Guest artists challenge GCU students to explore the diversity of dance

Dance department resident guest artist Ellen Sickenberger and students warm up before rehearsing a piece for the fall dance performance of “Odyssey.”

Photos by Ralph Freso

The Grand Canyon University Dance Department hosted two internationally renowned dance artists in September with unique skills and valuable knowledge to share with GCU students.

Guest artist Nhan Ho. (Photo by Valerie Febre-Yap)

“Guest artists provide world experience. I look for a diverse group of artists that can offer different experiences, styles and techniques for my students to try, and their perspective on what they have been doing with dance as a professional career,” said Bekki Price, chair of the dance department.

Being primarily rooted in ballet, modern and jazz, GCU dance students take on the challenge of stepping outside of their comfort zones every time they study under professional artists who specialize in different dance styles. By accepting their perspectives on the art, they gain a fresh mindset and new understanding of how they can express themselves through dance.

To kick off the semester, the first guest dance residency artist was Nhan Ho. Known for his contemporary fusion with the influence of modern dance style, Ho is the founder of the Nhan Ho Project where he provides mentorship for aspiring dancers and helps them discover their potential for the art. He has performed all over the country and influenced many dance programs, now including GCU.

“It was an incredible experience to collaborate with such a talented group of artists," Ho said. "The athleticism required in the choreography pushed them to execute high-velocity movements. The piece is exceptionally demanding on the body due to the athleticism involved, including transitions to and from the floor. They were very receptive and dove right into the process.”

Ellen Sickenberger choreographed a piece for the winter dance performance "Odyssey."

The challenge of experiencing new styles outside of their comfort zone did not stop there.

Ellen Sickenberger, who started her dance journey at the age of just two, was the second guest dance residency artist of the semester. Founder of her own company, DEPTH Dance, and a recognized mentor of the movement method, Kinetica, Ellen had a tremendous impact on the Dance Department as she emphasized the importance of mind and body connection.

“There was a great sense of openness and willingness to dive into the stuff that is foreign to them. I could see a lot of students have an expanded awareness of different ways to travel around the dance floor. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student truly connect to the moment and their experience through movement,” said Sickenberger.

GCU dancers have been learning how to connect to the art in more ways than just one with the help of Ho and Sickenberger, but they are not done just yet.  

A third guest dance residency artist will visit on Nov. 2-5.

Guest artist Anthony Spaulding

Anthony Spaulding, Interim Artistic Director of the Southwest Ballet Theatre, will highlight another form of dance. Recognized as an apprentice with the San Francisco Ballet, a Corps de Ballet member and a soloist dancer, Anthony has performed in many reputable programs throughout the country.

“It is a good change from our normal classes," said Taylin Muth, a junior dance major. "We get to learn from a lot of different people. It’s a different dynamic between every guest artist.”

Along with mentoring and teaching workshops, all three artists have been invited to GCU with the additional purpose of preparing senior students for "Odyssey," their senior showcase at the end of the semester. Ho, Sickenberger and Spaulding will have each contributed their own styles and experiences to the production set to premier in December.

Dance Department resident guest artist Ellen Sickenberger watches as senior Neil Spooner works through a dance exercise as they rehearse for a piece that will be part of the fall dance performance “Odyssey.”

As GCU approaches its 75th anniversary, "Odyssey" is meant to emphasize the journey one takes and recognize the work that has been done.

The audience will see how the guest artists challenged GCU dance students to explore the diversity of dance and express it on stage with new movements.

Staff Writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

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