Showcases dance works by acclaimed guest artists and faculty
Concert features restagings of three major works by internationally acclaimed choreographers and four world-premiere pieces including aerial acrobatics, tap, modern, and ballet
This season’s “Master Choreographers” concert at Muhlenberg College will feature restagings of three major works by world-renowned choreographers and four world-premiere works by faculty and guest artists. Presented Feb. 11-13 in the college’s Empie Theatre, the annual concert by the college’s nationally recognized Dance Program will feature more than 70 dancers.
The concert will feature restagings of “Ligeti Essays,” choreographed by Karole Armitage; “Songs of the Disinherited,” choreographed by Donald McKayle; and “To Have and To Hold,” choreographed by Shapiro & Smith Dance.
The concert will also feature world-premiere works by Karen Dearborn, Jeffrey Peterson, Heidi Cruz-Austin, and Shelley Oliver.
Karole Armitage is the artistic director of the New York-based Armitage Gone! Dance Company. Known as the “punk ballerina,” her performance credits include the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, and leading roles in Merce Cunningham’s landmark works. Armitage has choreographed two Broadway productions (“Passing Strange” and “Hair,” which garnered her a Tony Award nomination), videos for Madonna and Michael Jackson, several Merchant-Ivory films, and Cirque du Soleil’s 2012 tent show “Amaluna.”
“Ligeti Essays” is “breathtaking, providing a pristine setting for Ms. Armitage’s partially frozen world,” according to the New York Times. “As the lighting gently shifts from light to dark, the stage takes on the look of a remote, icy pond in the middle of a dream.” The piece is presented with funding from the Dexter F. & Dorothy H. Baker Foundation. The Baker Foundation has sponsored Muhlenberg’s Baker Artist in Residence program every year since 1992.
Donald McKayle has been named by the Dance Heritage Coalition “One of America’s Dance Treasures: the First 100.” He has choreographed more than 90 works for dance companies in the United States, Canada, Israel, Europe and South America, and has received five Tony Award nominations for his work in musical theater.
“Songs of the Disinherited,” originally choreographed in 1972 for the Inner City Repertory Dance Company of Los Angeles, is one of McKayle’s heritage masterworks. Dance critic Madeleine Swift calls the piece “a finely wrought suite of the enduring human heart that reaches out to others and up to God in its despair and joy… The movement is so specific and true to its theme that it breaks your heart and mends it again.”
Shapiro and Smith Dance began as a collaboration between Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith after meeting in the companies of Murray Louis and Alwin Nikolais. The company has a reputation for performing tales of beauty and biting wit that run the gamut from searingly provocative to absurdly hilarious. Dancing with breathtaking physicality and emotional depth, they have earned an international reputation for virtuosity, substance, craft, and pure abandonment.
Described as a “genuine treasure,” “To Have and To Hold,” has become one of the company’s signature works since its premiere in 1989. “The piece is zestily acrobatic and eerily haunting, by turn,” according to the Seattle Times. “It’s a meditation on revelry, peril and loss. Choreographers Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith created it when the ravages of the AIDS epidemic were at their most intense, and that may explain some of its power.”
This year’s edition of “Master Choreographers” also will feature four world premiere pieces by Muhlenberg faculty and guest artists.
Karen Dearborn, the concert’s artistic director and the director and founder of Muhlenberg’s dance program, has created a new, all-male piece that incorporates aerial acrobatics. The concert will also feature a new ballet by Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; a tap piece by Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; and a modern piece by Jeffrey Peterson, former dancer with Danny Buraczeski’s Jazzdance.
“Master Choreographers” will be performed Thursday, Feb. 11, and Friday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 13, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Empie Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or muhlenberg.edu/dance.
Karole Armitage is the artistic director of the New York-based Armitage Gone! Dance Company, founded in 2004. She was rigorously trained in classical ballet and began her professional career as a member of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland (1973-1975), a company devoted exclusively to the repertory of George Balanchine. In 1976, she was invited to join Merce Cunningham’s company, where she remained for five years (1975-1981), performing leading roles in Cunningham’s landmark works. Throughout the 1980s, she led her own New York-based dance company, The Armitage Ballet. She set new works on companies including the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, the Ballet de Monte Carlo, Lyon Opera Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, The Washington Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Kansas City Ballet, The Greek National Company, The Bern Ballet and Rambert Dance Company. Armitage served as Director of the 45-memeber MaggioDanza, the Ballet of Florence, Italy (1996-2000), the Biennale of Contemporary Dance in Venice (2004), and as resident choreographer for the Ballet de Lorrine in France (2000-2004). After her company’s successful season at the Joyce in 2004, Armitage’s focus shifted to creating her New York-based company, Armitage Gone! Dance. Armitage has choreographed two Broadway productions (“Passing Strange” and “Hair,” which garnered her a Tony nomination), videos for Madonna and Michael Jackson, several Merchant-Ivory films and Cirque du Soleil’s 2012 tent show, “Amaluna.” In 2009, she was awarded France’s most prestigious award, Commandeur dans l’orde des Arts et des Lettres. She is the 2012 recipient of the prestigious artist-in-residence grant at the Chinati Foundation, founded by artist Donald Judd in Marfa, Texas. She has directed operas from the baroque and contemporary repertoire for prestigious houses of Europe, including Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Lyric Opera in Athens, Het Muzik Theater in Amsterdam. She choreographed “The Cunning Little Vixen” in 2011 and “A Dancer’s Dream” in 2013 for the New York Philharmonic and provided choreography for “Marie Antoinette,” by playwright David Adjmi, at the American Repertory Theater Harvard and Yale Repertory Theater.
