On Their Toes: Gala Concert Showcases Talented Dance Students

Posted: March 24, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

As one of the most selective programs at Mason, the Dance Department focuses on modern dance performance, choreography and teacher licensure. The Dance Company will perform three modern dance works by master choreographers at this year’s Gala Concert.
photo by Evan Cantwell

By Catherine Ferraro

The lights dim over a full house at Mason’s Center for the Arts Concert Hall. The opening chords of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria in D” fill the hall, and a single spotlight illuminates the performers. Members of the audience lean back in their seats to enjoy a dance considered one of choreographer Mark Morris’ masterpieces, “Gloria.” But the dance is not being performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group. Instead, Mason dance students take the stage.

This is the scene that will unfold at the George Mason University Dance Company’s Annual Gala Concert on Friday, March 28, and Saturday, March 29, at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall.

The Dance Company’s Gala Concert provides an opportunity to experience this repertory company of talented dancers at the start of their professional careers, performing the choreography of America’s masters of modern dance. In addition to Morris’ “Gloria,” this year’s program will feature Patrick Corbin’s “Reach” and Twyla Tharp’s “Eight Jelly Rolls.”

Only the Best

The Dance Department was established in 1990 as part of the Institute of the Arts, the forerunner of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Dance joined the departments of Art and Visual Technology, Music and Theater to form a new college in 2001.

Today, the Dance Department is home to 80 dance majors and teaches more than 2,000 students each year. The dance program focuses on modern dance performance, choreography and teacher licensure and offers students bachelor of arts, bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees.

Elizabeth Price
photo by Nicolas Tan

In addition to the degree programs’ emphasis on technique, performance and choreography, majors study anatomy and kinesiology, body awareness, teaching methods, production and dance history. Dance majors also have a strong liberal arts component in their education.

Dance is one of the most selective departments at Mason. Most of the dance majors are from outside Virginia and come from all over the country. Five auditions are held throughout the year for incoming students: four at Mason and one in New York City. The rigorous audition consists of a two-hour class observed by the Dance Department faculty.

Graduates of the Dance Department have gone on to work in some of the most prestigious companies performing today, including Mark Morris, David Parsons, Elizabeth Streb and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Co. Students also pursue a variety of careers in the arts, such as choreography, arts administration, teaching and body therapies. Other students have pursued graduate studies.

“Even though some of our students have pursued careers such as law or nursing, most of them work to keep dance in their lives in one way or another,” says department chair Elizabeth Price.

Learning from the Masters

“Being involved in Mason’s Dance Department is a fantastic experience,” says Price, who says she fell in love with modern dance in college. “I love the energy of the students and the endless talent of the faculty. We are all 100 percent dedicated to the students.”

There are nine full-time faculty members in the Dance Department, all of whom have extensive performing careers.

The faculty includes Susan Shields, who has performed internationally with the White Oak Dance Project and Lar Lubovitch and is now choreographing for ballet companies across the country; Dan Joyce, who was a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group for 10 years and will direct the students in “Gloria”; Connie Dinapoli from Paul Taylor Dance Company; Karen Reedy from Robert Battle; and Adriane Fang, who received a 2007 New York Dance and Performance Award, also known as a Bessie, for her performance with Doug Varone and Dancers.

Susan Shields, one of nine full-time faculty, all of whom have extensive performing careers
photo by Evan Cantwell

In addition to the regular faculty, the Dance Department welcomes one or two professionals as guest faculty for two weeks each year. Some of these guest artists have included current company members from Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, David Dorfman and William Forsythe.

“By bringing in visiting artists who are performing nationally and internationally, students are exposed to the very best in the field. Every student has the opportunity to interact with these professionals and establish connections in the professional world that they can pursue after they graduate,” says Price.

Dance majors can also enjoy the many performances presented by professional dance companies in the Washington, D.C., area, and are fortunate that all the artists who perform on campus at the Center for the Arts also direct master classes, give lectures and conduct discussions in the Dance Department. Recent dance performances on campus have included the Mark Morris Dance Group, Martha Graham and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

Dancing the Night Away

The department produces five annual concerts, as well as numerous choreographic showcases. This year’s gala performance will feature works from guest choreographers who gave their permission for the Dance Department to perform their pieces. According to Price, the department strives to pair performances from master choreographers such as Morris and Tharp with new up-and-coming choreographers such as Corbin.

Auditions for the gala began in the fall and were open to all dance majors. The choreographer or a member of their respective dance company conducted the audition for each piece at Mason and chose the cast. Students then began an intense rehearsal process with the artist, working eight hours a day for seven days. Faculty members were assigned as rehearsal directors to continue to rehearse the piece up to the concert. This year, approximately 25 students will be performing in the gala concert.

Mason is fortunate to be supported by the same professional staff that supports the Great Performance series in the Concert Hall. The costumes for the Gala Concert and other Dance Department performances are all created in-house by Mason’s costumer, Cat Buchanan. She works closely with the choreographer or the original costume designer to develop patterns and color schemes for the costumes. Buchanan has been making costumes for the department’s dance performances for many years.

Tickets for the Gala Concert are $20; $12 for students, staff and seniors; and $10 for groups of 10 or more. To purchase tickets, call 888-945-2468 or visit tickets.com.

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