Categories: Arts & EntertainmentCollege of Fine Arts and Production

Winter Dance Concert Brings Athleticism to Stage as Never Before

Review by Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau

In the absence of home basketball games this week, the best place on the Grand Canyon University campus to watch athletes perform is Ethington Theatre.

The GCU dance program’s annual winter concert, “raDiANCE,” revealed an ensemble blessed with strength, agility and flexibility in an opening-night performance Wednesday that encompassed eight works. With its spare stage and simple costuming, the 90-minute concert kept the focus on the highly trained dancers and their technique, needing no gimmicks to hold the attention of its audience.

Susannah Keita, GCU’s director of dance, has brought quality works to campus through her connections in the dance community. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

The program has come a long way in a short time under director Susannah Keita and her faculty, who have built many connections in the dance community, helping Keita to snag quality pieces from outside choreographers. Two of those, Sarah Zehnder of New York’s Zehnder Dance and Sean Dahlberg of Phoenix Contemporary Dance Company, contributed to “raDiANCE” in substantive ways.

Zehnder’s nine-minute trio, “Travel by Foot,” set to original music by Jordan Chiolis, was mesmerizing in the way that student dancers Gianna Levin, Chelsea Buss and Nicole Mayes controlled, contorted and intertwined their bodies. At times their moves were gravity-defying, and there were lifts that had a high degree of difficulty.

Levin and Mayes also appeared in “Always Uncolored,” a work by Dahlberg that closed the show nicely and made use of eight dancers and the song “Kaleidoscope Heart” by Sara Bareilles.

Although the winter concert is not a Christmas show, this year’s edition was rich in overtly spiritual themes. “For many of the dancers performing tonight, reflecting the light (of Christ) is an ever-present goal,” Keita wrote in the concert’s printed program.

The opening work, “Unity” by student Samantha Newhall, was set to Hillsong United’s contemplative “Oceans” and was stunningly graceful and worshipful, with its seven dancers linked in various ways. It’s rare for a student-choreographed piece to be selected for the winter or spring concert, but Newhall is a rare talent whose style is clean in movement and engaging in message. She also danced in the piece.

The work “Agape,” by Kathryn Noletto Felis and again involving Levin and Mayes as dancers, employed soothing folk renditions of “What Wondrous Love Is This” and the Doxology, and Rodni Williams’ “Blinded” was enhanced by Chanté Moore’s “Jesus, I Want You.” Tall Zachary Campbell, one of only two men among the concert’s two dozen dancers, made a powerful impression in the latter piece.

“Spiritual,” by Zari Le’on, was a crowd-pleaser with its funky, urban groove and the way it showed off the athlete in its seven dancers: Alissa Dill, Zoe Maiden, Eden Williamson, Kennia Aguirre, Andrea Pardi, Monique Streety and Chloe Davis.  Keita’s “Living, Lasting” was similarly demanding of its four performers, and the execution of either work would have been a stretch three Decembers ago with GCU’s first crop of uninitiated dance students.

Two of those charter members of the program, Keely Gilbreath (who danced in “Unity”) and Angie Rimbey, were recognized by Keita before intermission. They are scheduled to graduate this month and expect to move on to careers in dance education.

“They have beautiful hearts for teaching,” Keita said.

The second and final performance of “raDiANCE” — the odd spelling capitalizes the letters in “dance,” in case you hadn’t picked up on that — will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Call 639.8880 for tickets.

The spring concert, “reNEWal,” is scheduled for April 22 and 23 in Ethington. It will be preceded on March 5 and 6 by the Student Spotlight Dance Concert, a popular program of student choreography that will be presented in Thunderground. 

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or doug.carroll@gcu.edu.

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