Good to the Last Drop

But nobody's likely to fall down when UA dancers present 'Premium Blend.'

To hear the University of Arizona dance faculty tell it, their program and students are too good for their own good.

"Sometimes there's confusion about who we are," laments dance head Jory Hancock. "When we performed in Centennial Hall in November, some people thought we were being presented by UApresents. It was a huge success. Not many companies have the people or the versatility to do what we did. And it was home-grown, so it would be nice if those people--something like 3,000 came--would remember that what they saw was the UA Dance Ensemble and not some guest company coming through town."

Confusion is a little less likely as the student dancers move into the more intimate Crowder Hall this weekend for Premium Blend, the annual showcase of faculty choreography.

"It's sort of dance theater, a fusion of styles," says Hancock. "Because we teach ballet, jazz and modern here and because the faculty are well versed in more than one style, their choreography reflects this fusion, so there are lot of pieces you can't categorize."

Amy Ernst specializes in modern dance, and she won't fuss if you fit that category onto her new quartet, "Secrets." Like Hancock, however, she will good-naturedly complain about how tough it is to keep up with a program full of good students.

"I usually work with 12 to 20 dancers in a piece," she says. "It was really challenging for me to adapt to quartet--I've never done one before. We just have such a great program with so many talented dancers it's' hard to do a small piece."

Small this one is, though, and for a good reason. Four students came to her separately last spring, asking her to choreograph their senior capstone projects. "I realized that there was no way I could do a large group work for a different set of dancers as well as four solos; there's not enough room in the building, or time," she says. "So I thought this time I'd do a quartet."

Ernst designed "Secrets" to capitalize on the strengths and styles of each of the dancers: Kailey Johnson, Leah Miller, Siri Peterson and Carissa Wong.

"They tend to be not only beautiful dance technicians but very powerful dancer-actresses; they're very dramatic," she says. "So this is a character study of four women. They could be four family members, or any four people with some relationship in their lives. It's very challenging for them because they haven't tried to do a piece this specific before in terms of character."

The music is from Thomas Newman's score for the film How to Make an American Quilt. The score for a much older movie--the 1929 Soviet Classic The New Babylon--underlies James Clouser's new dance for Premium Blend. As in Ernst's case, there's absolutely no connection with the film that generated the music. Clouser's The New Babylon is billed as "a reaction to several current events, the bombing of the World Trade Towers and our subsequent call to patriotism, as well as the inspiration and disappointments of the recent Winter Olympics."

"Its cast of characters includes the Righteous and their leaders who are espousing a new order, Sirens who prove to be duplicitous in their allure and a Dupe who is taken in by them all."

Just another day in the U.S. of A.

Night falls with "The Dreaming," choreographed by Michael Williams. It's a jazz ballet revolving around exactly what the title suggests, with music by Kate Bush and Ennio Morricone. Elena Fillmore and Claire Hancock star as the dreamer and the dreamed, with nine other dancers dotting the dreamscape.

From dreamscape the show moves to landscape with Susan Quinn's "Texas Canyon," a contemporary jazz work inspired by the rock formations of the canyon in southeast Arizona. Music comes courtesy of Richard Souther and Chuck Koesters. This is by no means the work's premiere; it's been presented, among other places, at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Progressing further south for inspiration, Nina Janik derives "Sueños Encadenados" from her mother's recollections of the Spanish colonial town of Durango, Mexico during the early 1900s. The music is a collection of 16th-century Spanish songs sung by contemporary Mexican vocalist Jaramar.

Another mom stands behind yet another work, Sam Watson's "Cycles." It's an all-female modern ballet choreographed to chamber music by Barbara Westby and dedicated to the choreographer's mother, depicting women as "the central pulse of the universe."

As every feline fancier knows, cats are actually at the center of the universe, at least in a cat's opinion. Melissa Lowe adapts feline movement and mood swings to ballet in her whimsical "Nine Lives."

The program is intimidatingly diverse, and there's no relief in sight. Jory Hancock isn't talking about lowering his standards anytime soon.

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