here, would end up in Dance as a sport, Dance Ensemble, the Play, Music Performance Lab, Music Portfolio, Dubliners (chorus), and a cappella. Now, she would call herself a “loyal, vivacious, empathetic student performer;” being a performer is who she is.

“As a senior, I am thrilled about the winter musical,” she says. “It is what I look forward to every year. It’s inspired from my hometown, City of Angels, which takes place in old Hollywood. It hits close to home and it’s also always so exciting to see my friends who I have gotten to know so much through theatre.”

She also looks forward to Family Weekend, which feels like a bookend. It was her first official performance at Dublin, and, this year, it will be her last with Dublin.

“I am most excited about the opening number, which is a suite of dances, four dances. The suite is called ‘Studies in Feeling,’ the opening piece is called ‘Solidarity,’ and the song is ‘Retrograde’ by James Blake. The piece is really reflective, and part of it goes backwards. It’s a really cool effect to open with going forward and backwards.”

Looking back, though, Devyn reflects that she was not the person she was as a performer when she arrived at Dublin. The Family Weekend performance and the winter Play will show who Devyn has become.

“At first, I started here knowing, okay, I knew a lot about theatre, and I dance pretty well, so I will do it,” she says. She was not sure where theatre and dance would fit into her life; she was not yet sure how they would shape her life.

“When I began work with the Dance Ensemble and in the musical, I started to realize that all day, I was thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get to practice.’ It was all I was thinking about,” she says.

“Ms. Foreman and Mr. Marr’s tutelage” have also been foundational in Devyn’s development as a performing artist at Dublin. “[When I think of] how they approach performing art, I see both disciplines in a way I never had. They helped me realize that performing arts is a whole human experience. It is always much bigger than yourself. It is not a single person dancing on stage.”

Devyn describes the differences between her relationship with theatre and dance like this: “With dance for me, it’s like taking a picture and always appreciating it. Looking back, you appreciate this picture all of the time, even though you are in the present. On stage, I am thinking of all the things that Jenny has told us to work on. I see snapshots of movement. In theatre, I see a continual rolling, like a rolling of film. It’s constant. In dance, I am always anticipating, which is kind of exciting. In theatre, I am always stuck in one moment but also always moving forward. In theatre, I feel like I can live in it forever. I can transport myself somewhere else and keep moving forward in time.”

Devyn’s greatest memories of dance at Dublin come in the form of snapshots—specifically, snapshots of Thursday Dance Ensemble rehearsals.

“Those are the days when we have our most rambunctious and creative moments,” she laughs. “Most of us probably wouldn’t be friends, but Dance Ensemble brings us together. We will be doing exercises across the floor, and someone won’t be paying attention and do something different, and it turns into simultaneous play and work. A mistake that looks cool, that builds on what we are doing. So we go with it.”

Her sophomore year, too, Devyn had the opportunity to travel with the Dance Ensemble to the National High School Dance Festival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Being able to take huge dance classes with a variety of passionate, talented professionals was life-changing.

Even though she loved the different experience that those large dance classes offered, Devyn reflects that the small size of dance classes at Dublin is something special.

“Before Dublin, I had always been in classrooms of over twenty-five,” she says. “Being at Dublin with small classes and small dance classes was difficult at first. At my old school, there was always one right answer to a question. Here, in all of your classes, learning how to explore and explain the process and all different right answers was difficult, but it’s helped me evolve. You can’t hide in a corner. You are open. You are readily available to answer questions without always knowing where it will go.”

This process and environment have been transformative in Devyn’s life as a student and a performing artist.

Another transformative experience emerged this past summer when Devyn went to the Oregon Summer Seminar for High School Juniors. The program was run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“It was the first really hardcore theatre program I had been to where I was surrounded by people who want theatre as a career,” Devyn explains. “In one activity, we had to ‘declare our space in the world to state why we belong here.’ We gathered in a circle, and we each had to step into the middle and say, ‘I am …’ and declare why we belong. The exercise ended with declaring your name in space and then having your ensemble pick you up and put you over their heads. Carrying you in the air.”

“I do not ever do trust falls,” Devyn laughs. “I am not comfortable with this.”

“I just started crying,” she says. “And the most gratifying to me was that even people who didn’t feel the same feelings I did validated mine. They validated me and accepted my response. In the end, the whole process took one and a half hours. There were twenty-five of us, and the declaration and lifting part was supposed to take one minute or so for each of us. But a few people, myself included, were not ready. So we waited in silence. It felt like collective concentration. We were there for each other even though we didn’t know each other, as this was only the second day. And I knew everyone was there for me, even though, because it was meant to be a silent exercise, we weren’t talking.”

“Theatre and art in our lives opens a space so that we can declare ourselves,” Devyn reflects. “So that we matter. And we all matter to this world. I learned that I can use my artistic voice to declare my own space in the world.”

With theatre and with dance, Devyn describes: “Performing is like welcoming people into your life. Theatre and dance help me welcome people into my life while being part of a whole human experience.”

To Devyn Itula, the performing arts are a foundation, a future, a passion, and a vocation. They have helped her both declare space and welcome people into her life, and she can’t wait to see the ways in which she will grow, the truths she will declare, and the ways that she will use performance to welcome others in—to conversation, to experience, to understandings—over the course of her senior year at Dublin.

 

By Rachael Jennings