Dance to the Leader

UA Dance Ensemble's performance of 'Three's a Crowd' will honor a fallen professor and his distinguished career

At last year's winter dance concert by the UA Dance Division, brand-new modern dance professor David Berkey stole the show with his lovely group piece "In the Garden." This year's concert, scheduled for next week, will be dedicated to Berkey, who died of cancer Oct. 31 at the age of 53.

"He was soft-spoken and really quiet, but he was defined by his work," said division head Jory Hancock, who broke the news of the death to the dance students Monday. "You would never have understood the sort of fire and will and strength he had in him unless you saw his choreography. Glorious work came out of him. We're so glad we got to experience his gift for a year."

A choreographer who had made 75 to 80 works for companies around the world, including the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the American Ballet Theater Studio Company, Berkey was brought to the UA last fall to bolster its modern dance program. He was last in the studio just four days before his death, putting the finishing touches on the two works that will book-end the concert.

His "Blind Date," a comic trio, will open the show, and a brand-new solo, "Unicorn," danced by Andrea Day as her senior project, will close it.

"No matter how weak and sick he felt, he pushed himself to come in," Hancock said. "But at the end, he trusted that the work was ready and allowed himself to let go."

The nine dances in the show, Three's a Crowd--composed by the UA faculty and danced by their students--range across the disciplines of modern, ballet and jazz. In solos, duets, trios, a sextet and a big group piece, dancers will portray everything from an excitable punctuation mark to hell come to life. The stagecraft will include deliberately collapsing walls and skirts flying around on wires.

A highlight will be a reconstruction of a solo by the late choreographer Bella Lewitzky danced to two live flutes.

"I danced with Bella Lewitzky Dance Company for 10 years, right out of undergrad," Amy Ernst, the division's other modern professor, said last week.

Lewitzky formed her eponymous troupe after years of dancing with the influential Lester Horton. Like Horton before her, Lewitzky was a relatively rare voice for modern dance on the West Coast, and for nearly 30 years through her company she proselytized for energetic pure-form dance. So when the venerable Lewitzky died this summer at the age of 88, Ernst decided to reconstruct "Recesses," a virtuoso solo she had danced for Lewitzky for two years.

"I thought it would be a good way to memorialize her," Ernst said.

The Lewitzky work, danced to two live flutes, will be a highlight of Three's a Crowd.

The 1978 Lewitzky dance was originally one piece of a larger work of three solos, Ernst said, each of them "a gift from Bella to the three dancers who had been with her the longest."

"Recesses" was set on dancer Iris Pell (Ernst took it over after Pell retired), and the first part of the six-minute work is "quite dramatic. It's how Bella saw Iris as a personality, her struggles, her finding her identity." The second part shifts into "virtuosic modern-dance technique. It showcases what a phenomenal technician she was. Bella took bits and pieces of repertoire, everything Iris had done to that point, and combined them into one piece."

The finale includes a "pretty spectacular balance" that ends with the dancer "landing in a hinge flat on the floor. It's challenging, that's for sure."

Students Trisha Kelly and Jacqui Guimond each will dance the solo twice, dividing up the part over the four concerts. The flute music, by Larry Attaway, Lewitzky's longtime music director, will be played by two UA grad students in flute, Ana Laura Gonzalez and Kate Kralik. Attaway used to play one flute live, Ernst said, accompanying himself playing the other flute part on tape.

"This is the first time in the history of the piece it's being done to two live flutes," Ernst enthused.

Acting as a counterpoint to the historic modern Lewitzky solo is a brand-new ballet solo by professor Melissa Lowe. Danced on pointe by senior Nadia Ali, who's using it as her senior project, "Chrysalis" is set to the music of a cello and two guitars by Brazilian composer Sergio Assad. It reflects a "woman's journey of self-discovery," said Michael Williams, assistant head, and the set includes a box that Ali will dance on and around.

Ballet professor Nina Janik also debuts a work, "In the Metal Garden," a sextet that she presented as a trio last summer at the Rimini dance festival in Italy. The newly enlarged version has six women dancing on pointe to contemporary percussion music by Benford and Jones.

James Clouser, a ballet professor who once led the Houston Ballet, reprises "Loveblind." A trio he originally created for the Dayton Ballet to a vocal version of Barber's Adagio for Strings, it draws on Greek mythology. The narrative has Ryan Lawrence dancing Orpheus, Kerri Poff playing Eurydice and Dominic Nicolosi embodying Hades. Clouser has been reconstructing his large group ballet, "Con Spirito," danced by the Houston Ballet in 1973, on the UA students, with plans to present it in the spring show. For Three's a Crowd, he'll extract a fast folkloric duet, "The Furiant," danced by Guimond and Geoff Gonzalez to music by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana.

Sam Watson's crowd-pleasing "Punctuation" has a period, a question mark and an exclamation point furiously dancing out their varied personalities inside a compressed stage, made much smaller than usual by walls shoved to the middle.

"The exclamation mark is high-spirited and dynamic," Williams advised. "Sam is always fun."

The concert closes with Susan Quinn's big jazzy "InLaLo" for five men and 15 women, set to a rendition of Led Zeppelin music. Its title is a word play, coming from a classically oriented fragment played by viol-IN, vio-LA and cel-LO. Quinn premiered the work at the UA last spring.

"It starts out with the women in flowing skirts, and elements of classical movement with jazz punctuation," Williams said. "But then they take the skirts off, the skirts fly off on wires and it gets really wild."

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