Dance concert to find beat in pacemaker, much more

December 05, 2017 / by / 0 Comment
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Ethington Dance Ensemble’s winter dance concert will include 11 choreographed pieces, from humorous works to ballet and jazz. (GCU Today file photo from the winter dance concert in 2016)

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Dance is serious. It’s years of training. Eons of dedication. No way is it a funny, knee-slapper art form.

That’s a misconception choreographer Bekki Price will stamp out in “The Arc Between,” Ethington Dance Ensemble’s winter dance concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at GCU’s Ethington Theatre.

“The audience doesn’t often think of dance as being funny, but we like to invite humor into dance,” Price said Tuesday afternoon from the theater, where the dance department was gathered for tech week rehearsals.

Dancers perform at Ethington Theatre in the 2016 winter dance concert.

It’s why Price has dived into a competitive swimming theme for the piece she choreographed in collaboration with students called “Qualifier.” It’s one of 11 works to be showcased at the concert – nine choreographed by faculty and two by guest artists.

“It’s a quirky piece. … What we did was explore swimmers where you see upper-body movements,” Price said, adding how the dancers in the work are exploring the idea that a swimmer is limited to his or her lane. With that in mind, the dancers turn the cozy Ethington stage into a swimming pool of sorts with all its designated lanes.

“Sometimes athletes get so focused on their goal that someone from outside might view that level of intensity as humorous.”

Dancers will be stretching out and exploring their “inner Michael Phelps” for the piece.

Price said she doesn’t remember exactly what inspired her to choreograph a work with a swimming theme, but she became fascinated with the idea of extreme athleticism.

Not that the 11 works in “The Arc Between” settle on humor alone. The dance department is cutting a wide swath in bringing the concert’s theme to the stage.

Artistic Director Susannah Keita said the theme of the concert was spawned from a discussion she had with colleague Angel Crissman. They talked about how modern dance choreographers of the 20th century rarely turned away from the tough issues. They explored the whole arc of possibilities in between.

“It’s showing the peaks and valleys of life,” Keita said. “Dance can take on subjects of great magnitude or can take on the subtleties of life. … They can also tell the grand stories of another age.”

Dancer Lauren Iuliano described the theme this way: “It means more of the polar opposites and the gray areas between, like life and death and the gray area between that.”

Painting with such a wide brush has resulted in a diverse program. “‘The Arc Between’ covers so many different genres of life – everything from political things today to subconscious thoughts,” Iuliano said.

Nine choreographers will explore the theme “The Arc Between” for the 2017 winter dance concert. (GCU Today file photo from the 2016 winter dance concert)

Attendees can expect everything from ballet to modern to jazz, contemporary, comedy and drama with works that go from gray tones as visuals to a ’70s-esque look for “Viewers Choice” by choreographer Leanne Schmidt, whom Keita said “is extremely gifted at making comedic pieces.”

“Another work is more pedestrian, where it looks as if someone has walked off the street,” Iuliano said.

Artist-in-residence Kevin Godfrey-Chevalier has choreographed two pieces for the concert, which will feature 43 dancers bringing to life those 11 dances.

He did a piece for nine women, “If We All Look Up,” which explores the ideas of community vs. conformity and what true community is. The other piece, for five men, is  “Spectrum,” which he said is “kind of the idea of the spectrum of masculinity.”

“The men’s piece is definitely physically demanding. It’s very athletic, and they’re on stage the whole time. The women’s piece is 16 minutes long, so it comes with its own challenges.”

Like all good art, “The Arc Between” features choreographed works that comment on social issues.

“There’s a piece that has to do with some ideas behind microaggression and the state of race in this country and what that looks like,” Godfrey-Chevalier said. “Then there’s my idea of you don’t have to conform to belong, and that’s very topical.”

Dancer Stacee Martinez, who doubles as one of the concert’s stage managers, will be on the Ethington stage for the work “Infinite Path” by award-winning, Chicago-based guest choreographer Nejla Yatkin, who is originally from Berlin but just returned from traveling around the world with her project, “Dancing Around the World.” Yatkin has choreographed for Isaac Mizrahi Fashion in New York and L’Oreal in Paris and just choreographed an off-Broadway musical, “The Boy Who Danced On Air.”

The work likely will be particularly meaningful to the senior students at the show – 17 senior class members are featured.

“It’s about moving forward – what do we hold onto and what do we look forward to?” Martinez said. “You see us basically traveling through all the stages in life. In the end, we grab each other and help each other walk away. It’s basically about our time here.”

But Martinez said the work isn’t forlorn in any way.

“It’s just showing our journey,” she said.

GCU’s dance department, seen here at the 2016 winter dance concert, will perform works that feature everything from “Skirts” to a swimming theme to a jazz work inspired by the heart’s natural pacemaker for the 2017 winter concert at Ethington Theatre.

The show’s other guest choreographer, Christy McNeil Chand, an assistant professor of dance at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., has created a jazz work called “Sinotrial Node.” The sinoatrial node is the heart’s natural pacemaker.

Keita said that as viewers watch the work, they will see a constant pulsating movement that echoes the constant beat of the heart. It’s a “stunning concert jazz work that pulsates with energy and whispers of the fragility of life,” Keita writes in the concert program.

Another work, by Alicia-Lynn Nascimento Castro, is called “Skirts” and will feature an array of skirts, while Keita’s piece, “Race to Freedom,” explores the dancers’ feelings when they experience microaggressions.

“So you see the agitation in the dancers. … It’s interesting to see how the dancers explore that physically.”

The concert also will feature “Three Worlds” and “Tarantella” by choreographer Scott Martin and “The Arc Between is not as Long as you Think” by Crissman.

Performers will dance to music by rock bands Radiohead and Alt-J, Australian composer Ben Frost and American composer Philip Glass, to name a few.

Godfrey-Chevalier said, “I’m just excited by the variety (in this show). All of our shows have something for everyone to enjoy – and we have a really good group of students who throw themselves into any type of challenge.”

Next up at Ethington Theatre is “Major Barbara” on Feb. 9-11 and Feb. 16-18. As for the University’s dancers, once the winter concert has wrapped up, they will start preparing for the Spring Student Spotlight dance concert March 13-14 in Thunderground and the spring dance concert, “The Tipping Point,” April 13-14 at Ethington.

IF YOU GO

What: “The Arc Between” Winter Dance Concert

Where: Ethington Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Tickets: $12. Get tickets at http://events.gcu.edu/event/winter-dance-concert/

Information: 602-639-8800 or https://www.gcu.edu/college-of-fine-arts-and-production/ethington-theatre.php


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