Modern Movement Spiced with Appalachian Flavor Accents ETSU Dance Performance
By Sara Needham and Melissa Tate | ETSU Student Writers | March 28, 2008JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Dancers moved to bongos, banjos and south-of-the-border beats, Feb. 22-24, during the East Tennessee State University dance program's first performance since it joined the Department of Communication's Division of Theatre in January.
The Spring Dance Concert held in the Frank Theatre in Gilbreath Hall featured a mix of four styles of dance — choreographed by ETSU dance instructors Judy Woodruff and Cara Harker and by visiting artist Erin Law — showcasing ETSU students and dancers from the area professional dance company Mountain Movers, all of whom auditioned in September.
"It's a nice eclectic mix of professional dancers and beginning students," says Harker, an ETSU dance faculty member since August 2007 and a graduate of The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
Among the equally eclectic mix of dance numbers is a tango suite for Harker's tango piece featuring eight women and four men, "an exploration into the archetypes of love through dance." She says the diverse settings, choreographers and types of music are all part of the learning experience.
"My aim was to introduce the students to something new," says Harker. "All of the dancers except one had never danced the tango prior to our work together ... they have all worked very hard."
Country and tango suites dancer Leslie Hughes not only likes the tango but also the new dance-theatre combination at ETSU. "Dancing and acting have a lot in common. Dancers have to know how to act, and actors have to know how to move."
Already a landmark for the collaboration of dance and theatre at the university, the performance will also incorporate another element — live bluegrass. During the country suite, sounds of acoustic instruments played by the ETSU Bluegrass Band compel the dancers. "I'm so excited about it," Hughes says. "We dance better with the band than with the tape."
Judy Woodruff, founder of ETSU's dance program and Mountain Movers dance company as well as a Communication adjunct faculty member, choreographed the country suite in the early 1980s and brought it back for this concert.
Collaboration with other artists isn't an unusual facet of her concerts, Woodruff says, but most often the production partners are visual artists. "The choreography itself was my first 'exploration' into celebrating the culture of this region," says Woodruff, who also choreographed four modern pieces for the concert. "It employs some motifs from Irish and Scottish dancing."
In addition to the three suites, the concert featured a single dance, "Diurnal Shifts," choreographed by Erin Law, dance program coordinator at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Law was commissioned to choreograph the piece with funds provided by Arts Build Communities through the Johnson City Area Arts Council.
A little Latin, a taste of Irish and a splash of bluegrass create a unique recipe for movement. "It is a mixture of dances," Harker said. "You won't be 'stuck' with one style for an hour and a half. It will be a fun show to watch."
The dance mixture works, and the mixture of theatre and dance melds well. "The Division of Theatre has a big presence at ETSU and will help the dance program gain exposure," says Harker, who had a lead role in
ETSU's "Three the Hard Way" in 2006. "Dance and theatre are performing arts that complement each other, and it's only natural that they would make a great fit."