Student Spotlight dance has talent, message

March 06, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

Review by Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau

The Grand Canyon University dance program is going deep in ways that wouldn’t have been imaginable in its infancy three years ago.

It’s much deeper in talent. Wednesday night’s Student Spotlight concert of student-choreographed works involved about three dozen dancers and included five solo pieces. All of the solos were thoughtful and evocative, and those set and performed by Gianna Levin (“Heaven Sent”) and Marina Esposito (“Saying Goodbye”) were absolutely riveting.

The piece "Silent Screams," about human trafficking, was a highlight of the opening performance of the Student Spotlight Dance Concert in Thunderground. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

The piece “Silent Screams,” about human trafficking, was a highlight of the opening performance of the Student Spotlight Dance Concert in Thunderground. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

It’s also much deeper in message. “Silent Screams,” a powerful piece by Brianna Macias about the horrors of human trafficking, brought some in the Thunderground audience to tears. Dancers Kimberly Harris, Ashley Brown, Nicole Mayes and Samantha Newhall were chained together, women caught in the grip of modern-day slavery with no hope of escape. There was no happy ending, and that was precisely the point.

The spring Student Spotlight, which will put on a second and final performance at 7:30 tonight, comes at a much busier time for the program than its fall counterpart did.

In the past week alone, GCU’s dance students have been in classes with Haitian artist-in-residence Jeanguy Saintus, and five students (Levin, Mayes, Chelsea Buss, Adam Astorga and Chris Biles) have been preparing to perform pieces in next week’s American College Dance Festival at Arizona State University.

Credit the students and faculty member Zari Le’on, who coordinated the concert program, for bearing down and getting it done. The 80-minute show had terrific high-energy bookends in the cabaret-style “B-Day” by Andrea Pardi and the Latin-flavored “Dance Around the World” by Kathlyn Chisholm. “B-Day” succeeded in smoothly fitting 13 dancers onto the small stage.

Levin, part of the trio that performed the memorable “Travel by Foot” in December’s Ethington Theatre concert, was up next. She is exceptionally lithe and graceful, a real catch for the dance program out of Scottsdale Community College. Her piece was worshipful, matched in spiritual overtones only by Alissa Dill’s “Grace,” which bathed four dancers (including Dill) in soft reds and blues and was set to Kristene Mueller’s rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

“Popular,” with Harris and Mayes lip-syncing and dancing to the Broadway tune of the same name (from the musical “Wicked”), was a crowd favorite. So was “Under Your Spell,” a scorching duet by Kayley Thompson and Dominique Bailey set to Nina Simone’s version of the classic “I Put a Spell on You.” The line “I don’t care if you don’t want me, I’m yours right now” sizzled with Thompson, as the lady in red, and Bailey, as her male foil, supplying the body talk.

The Student Spotlight seems to have found a decent home in Thunderground, a space that presents some challenges because of upstairs noise but provides a cozy setting. The concert is useful as a snapshot assessment of GCU’s talent and serves as a worthy teaser for the semester-ending production in Ethington, “reNEWal,” which will be staged on April 22 and 23.

For a slideshow of photos from the concert by campus photographer Darryl Webb, click here.

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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