Arts & Culture » Review

Physical Challenge

UA students get the chance to dance a masterpiece as part of their 'Premium Blend'

by

comment
It seems like a no-brainer: Shouldn't all college dance students get the chance to perform in classic works by such legendary choreographers such as George Balanchine and Paul Taylor? To feel legendary dances from the inside out?

Sadly, it's hardly that simple. The nature of dance-performance logistics makes such an endeavor far more complicated than, say, a university harpsichord student playing a revered piece by Bach. At the most basic level, dance notation--though it exists--is rarely used to archive dances the way sheet music is a written record of a sound composition.

There's also the question of permission, says Amy Ernst, an associate dance professor at the University of Arizona's Dance Division. "And sometimes, the costs (for the right to perform a work) are prohibitively expensive," she says.

Which makes the opportunity for UA dance students to perform in Taylor's 30-year-old masterpiece "Esplanade"--to be presented this weekend as part of the concert Premium Blend and later in April--all the more priceless.

"It's a real gift," Ernst says. "Not every college dance program has students who have the caliber for these companies to agree to set a piece like 'Esplanade' on them."

A year ago, UA dance students had a similar experience when they performed Balanchine's "Serenade" under the auspices of the Balanchine Trust.

This year, the Paul Taylor Dance Company sent veteran dancer Ruth Andrien (who performed in the original 1975 production) to Tucson to stage the work for the students. The connection came about because UA dance professor Melissa Lowe has been a friend of Andrien's for years.

Andrien visited the UA three times: for auditions in August, after which the piece was cast; in January for an intensive seven-day period to teach the work; and a week or two ago for some fine-tuning.

With Andrien overseeing their learning, the dancers have experienced a "deeper and richer connection in a lot of ways" to the work than other performers might have done, Ernst says.

Ernst said the UA has double-cast the piece, which uses six women and three men. It will again be on the bill of the Dance Division's spring concert at the end of April.

Rehearsals, which Ernst directs, have tended toward the challenging, she says.

"It's really a matter of giving themselves over physically to the movement. They are getting the chance to refocus their technique in different ways. They are working hard right now to get it down, but yes, they will remember this experience for the rest of their lives."

The Paul Taylor Dance Company, which in 2004 celebrated its 50th anniversary, will visit Tucson in a separate trip to perform on April 19 in Centennial Hall as part of the UApresents concert series.

Performances of Premium Blend will be held in the 300-seat Stevie Eller Dance Theatre on the UA Mall, across the street from McKale Memorial Center and next door to the Ina Gittings Building. The Dance Division has called the 28,000-square-foot complex home since it was opened in the fall of 2003.

In addition to the Taylor work, the concert will show off the budding talents of the UA dance students and the diverse choreographic styles of the UA faculty. Ranging from ballet through modern dance to jazz, pieces by current faculty members James Clouser, Sam Watson and Susan Quinn will fill out the bill.

Associate professor Clouser choreographed his "Con Spirito" for the Houston Ballet in 1974, when he was the company's artistic director. It also has been included in the repertoire of ballet companies in Chicago, Washington D.C., and London.

As you might guess from its title, "Con Spirito" is a brisk and passionate 20-minute work in four movements, featuring 24 student dancers, music from Bedrich Smetana's The Bartered Bride. A press release from the Dance Division described it as "exuberantly allegro."

Assistant professor Watson designed the costumes for "Con Spirito." In addition, he also is one of the choreographers, along with Christina Ernst, of the clever, inventive "Unbreakable," which has thrilled UA audiences before with its unique use of glass as concept, prop and, in a manner of speaking, vehicle for sound design.

Associate professor Quinn's contribution to the performance is "St. Theresa," an award-winning jazz-oriented piece. Featuring the music of rock-blues singer Joan Osbourne and three female dancers, the piece explores supportive female relationships while dealing with life's struggles.

Add a comment