Donald McKayle has been named by the Dance Heritage Coalition “One of America’s Dance Treasures: the First 100.” He has choreographed over 90 works for dance companies in the United States, Canada, Israel, Europe, and South America. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Lula Washington Dance Theatre serve as repositories for his works. He is artistic mentor for the Limón Dance Company. Five Tony nominations have honored his choreography for Broadway musical theater. In dance he has received the Capezio Award, Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award,
American Dance Guild Award, Living Legend Award from the National Black Arts Festival, Heritage Award from the California Dance Educators Association, two Choreographer’s Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Dance/USA Honors, Irvine Fellowship in Dance, and the 2004 Martha Hill Lifetime Achievement Award, among others.
In April 2005, Donald McKayle was honored at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and presented with a medal as a Master of African American Choreography. For his work in education, he has earned the Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching, UCI’s Distinguished Faculty Lectureship Award for Research, and he is a recipient of the UCI Medal, its highest honor. He has received honorary Doctorate Degrees from: Cornish College of the Arts, the Juilliard School, and from CalArts. His autobiography, “Transcending Boundaries: My Dancing Life,” was honored with the Society of Dance History Scholar’s De La Torre Bueno Prize. A television documentary on his life and work, “Heartbeats of a Dance Maker,” was aired on PBS on stations throughout the United States.
Shapiro & Smith Dance began in 1985 as a collaboration between Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith. After meeting in the companies of Murray Louis and Alwin Nikolais, they went on to create their first choreography during a Fulbright Lectureship in Helsinki, Finland. Since then Shapiro and Smith’s blend of contemporary dance and dramatic theater has elicited enthusiastic receptions across the U.S., Europe, Asia and Canada. The Company has been presented by major festivals and venues including the Joyce Theater, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, Dance Theater Workshop, St. Mark’s DanSpace Project, PS 122, Festival di Milano, Teatro de Danza in Mexico City, Recklinghausen RuhrFestSpiele, and the Korean International Festival. Danial Shapiro died of complications from prostate cancer in 2006 and now Joanie Smith continues as sole Artistic Director.
Heidi Cruz-Austin is an alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet, and she has danced featured roles in works by choreographers ranging from Alvin Ailey to George Balanchine. In addition to dancing with Pennsylvania Ballet, Cruz-Austin has performed with the Philadelphia-based company Ballet X and as a guest artist throughout the United States and Europe. As a choreographer, Cruz-Austin was a winner for the 2003 Ballet Builders showcase in New York City. She has been commissioned to create works for Franklin and Marshall College, Bryn Mawr College, Repertory Dance Theater, and Ballet D’errico, and she was a recipient of the 2004-2005 New Edge Residency at The Community Education Center of Philadelphia.
Karen Dearborn has choreographed more than 70 works in concert, theater, and musical theater, including national tours of the Tony Award-winning National Theatre of the Deaf and several Equity theatres. She has provided choreography for the Muhlenberg theater productions of “On the Town,” “The Pajama Game,” “Oklahoma!,” “Urinetown,” and “West Side Story,” and Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre productions of “Hairspray,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Who’s Tommy,” and “Oliver!” to name just a few. Dearborn is the founding director of Muhlenberg’s dance program. Her scholarly research has been published in the Journal of Dance Education, and she contributed an essay to the book “Performing Magic on the Western Stage.” She serves on the executive board of the American College Dance Festival Association.
Shelley Oliver is a Canadian-born tap dancer, choreographer, and educator. She has appeared internationally with some of the legends of the tap world. She is the artistic director of The Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers currently touring with the David Leonhardt Jazz Group throughout the northeast. Oliver is a founding member of Manhattan Tap and served as a co-artistic director and choreographer with the company. She has toured in concert halls in Europe, China, the Caribbean, Canada, and the United States. She has performed with Savion Glover, Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slide, Buster Brown, Jimmy Slide, and Chuck Green. Oliver’s television appearances include “Tap Dance in America” with Gregory Hines and “Star Search.” On faculty at Muhlenberg College, she directs the Muhlenberg Jazz Tap Ensemble, providing community outreach in the Allentown area. Ms. Oliver has produced a series of “Tap Music For Tap Dancers” CDs that have become a standard pedagogical tool in the tap dance world. She is the recipient of the 2009 Outstanding Dance Educator award for the Lehigh Valley Dance Consortium.
Jeffrey Peterson serves as an assistant professor of dance at Muhlenberg College, where he teaches modern, jazz, and partnering techniques. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Peterson began his professional dance career in national tours with JAZZDANCE by Danny Buraczeski in 2000. Since then, he has performed in the work of Clare Byrne, Edisa Weeks, and Mathew Janczewski, as well as Stephan Koplowitz’s “Grand Step Project,” and the Minnesota Opera’s production of “The Pearl Fishers” with choreography by John Malashock. His choreographic work for Jeffrey Peterson Dance has appeared at Joe’s Pub, Joyce SOHO, and Dixon Place in New York City, The Minnesota Fringe Festival, Intermedia Arts, and Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, and in “The Cloth Peddler” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Peterson’s choreography has appeared in the concert repertory of numerous university dance programs. His ongoing creative work includes choreographic projects, colorguard and visual consultation for the Govenaires Drum and Bugle Corps, and sound design.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential college located in Allentown, Pa., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, sciences, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.