A fresh and young director takes charge of BYU’s Contemporary Dance Theatre


Change is in the air for BYU’s Contemporary Dance Theatre (CDT) as a new, fresh and young director takes the spot of Pat Debenham.

Receiving her Masters of Fine Arts in dance from the University of California, Irvine, Michelle Nielsen is beyond thrilled to become the new director of CDT. She has had many years of experience in the dance field, working with dance legend Donald McKayle and dancing professionally with Backhausdance Contemporary Dance Company. Also, she is a BYU alumnus with a degree in dance education and performed with CDT, formerly known as The BYU Dancer’s Company.

“I follow a long line of extremely talented directors who have left a bright legacy with CDT,” Nielsen said. “I hope only to add to that legacy with cutting-edge choreography and with my fresh experience in the professional contemporary dance field.”

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CDT on tour in India this past summer
Pat Debenham came to BYU over 30 years ago, and Nielsen admires his work greatly. Working as Debenham’s assistant director last year, Nielsen plans to keep and expand his expertise on CDT as well as add a more modern contemporary influence based on her experience.

“I have arranged to have five esteemed choreographers from around the nation, who are fresh and current in the contemporary dance field, come to BYU this semester to set work on CDT,” Nielsen said. 

Although Debenham will be greatly missed, members of CDT are excited to welcome a new director and are looking forward to what Nielsen has to offer.

“The director has a lot to do with the style of pieces CDT will perform and the way things are run,” said Arianna Brunell, a senior majoring in dance and a member of CDT. “There is definitely change with a new director coming in, but change is exciting.”

Nielsen wants to bring her best to CDT. She loves dance that is technically challenging but also has an aspect of theatre that is incorporated in the art form. Heidi Jorgensen, a junior majoring in dance and a member of CDT, said she cares for the well-being of her dancers and realizes the value of their time. 

“I love how organized and prepared Michelle always is,” Jorgensen said. “She also has such a good eye for detail, which comes in handy during the cleaning process. She works us very hard, but she’s very reasonable and efficient with rehearsal time so that we don’t overwork ourselves.”

Brunell also appreciates how Nielsen always tries to incorporate the gospel into whatever they do. Nielsen encourages her students to be a light, inspiring others to follow their examples. She is excited to work with CDT and cannot wait to surprise the audience with new choreography.

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