By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Miguel Perez has pointed his toes, twisted and leaped as a dancer for Shania Twain and Taylor Swift.
But he pointed himself squarely toward sharing his dancing skills with Grand Canyon University’s dance department students during his recent guest artist residency. He was in the Saguaro Hall studios for a week to teach students who had arrived at the University two weeks before the start of classes – the first time the department has gotten its start on the school year this early.
One of the goals was to choreograph a dance that students will perform for the Winter Dance Concert, Dec. 7-9 at Ethington Theatre.
“I had some stuff I already had in my head – my ideas,” said Perez, addressing a crowd that previewed the new choreographed work in an informal performance. “People think it takes four or five full days (to create a new piece), but it was a total of 12 hours.”
Perez based the dance off of the concert’s theme, “Uncovered.”
“The piece represents when you go through life being visible, but along the way, people shift that perspective of yourself,” he said. “You get a little bit lost.”
The work spotlights a dancer breaking out of her old self, then being manipulated and taken in different directions before going back to being herself.
“And that is enough,” Perez said.
He arrived on the GCU campus with the idea that he wanted no more than nine to 13 dancers for this new work. He ended up using 17.
“I was inspired by so many dancers,” he said. “I kind of used their bodies and made a piece with it.”
Perez himself was inspired to take up dance late in life. He didn’t start dancing until he was 18 at the University of Arizona, where he met Kevin Godfrey-Chevalier, the GCU dance department instructor who asked Perez to work with the University’s dance students.
“It was interesting because when I was a kid, I always knew I wanted to dance,” said Perez, who would lock himself in his room and choreograph dances. “I was doing it for fun. But I just always had it in my head.”
He has since worked professionally in Las Vegas, where he worked for Celine Dion in her show “A New Day” at Caesars Palace and then performed on Dion’s “Taking Chances” world tour. He was a featured dancer in the “Viva Elvis” show for Cirque du Soleil, too.
But ask him which performers have stood out to him in his years of performing and he says, without hesitation: Donnie and Marie Osmond, whom he currently works for in Las Vegas.
“They’re the most professional … They want to work all day long. They really love us (the dancers) and respect us,” said Perez.
What he tried to convey to students during his GCU residency is that “everyone is talented, but talent can only get you so far.”
It’s really about conveying the choreographer’s emotional intent.
“He opened our eyes a little bit,” junior Isiah Johnson said. “Dance is more than just steps. You have to feel the movement.”
Johnson said he loved getting a head start on the semester and having an original choreographed work ready to go for a concert that’s still four months away.
More than that, “Every guest artist brings a different perspective,” he said.
Sophomore Jaryn Leming agreed: “When you work with a guest artist, you’re getting new ideas and new experiences that they’ve experienced in their life. It transfers to you.”
From Perez, Leming said, she learned one strategy that she’ll bring away with her. He said it helps to keep your balance by imagining yourself constantly growing.
“He said he didn’t learn that until 20 years later (into his career),” Leming said. It was a piece of wisdom she didn’t have to spend years of her career uncovering.
College of Fine Arts and Production Director of Dance Susannah Keita said the department will continue to bring in guest artists, such as Perez, during the school year. This was the first time in its eight years of existence that the department brought in students two weeks before the start of the fall semester to study with a guest artist.
Not that the dancers studied solely with Perez. They also learned Brazilian and other forms of dance (ballet, jazz and contemporary Brazilian) with their GCU instructors.
“It gets them back in the groove,” Keita said of arriving to campus two weeks early, when students can really focus on their craft. “And it builds their confidence.”
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at email@example.com or 602-639-7901.