Student-Directed Dance Concert Shines Light on Several Styles

November 14, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

Review by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

The show must go on, as they say, and not even a fire-alarm interruption could derail the Student Spotlight Dance Concert on Wednesday night in Thunderground.

The semiannual concert features the works of student choreographers at Grand Canyon University, providing a window to the dance program’s palette of creativity. A record 14 pieces were performed, not including one involving seven guest dancers from Camelback High School, who were ready to go onstage when the shrieking alarm system went off and forced Thunder Alley to be emptied.

After the unscheduled (and uneventful — there was no fire) intermission, the concert resumed with some of its strongest material, most notably “Alpha,” an engrossing duet by dancers Chris Biles and Adam Astorga about a relationship that takes a dark turn.

Adam Astorga (left) and Chris Biles in "Alpha," a piece choreographed by Biles for the Student Spotlight Dance Concert.

Adam Astorga (left) and Chris Biles in “Alpha,” a piece choreographed by Biles for the Student Spotlight Dance Concert.

Biles choreographed four pieces and danced in three of them. He is a gifted junior whose composition “Waiting” was a highlight of last year’s winter concert, sounding a warning about life’s frenzied pace.

In addition to “Alpha,” he co-choreographed and danced a tender, romantic duet with senior Samantha Newhall, who performed in four Spotlight pieces and is remembered for her sharp choreography of last spring’s Ethington Theatre musical, “H.M.S. Pinafore.” The sweet innocence of young love was captured perfectly by the duet.

Biles, who has part-time jobs at the University and with a dance studio in Surprise, said there’s a secret to being so prolific.

“I take sleep out of my schedule,” he joked afterward.

“Alpha” is one of six GCU student works in the running to be performed at next spring’s American College Dance Festival, which will be hosted by Arizona State University. Two of those six will be announced as winners after a repeat performance of the hourlong Spotlight at 7:30 tonight.

Under Susannah Keita, GCU’s director of dance, the dance-education program has grown to 60 students in only three years. Although she has the help of seven adjunct instructors, she is the program’s only full-time faculty member.

Keita said the strength of the Spotlight is its ability to showcase a range of styles, including hip-hop, tap, jazz and even vaudeville. An edgy hip-hop piece called “Both Sides,” choreographed by Jean Welton-Richardson and featuring a duet by the choreographer and Ruby Morales, was a crowd favorite. So was a riveting tap routine by Zachary Kelley, set to the Foo Fighters’ song “Everlong.”

“We’re very diverse and embracing of different styles and voices,” Keita said of her program. “That’s not always the case with other colleges.”

For the students, Biles said, it can be an artistically nutritious stew.

“By being exposed to different faculty and master classes, we have evolved (as a dance program),” he said. “This is our most diverse Spotlight ever.”

The program’s winter concert, “raDiANCE,” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 and 12 in Ethington Theatre, with a student matinee at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 11. For ticket information, call 639.8880 or email

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or

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