In the Moment: George Mason University’s School of Dance’s GALA and Interviews with Students

Susan Shields, Director, School of Dance.  Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University.
Susan Shields, Director, School of Dance. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University.

“We expect that our Mason Dance Company will leave strong impressions,” said Susan Shields, director, George Mason University School of Dance. She was describing the multi-performance School of Dance Celebration Concert and Gala showcasing the coming generation of adventurous professional dancers on the cusp of their careers.They will be performing in selections “on pulse with what is most relevant” in the dance field, noted Shields.

With all the dance companies in the area, why visit with the Mason Dance Company?  Well, for one, Mason Dance Company alumni have gone on to successful dance careers in prestigious companies such as Mark Morris Dance Group, David Parsons Company, Pascal Rioult, Elisa Monte and Limón Dance as well as performing in Broadway productions.

Jacques dAmboise.
Jacques dAmboise.

And, one significant tidbit; you can celebrate with dance royalty as the incomparable, legendary dancer and choreographer Jacques d’ Amboise is the Gala Concert’s honorary chair. There will be a special, pre-performance Gala Dinner Celebration with d’Amboise on March 28, 2015. (see attached GMU news release). You may know d’Amboise as a principal dancer and choreographer with the New York City Ballet.  He is a recipient of many awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Kennedy Center Honors Award, and a National Medal of the Arts. D’Amboise is the founder of the National Dance Institute which teaches and inspires children through dance.

The Mason Dance Celebration Concert will feature a wide array of wonderfully sophisticated and challenging works, not often seen in this area. These particular compositions were selected so that the dance company as a whole can make an impact; and the individual dancers can mesmerize.

GMU Dance Students. Photo by Tim Coburn.
GMU Dance Students. Photo by Tim Coburn.

The selected dance works will include:

  • Andrea Millers Pupil Suite with its distinctive, physical energy set to the music of Israeli band Balkan Beat Box
  • Alejandro Cerrudos Lickety Split, with couples drawn together set to the music of singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart
  • Vespers a profound 1986 work by the late Ulysses Dove who performed with the Alvin Alley Dance Company.

In a recent conversation, Shields made clear that there is more than just dance studies when attending the Mason School of Dance. “We provides a unique blend of serious conservatory training within the liberal arts education. The GMU dance major is a talented mover, an emerging artist/movement poet and a thinking arts advocate.”

I also had the opportunity to interview a number of Mason dance majors. In wonderfully open, spirited conversations, each “promised to hold back nothing” as they perform at the Celebration Concert. They also spoke about the pleasure of working with and learning from the dancers from the three dance companies whose work they will be performing.

Joey Day. Photo by Tim Coburn.
Joey Day. Photo by Tim Coburn.

Joey Day (Vienna, VA) praised Mason “for providing a very supportive and collaborative environment.  The school took a chance on me; and is open to my style and hip-hop background.” For Day, a challenge has been to “catch-up with dance techniques that others have studied for many years including learning new muscle memory.” A keystone for Day is “finding his own dance identity” in a school right in his own backyard.

David Kurland. Photo by Allison Geary.
David Kurland. Photo by Allison Geary.

For David Kurland (Reston, VA), Mason has provided opportunities to learn from master performers as he “pushes himself” to excel.  He also spoke of working with Mason athletic trainers “to get and stay in shape, building my stamina and flexibility”.  He mentioned the challenges of recovering from an injury with the help of the athletic trainer working with the dance students.  She is helping him “retrain his mind and body as he pushes himself forward.”

Katherine Stewart (Chantilly, VA), chatted how the dance faculty ”set high standards and encouraged her to express her internal emotions and creative ideas.” For Stewart, a senior, the Mason School of Dance is providing a “great place for self-examination and pushing my boundaries beyond my own expected limitations.”

Katherine Stewart. Photo by Justin Best.
Katherine Stewart. Photo by Justin Best.

She spoke as well that while learning to with risks in her performances, “success is not guaranteed.” Now that is a great life lesson for any of us.
“Dance at Mason is simply extraordinary, and world-class.” Noted William Reeder, Dean, George Mason University College of Visual and Performing Arts

 

Dean WIliam Reeder.
Dean WIliam Reeder.

“What I love most about dance at Mason, in addition to its intrinsic beauty, is that the dancer does not separate the mind from the body. As such, students in Mason’s dance program are engaged in world class education and demonstrate continuously the results of that education on stage, in their studies and in careers.” added Reeder.

Let’s add just a bit more; say a quote from Mark Morris  whose company recently performed to rave reviews at the George Mason University Center for the Arts.

Everyone in my company loves visiting George Mason University.  It’s a place where we can perform for an audience that loves dance and a place where we can teach students who love to dance.  What could be better than that?  It’s an inspiring environment. …I hold George Mason University’s dance program in high regard.  The program is really doing something right.

George Mason Universy Dance Group. Photo by Tim Coburn.
George Mason Universy Dance Group. Photo by Tim Coburn.

So, if you are one bit curious about the captivating performing arts form we call dance, or want to glimpse the next generation of professional dancers who will be gracing stages; or if you are interested in a wide diversity of contemporary choreography that you might not have seen before, the Dance Celebration will be at both Fairfax’s Center for the Arts and Manassas’ Hylton Performing Arts Center come March 27-28-29, 2015.  So, here is a golden opportunity to become smitten.

George Mason University’s School of Dance 2015 Mason Dance Company Gala Concert performances on Friday, March 27th and Saturday, March 28th at 8 PM at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA, and on Sunday, March 29 at 4 p.m. at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, VA. For tickets, purchase them online.

LINKS

You can learn more and keep up on what’s happening as the big event approaches go to the Mason School of Dance Facebook page.

 Andrea Miller:  Pupil Suite  

Ulysses Dove: Vespers

http://youtu.be/IOTO4n4_sxw

Alejandro Cerrudo: Lickety Split 

Susan Shield Interview.