Stage & Dance

UK Dance program takes a big step forward in winter concert

Patrick Garr, left, Les Gibbs, Megan Jellison and Shelby Graham performed "Drawn and Quartered", choreographed by Ariella Brown, in the Guignol Theatre at the University of Kentucky on Tuesday, January 28.
Patrick Garr, left, Les Gibbs, Megan Jellison and Shelby Graham performed "Drawn and Quartered", choreographed by Ariella Brown, in the Guignol Theatre at the University of Kentucky on Tuesday, January 28. Herald-Leader

With its third annual winter concert, the University of Kentucky dance program will again aim to showcase the skills and capabilities of its student dancers in hopes of entertaining and captivating an audience.

For the people who come out to these shows, the experience tends to last for the duration of the performance. For the dancers, shows like these are not just the result of hard work and a showcase of talent; they are also a giant step in what they hope will be a promising career.

"I think we're really finding our mission with this new dance minor program," said Susan Thiel, assistant professor of theater and director of dance at UK. "We're creating dance artists who we hope continue this type of work."

The dance program's winter concert, (Re)Actions, Friday through Sunday at UK's Guignol Theatre, will feature a wide spectrum of modern dance with the help of five choreographers.

One work likely to be familiar to modern dance fans will be the performance of Gus Giordano's iconic work Sing, Sing, Sing. Giordano is often referred to as the godfather of jazz dance, and his 1983 work comes to Lexington thanks to his daughter, Nan Giordano, the artistic director of Giordano Dance Chicago.

She restaged Sing, Sing, Sing for UK students in November, and everyone involved in the production quickly learned the value of precision.

"It's such a stylish piece where every finger, head movement, elbow needs to be in a certain spot. It's really them dancing as an ensemble, as one group," Thiel said. "It offers the community of the University of Kentucky the chance to view a classic."

The other four choreographers involved in (Re)Actions brought their own styles and sensibilities to the concert and its dancers.

Guest artist Theresa Bautista's Don't Dare brought an almost therapeutic process to students. Her piece's vignettes and images are inspired by the dancers' shared stories and the vulnerability that often comes with uncertainty when pursing a dream.

"There's a lot of discussion, some tears about their past, their anxiety of where they're going and about the future," Thiel said. "It's really them in this work."

Whereas Bautista focuses on the dancers, the contribution of Stephanie Harris, a Lexington choreographer and executive director of the Lexington Art League, focuses on the symbolism of the white crane. The work features an art installation with nearly 700 origami birds that the dancers folded by hand and that will inform the action and physicality of the dancers' movements.

Visiting lecturer Ariella Brown's latest work, Drawn and Quartered, is a quartet of two male and two female dancers.

Thiel's contribution will involve eight dancers in a piece examining the importance of knowing what parts of life should be remembered and cherished, and what parts need to be let go.

It's unusual to see five varied works at this year's dance concert, but Megan Jellison, a senior dance student at UK who is featured in four of the pieces, says it allows for her and her fellow dancers to learn from working with skilled, distinctive choreographers.

"Every piece is just so beautiful and different," Jellison said. "Seeing the performers I've been working with grow during our creative processes, I already see a huge improvement in all of them, especially the freshmen. I think it's going to be good."

Thiel says the varied styles of the choreographers can only help the students.

"We have very different ways of working, but I think that's important," she said. "It's really a great knowledge base for our students. ... Now, they can draw from this interesting toolbox of ideas."

Nancy Jones, chairwoman of UK's theater department, said she is impressed by the caliber of performance of the student dancers. And Jellison says audiences who have seen the UK dance program's previous concerts will witness proof that the program has taken another leap forward.

"This concert is by far the best one we've had," she said. "They won't be expecting this."

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