Daring Dance

UA Dance's 'Spring Collection' will employ harps, jazz, African drums and even a vacuum cleaner

A profusion of harps, drums and other musical instruments will inject this weekend's UA Dance Ensemble Spring Collection concerts with more than a little live music.

HarpFusion, the powerhouse UA group numbering 13 harps, will sweeten the two Saturday concerts. African drums will pound out rhythms on Thursday and Sunday. And a jazz quintet led by a piano player will spice up Friday's outing.

"We have two totally different programs," said jazz dance professor Michael Williams, noting that every concert will have at least some live music. "Saturday is completely different from the Thursday, Friday and Sunday concerts. And those three concerts are all the same except Barbea Williams' Africana Dance Ensemble will be just Thursday and Sunday."

Barbea Williams, well known in Tucson for her African choreography, has been teaching in the UA dance division this semester. Her own dancers will join her UA students in "Haiti/Make Mountains Rise," a historical work evoking the slave rebellion that led to the world's first black republic. Four drummers, including Williams' 16-year-old son, Beyah Williams Rasool, will play for 13 dancers.

Replacing Williams' number on Friday night will be choreography directed by an Estonian graduate student, Elen Voltein Marsh. Marsh has lined up the jazz quintet to play for the UA students dancing her guided improv piece "Epistrophy."

HarpFusion, fresh from its 25th-anniversary concert last weekend, joins the UA dancers for the Saturday matinee and evening concert. With 13 harps on stage as well as singers, "there's not a lot of dance space," Michael Williams observed. "The different dancers do their thing in the space available. Two of our grad students, Steve Casteel and Elizabeth George, put it together."

The last formal concert of the school year, Spring Collection is an eclectic mix of modern, ballet and jazz, reflecting the dance division's triple-strand emphasis. Danced primarily by the students--including a number of graduating seniors--most of this weekend's choreography is by their teachers. Advanced undergrads and grad students did contribute a half-dozen works.

The Thursday/Friday/Sunday shows (Program One) boast a number of premieres. Amy Ernst, a modern-dance professor who once danced with Bella Lewitsky, is debuting "A Path of One's Choosing." A big piece for 18 dancers, it was inspired by a symphonic score by contemporary composer Alan Hovhaness, Ernst said. "It has a big sound. It's passionate and lush, with lots of strings."

Ernst began choreographing by directing her young dancers to draw on a big sheet of paper.

"They were supposed to draw their life path, and add adjectives to describe it," said Ernst. "'Were you stopped in your goals? Was your path clear?' The responses were personal and very beautiful, with very artistic drawings."

The resulting dance is abstract, she said, but some "literal metaphors of lifting, following and running" illustrate the students' life journeys. And "the piece closes with the pathways (they drew). I created a certain movement motif for each dancer as I see them."

Ryan Lawrence, Geoff Gonzalez and Drew Raap dance the lead male parts, while the female stars include a trio of graduating seniors, Britni Jarecki, Lindsay Hermann and LoRee Kenagy. Kenagy has a piece of her own choreography in the Saturday shows. Called "Killer Queen," it's a jazz and tap work with the feel of a musical comedy.

"She's a very talented choreographer," her professor, Ernst, noted proudly.

Jazz dance professor Susan Quinn also presents a new work in the Thursday/Friday/Sunday concerts. "InLaLo"--set to an arrangement for violin, viola and cello--"starts off soft and serene and then grows in intensity," Michael Williams said. The choreography ratchets up with the music. Danced by 12 women and six men, the contemporary jazz work has a solo by senior Alyssa Dale, who was a lead in "Serenade" earlier this month.

Also on the program are two new pieces by professor Sam Watson: a stark solo in black for senior Michelle Seiple to the music of Lamb, and a duet for Casteel and Christy Crowley to the music of Oystin Sevåg. James Clouser, artist in residence, contributes "Five Particular Waltzes," a ballet on pointe featuring five dancers, including Dale and fellow seniors Shay Lucy and Justin Quandt. Student works include a solo by Sean Dahlberg, a male duet by Casteel and Monica Johannessen's "Sing Me to Heaven," a duet for two women who sing as they dance.

Besides the HarpFusion extravaganza, the two Saturday shows (Program Two) offer up "Against the Current" by Mia Michaels, a choreographer who's worked with pop stars (Madonna, Prince and Ricky Martin) and dance troupes (Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago) and choreographed the Céline Dion spectacle now on view in Las Vegas. Last seen at the UA in fall 2001, Michaels' piece for 10 dancers is "really highly physical," Williams said. "Mia grew up in a dance school family and she fuses jazz, modern and ballet. She has a jazzy aesthetic and plays with ballet in a contemporary way."

Also on Saturday, UA professor Nina Janik reprises "Emerald Emergence," a contemporary ballet last seen at Stevie Eller in the February concert with Frances Smith Cohen's Center Dance Ensemble. Student works include Kevin Hermann's solo for Quandt, Philip Edgecombe's "Dance: For Man, Woman and Vacuum" (a trio for, not surprisingly, a man, a woman and a vacuum cleaner); Elen Vultein Marsh's duet for herself and a non-dancer male who acts like a rag doll, and Kenagy's "Killer Queen."

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