The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

September 29, 2009

The USC Dance Company Dances Their First Performance of the Season — This Friday and Saturday

I went to see my daughter Bonnie and several of her rock star friends dance last week at a preview of the USC Dance Company’s next performance.  It was a casual intimate glimpse into what a well rehearsed group looks like a week or so out of their concert date.  They opened with Alan Hineline’s contemporary ballet — some on point, some on flat.  There are no real soloists in the piece, instead there are 3 main couples and a small corps of women.  Bonnie dances with Keith Mearns, previously of the Pennsylvania Ballet; the beautiful Olivia Anderson (previously of Houston Ballet II) dances with former Broadway dancer, McCree O’Kelley; and the amazing Carolyn Bolton dances with Ryan Thomas.  While Carolyn is a product of Stanilas Issaev’s good work at the SC Governor’s School for the Arts, both Bonnie and McCree come from the handiwork of the late Melissa Hayden at North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston Salem.  The fact that these dancers, along with other dancers from NCSA, SCGSA, Columbia City Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre and other prestigious places of either professional dance or stellar dance training, are in the USC Dance Company can be attributed to the state of the program that Susan Anderson has built at the university.  First she brought in Stacey Calvert, a former soloist with New York City Ballet, then she brought in Kyra Strasberg, a former principal dancer with Boston Ballet.  In between, Miriam Barbosa came along and brought her expertise in contemporary dance, specifically the works of Martha Graham — though Miriam has left to pursue building her own company, the SC Contemporary Dance Company.   In her place, Susan brought in Thaddeus Davis and Tonya Wideman-Davis, of the Wideman Davis Dance Company — (Tanya was principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem) — and both partners have become so enthralled with the program that they would like to make Columbia their home.  All this is said because it is important to recognize that the caliber of both student and instructor showing up at the university is indicative of the quality of the education and performance opportunities being given there.  In other words, good stuff is going on in dance down on Sumter Street.  This USC Dance Company is not your mother’s USC Dance Company.

Given that this showing was only a preview — the dancers were wearing studio clothes, for example, and Stacey, et. al., were giving corrections — the dancers only performed a small piece of  Hineline’s lovely choreography.  But it was enough to see that those of us who fell in love with “Twist,” the choreography he gave the company last year, will not be disappointed.  Twist won the company a slot in the finals of the American College Dance Festival  competition last year in New York, and it was dancing this piece that lead Bonnie to being named one of the top 10 college dancers in the country by the same organization — Alan Hineline’s choreography has a way of bringing the best out in his artists. 

The next piece the company performed was an excerpt from Tanya Wideman-Davis’s new choreography.  Tanya brings this funky new vibe to the company that is at once loose and relaxed but also metrical and balanced — perhaps this is what the body will do when given an agency of its own?  Being the parent of a bunhead, I don’t often get to see the modern dancers do their things — and watching these women dance made me regret that fact a bit.  Their movements were measured, but intense.  Where that ballet dancers make me soar on the inside, these women made me boogie.  I loved it.

The final bit of a piece was an excerpt from the second act of Giselle.  Olivia Anderson dances the title role of Giselle and the casting is perfect.  Olivia, the dancer, is an old-souled young woman who places a priority on kindness.  Not that pretend sweetness-now-let-me-eviscerate-you-behind-your-back kind of kindness; Olivia is genuinely good, and you can see that in the way she dances — her face, the way she holds her shoulders, the position of her chin.  She is perfect as the heartbroken Giselle, both dancing and portraying the role beautifully.  Giselle dances opposite Myrtha, queen of a group of female ghosts, called wilis, who were jilted at the altar.  The role of Myrtha requires large brave guy-like leaps, stoney eyes, and the ability to control ones adversaries (dare I say family and friends?) with nothing more than the look on her face.  And the witch can seriously dance.  Bonnie in this part?  Yeah, bingo!  I won’t use this space here to say how proud I am of my kid, but I will say that she was made to dance this part and I’m so glad to get to see her do it.

I hope all of you will come out and watch this upcoming performance, as well.  The quality of dance in this company has risen so high so quickly that, if you came to see a performance more than a few years ago — you just wont recognize the company anymore.  

The USC Dance Company will be performing at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday nights, October 2nd and 3rd, at the Koger Center.  For tickets call 777-5112 or 251-2222.

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