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Leaps and Bounds

UA dancers offer something far beyond the usual holiday fare.

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Sugar plums will be dancing on stages all over town this weekend (see below), but the students of the UA Dance Ensemble provide an alternative to the ubiquitous Nutcracker.

In the Season!, a series of concerts Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the UA's Ina Gittings Dance Theater, offers up an end-of-semester mélange of modern, jazz and ballet. The choreographers range from such high-flying eminences as Paul Taylor to visiting guest artist James Clouser, formerly with the Houston Ballet, to UA professors, grad students and college seniors. A mix of faculty and student choreography will be on the program for the identical Thursday and Friday concerts, while a separate lineup of student dances will be performed in the two Saturday shows.

Fresh from an inspection of the new dance building now under construction ("It's remarkable--the vastness of the space is exciting"), dance prof Michael Williams said that a highlight of the Thursday-Friday shows is "Leaving Vertical," a big new piece by Clouser.

With a cast of 36 student dancers, it's a "spectacle, an interesting collage. Jim has played with pointe work in a nontraditional way and with some of the partnering." The deliberately off-balance movement departs from ballet conventions, he said, thus the title.

Student Staci Houser, a senior, attended a Paul Taylor dance workshop in New York this summer, and got permission to stage the Taylor solo "The Oracle" as her senior project. Another senior, Kevin Hermann, who routinely choreographs what Williams called "slam-bam jazz numbers," here shows a different side in "II," "a beautiful little contemporary duet that's nice and sophisticated." Professor Sam Watson reprises his "Badum Boom," a "lighthearted, comical" work for 12 dancers, last performed at the Jazz Showcase in October. "It's a good closer. It's marvelous fun and high energy."

The two programs overlap a bit. Works by students Claire Hancock and Jason Rachel won slots at all four concerts. Hancock's "Ozone" uses manipulated video of her movements--chopped and played backwards--as a backdrop for her solo, a "modern jazz piece that's just beautiful." Rachel's "Strange Fruit" deploys the music of Billie Holiday. Grad student Julie Pentz also has work in both concerts. "Rhythm & Soles," an a cappella tap solo, debuts Thursday and Friday, and an ensemble tap piece that's a work in progress is danced Saturday.

The Saturday shows offers up grad and undergrad dances, selected by a faculty jury, Williams said. Clifton Brown, who started the UA master's program this semester after dancing for years in Europe, presents "Serpente," a "17-minute contemporary ballet." The dancers twist their upper bodies to conjure up a snake, making for an unusual combination of "modern and jazz torsos on pointe shoes." Krista Gessner's senior project is a group piece for nine, danced to live piano, strings and percussion. Her "Alpha to Omega" is a "contemporary dance, with modern and jazz elements."

Sukie Keita dances her modern solo "Ad Interim," a "multi-ethnic combination of music and movements. It's a world piece."

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