GCU dance students step up variety in spring show
By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
If your preference for dance leans more to the demi pointe side of the stage than stomping the do-si-do, or if you’d rather see jazz hands than flat back any day of the week, you’ll want to be in Ethington Theatre this weekend.
The reverse also is true (you think “Oklahoma!” beats “The Nutcracker” and would rather have lunch in heaven with Martha Graham than with Bob Fosse) as the Grand Canyon University College of Fine Arts and Production’s Dance Department presents its spring faculty concert with something for all tastes.
The performances, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, will feature the Ethington Dance Ensemble, comprising the work of about 30 students, faculty members and guest artists. On the program are 12 pieces inspired, as the concert title says, by “Ballet to Broadway: And Everything in Between.”
Susannah Keita, director of GCU’s Dance Department, said the ensemble will visit several eras, investigating dance within a dramatic context through the decades. Examples are Keita’s choreographed works, “Kansas City” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” and “Maybe This Time” adapted from Fosse’s “Cabaret.”
The genres are right up her alley.
“Jazz and musical theatre styles are my home territory,” Keita said. “As a young dancer in New York City, I took as many classes as I could. I also went to as many Broadway shows as I could.”
Other pieces on the Ethington program are as varied as “Daydreaming at a Dance Concert,” in which an audience member narrates his thoughts while watching a modern dance concert, then finds himself on stage, and “Sleeping Beauty Act 1: Friends Dance,” set to Tchaikovsky.
Scott Martin, a GCU adjunct faculty member and former dancer and principal instructor/director for Ballet Arizona, contributed the light, entertaining “Sleeping Beauty.”
“It demonstrates ‘corps de ballet’ where the four dancers work together to demonstrate the execution of movement, cooperation, striving to move together,” he said.
Martin, who joined GCU last fall and taught several ballet courses during the year, said he has enjoyed both classroom and concert interactions with students. Many of them favor one genre of dance over the other, but they were open to learning new styles.
“Some are more influenced by modern dance or they like jazz more,” he said. “But the students have come forth and been willing to watch me, meet me and do what I’ve asked of them.”
Diversity at its best
Exposing GCU students and Ethington audiences to a variety of dance genres is among the things the department and its faculty do best, said sophomore Cayla Jennings. Before she arrived on campus in the fall of 2013, jazz and contemporary dance had been her thing in high school and studio work.
But Jennings, 20, who will dance in four pieces this weekend, has since learned to interpret and appreciate modern and other dance forms. As a result, she has become a stronger artist.
“We have so much diversity, and I think that’s what attracts people to our program,” she said. “Our concerts are a great opportunity for high school students to see that this is a program they would really get something out of because, at GCU, we do more than the average university.”
Jennings also has a full schedule of other classes and teaches dance at two elementary schools in the West Valley. But that sort of commitment and energy is common among dancers, said Keita, using guest artist Kim Karpanty’s dance, “Birdland,” as an example.
“Students auditioned on a Monday and knew the entire piece by Thursday, spending four to six hours in rehearsal per day on top of a normal class schedule,” Keita said. “Dancers typically become very tightknit on account of the long hours they spend together and the amount of negotiation that occurs throughout the production process.”
Keita described the choreographed piece of Karpanty, an associate dance professor at Kent State University, “a groovy jazz piece” from the 1970s with music by Weather Report. (You’ll recognize it.)
Karpanty and Los Angeles-based dancer Amy Michele Allen taught master classes to GCU dance students this year during weeklong residencies. For the spring concert, Allen choreographed “At Sixes and Sevens,” a piece that “evokes a tale of love gone sour, danced in an urban contemporary style,” Keita said.
Additionally, Suzy Guarino, co-director of Tap 24.7 in Phoenix, has choreographed two pieces that were incorporated into the Ethington show.
A different side of the stage
The concerts also give students the opportunity to learn stage management. Junior Andrea Melendez, who has danced in six GCU shows, is stage manager for Ballet to Broadway, a job that has been unexpectedly challenging and rewarding.
“Once we graduate, we’re all going to put on productions, and I need to know what the heck I’m doing,” Melendez said. “This is two months of preparation for two nights of performances, and I’ve learned a lot being the bridge between so many people — the choreographers, production crew and staff and all the dancers.
“I’ve never been an email person — I was that person with 300 unread emails — but my In Box is always clean now.”
Melendez, who started tap and ballet at age 6, agreed with Jennings that her dance horizons have been expanded, even to the point of being able to appreciate, if not begin to understand, the very abstract nature of modern dance.
“I think it’s all beautiful,” the 21-year-old said.
Other works in the Ethington show:
- “Reprise,” by faculty member Leanne Schmidt
- “Ballet (à terre)” and “An Ambiguous Number of Birds,” by faculty member Angel Crissman
- “Women’s Stage,” by faculty member Sean Dahlberg
- “The Ladies Who Lunch,” by faculty member Kevin Godfrey-Chevalier
- “Caution,” by GCU junior Nicole Mayes
- “This is Not Kansas,” by faculty member Bekki Price
Tickets for “Ballet to Broadway: And Everything in Between,” range from $5-12, and admission for GCU students is free. Click here for tickets or call the Ethington box office at 602-639-8880.
Contact Janie Magruder at (602) 639-8018 or [email protected]