Dancers offer variety

Posted: April 4, 2013

The Winchester Star

Shenandoah Dance Ensemble rehearses for the annual Spring Dance Concert this weekend. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Dancers rehearse for SU’s Spring Dance Concert. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

Winchester — The Shenandoah Dance Ensemble is reaching big with its annual Spring Dance Concert.

A production featuring five original works as well as a separate feature concert will fill Orhstrom-Bryant Theatre with movement and music this weekend, said Erica Helm, dance division chair.

The larger production will be held at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 or $10 for students.

A special performance of associate dance professor Ting-Yu Chen’s show, “Red Dress,” will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” The event at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the theater is free and open to the public.

The weekend will provide a range of dance numbers that will appeal to a variety of tastes, Helm said. “Some people want dessert, and some people want a big hunk of meat.”

One of the production’s large, elaborate dance selections is “Lambs,” a 26-minute abstract number choreographed by Maurice Fraga, assistant professor of dance. The intense contemporary dance piece features 15 students moving to ambient, choral, orchestral, and percussive music in an almost “sculptural dance.”

“It is sort of like living sculptures that are moving,” he said.

Part of the inspiration from the piece came from John Tavener’s choral piece, “The Lamb,” which was created to accompany William Blake’s poem of the same name. The poem deals with the loss of innocence, which the dance interprets loosely. Mostly, Fraga wants audience members to interpret the performance as they wish.

In contrast, the message is very clear in a section choreographed by Elijah Alhadji Gibson, assistant professor of dance, that is not yet titled. The choreographic portion of his master’s thesis, this section deals with eating disorders among men, specifically those in the performing arts, Helm said.

Using text from the dancers’ own experiences, the eclectic, contemporary dance piece takes on the very real issue of body image and how that can affect individuals, she said. “It opens the door to the performers in a very personal way. It is very compelling.”

Alan Arnett, assistant professor of dance, considers the two selections he choreographed for the production the dessert portion — “short and sweet.” Rhythmic Interlude” is a short piece generated from his tap class using a “slower, heavier, blusier beat.” The nine dancers will play with the elements of straight and syncopated rhythm.

His other piece, “Compared to What,” uses an instrumental jazz score that is fast and happy and “pure jazz dance.” The show features 15 “happy bouncy people” doing a high energy piece that is all about interpreting the music.

“I am hoping the dancers find it fun to do and satisfying to do,” he said. “I feel like they are being stretched to the maximum as they dance it.”

The final section of the production was choreographed by visiting artist John Lehrer, founder of LehrerDance, a company in Buffalo, N.Y., Helm said. The conservatory brought Lehrer to Winchester using a monetary gift from Rubbermaid Commercial Products.

“The Alliance” is 13 minutes of “pure physical kenetic energy,” which is what the choreographer is known for, she said. He created the dance for his newly formed company in 2011 and put it on the Shenandoah students when the conservatory commissioned him to come in November.

Rounding out the weekend is the separate performance of “Red Dress,” which Chen was commissioned to create in 2010 by the Gretna Music Festival in Mt. Gretna, Pa. to mark the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps,” or “The Rite of Spring.” The music and ballet premiered May 29, 1913 in Paris.

Chen’s dance was performed for the first time at the festival in August 2012 and again in a special performance at February 2013 at the Ware Center in Lancaster, Pa.

Choreographing an original dance to the iconic piece was intimidating, Chen said, because it is a huge work — it lasts 35 minutes — and so many talented choreographers have already put their own stamp on it. “I needed to bring something unique to the table.”

The afternoon performance will feature 10 students moving to a piano version of the music. They will use a mixture of movement from the Chinese opera, modern dance, and ballet traditions, she said.

Wanting to tell a story with the piece, Chen imagined a performance that follows a fictional dance company backstage as they prepare for a show. Dividing the music into what she saw as three distinct sections, she takes audience members from the rehearsal to the dancers’ homes and back to the theater for the performance.

It’s human nature to want to see the dramatic relationships unfold with love affairs, betrayal, and secrecy, she said. “This dance is drama.”

Because of the acting element, the students have been working with Jonathan Flom, assistant professor of musical theatre, she said.

This weekend’s show won’t be the end of the piece, though, Chen said. In June, it will be performed by members of the Tso’s Dance Association at Dan Tong Culture and Arts Center in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She has had a long professional relationship with the dance troupe’s executive director and is thrilled to see the work spreading even further.


The Shenandoah Dance Ensemble’s annual Spring Dance Concert will be at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Orhstrom-Bryant Theatre. Tickets are $15 or $10 for students. Call 540-665-4569 or go to

A special presentation of Ting-Yu Chen’s dance show, “Red Dress,” will be held at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the theater. Admission is free and open to the public.

— Contact Laura McFarland at