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'Master Choreographers' Dance Concert, Feb. 9-11, Showcases Balanchine Restaging, Original Works by Acclaimed Choreographers

Allentown, Pa. (Jan. 24, 2012) — Muhlenberg College will showcase world premiere dance works created by six of the region’s most accomplished choreographers, in the College’s annual Master Choreographers dance concert, Feb. 9-11. The concert will also feature a restaging of a work by the acclaimed contemporary ballet choreographer George Balanchine.

Featuring a diverse selection of styles and genres, including classical ballet, jazz, tap, and modern dance, Master Choreographers will also showcase performances by more than 40 Muhlenberg dance students. The performance takes place on the Empie Theatre stage, in Muhlenberg’s Baker Center for the Arts.

“This concert is a spectacular evening of ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary dance,” says Karen Dearborn, the director of dance for Muhlenberg’s Department of Theatre & Dance, and the artistic director for Master Choreographers. “We are particularly fortunate to be working with The Balanchine Trust to bring the work of the great Balanchine to a new generation of dancers and audiences.”

This season’s Master Choreographers concert will feature a restaging Balanchine’s “Valse Fantaisie,” set and rehearsed by guest artists Deborah Wingert and Marisa Cerveris. Evening performances will feature dancer Nick Kepley, formerly with the Kansas City Ballet and currently performing on Broadway in “Mary Poppins.”

The evening also will feature original dance works by: Corrie Franz Cowart, co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance; Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; Olase Freeman, co-artistic director of BaldSoul modern dance company; Dorrell Martin, director of the Joffrey Ballet School’s jazz and contemporary program; Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; and New York-based contemporary choreographer Sydney Skybetter.

Deborah Wingert, serves as a Baker Artist-in-Residence, sponsored by the Dexter F. and Dorothy H. Baker Foundation. She has been associated with George Balanchine and The Balanchine Trust for more than 25 years, as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher. 

Full biographies of the choreographers follow.

Performances of “Master Choreographers” will take place Thursday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 11, 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.

George Balanchine (1904-1983) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and is regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the world of ballet. He came to the United States in late 1933, at the age of 29, accepting the invitation of a young American arts patron Lincoln Kirstein, whose great passions included the dream of creating a ballet company in America. The first product of the Balanchine-Kirstein collaboration was the School of American Ballet, founded in 1934, an American academy of ballet that would eventually rival the long-established schools of Europe. Eventually, with a performance on Oct. 11, 1948, the New York City Ballet was born. Balanchine served as its ballet master and principal choreographer from 1948 until his death in 1983. Balanchine's more than 400 dance works include “Serenade” (1934), “Concerto Barocco” (1941), “Orpheus” (1948), and “Mozartiana” (1981). His final ballet, a new version of Stravinsky's “Variations for Orchestra,” was created in 1982. A major artistic figure of the twentieth century, Balanchine revolutionized the look of classical ballet. Although at first his style seemed particularly suited to the energy and speed of American dancers, especially those he trained, his ballets are now performed by all the major classical ballet companies throughout the world.

Marisa Cerveris is a former dancer with The New York City Ballet, Compania Nacionale de Danza, and Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse. She is currently the owner of ByMarisa: handmade, couture quality, designer dancewear, pilates-wear and yoga-wear, the only elastic-free bodywear on the market. ByMarisa apparel has been featured in Sony Pictures’ “The Company,” starring Neve Campbell, and on the hit ABC series “Dancing with the Stars,” season 10. ByMarisa is manufactured completely in the USA.

Corrie Franz Cowart has performed with the Mary Miller Dance Company, LABCO Dance, Minh Tran and Company, the Dance Theatre of Oregon, and the Pittsburgh Opera. She is also the co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance and has performed both nationally and internationally with Impact Productions’ "Dayuma," and "The Masterpiece." Cowart continues to perform and choreograph for her own company Co-Art Dance, a contemporary dance company she co-founded in 1997 with her husband Tim Cowart. Corrie is an assistant professor at Muhlenberg College, where she teaches modern, dance composition, and dance on camera.

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.

Olase Freeman recently completed his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, focusing on issues of black post-modernism. He is honored to serve as the 2011-2012 Visiting Lecturer in Dance at Muhlenberg College. A partial list of the companies with which he has worked include Jane Comfort & Co., Creach/Dance and Marlies Yearby's Movin' Spirits Theater, Headlong Dance Theater, and Leah Stein Dance Company. Mr. Freeman's choreographic work has been performed in such diverse venues as The Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX), Movement Research at Judson Church, Links Hall (Chicago), the Cunningham Studio, Joyce/Soho, Dixon Place, Thelma Hill (Long Island University), and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival (2002). Mr. Freeman is the co-artistic director of BaldSoul, a company he shares with his partner in dance, and life, Kathryn McNamara.

Dorrell Martin is founder of LEON Dance Arts NY, a jazz and contemporary dance program associated with LEON Contemporary Dance Company/NY, of which Martin is the artistic director. Martin, a native of Houston, Texas, is the creator/director of the jazz and contemporary program at the Joffrey Ballet School. He is also former artistic director of Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. Martin was a soloist for the national and international touring company of “A Few Good Men Dancin” and has danced in shows such as “Aida,” “West Side Story,” “The Lion King” and “Swing.” Martin has also performed with many professional companies, including Arch Dance, Locke Contemporary Dance, Houston Grand Opera, Metropolitan Opera, and Richard Rivera’s PHYSUAL as well as Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, just to name a few.

Shelley Oliver has more than 20 years experience as a professional tap dancer. She is a founding member of the noted dance ensemble "Manhattan Tap," and she has toured extensively throughout Europe, China, the Caribbean, Canada and the United States, performing with such tap notables as Savion Glover, Jimmy Slide, Buster Brown and Chuck Green. She has conducted lecture demonstrations for Lincoln Center, New York City public schools, and universities throughout the United States. She teaches a comprehensive jazz tap program at Muhlenberg College and directs the Muhlenberg Jazztap Ensemble, providing community outreach programs in the Allentown area. Oliver’s piece will feature live musical accompaniment by the David Leonhardt Jazz Group.

Sydney Skybetter is a choreographer, curator, and consultant for performing arts organizations. After studying at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Columbia University, and New York University, Skybetter performed with Christopher Williams and the Anna Sokolow Foundation. His choreography has been presented in New York at The Joyce Theater, The Joyce SoHo, Dance Theater Workshop / New York Live Arts, Jacob’s Pillow, and The Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church, among many others. Skybetter is a founding partner at Edwards & Skybetter | Change Agency, which provides product development, brand management and technology consulting for such international organizations as the Mark Morris Dance Group and the DBNA Group, and has written about performance history and technology for the Ballet Review and The Huffington Post. He received his Master of Fine Arts in dance performance and choreography from New York University.

Deborah Wingert was selected by George Balanchine at age 16 to join the company of the New York City Ballet. During her 15 years with the company, Ms. Wingert danced over 25 principal, soloist, and featured roles in productions that include Balanchine's “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Coppelia,” “Orpheus,” “Prodigal Son,” Peter Martins' “The Sleeping Beauty,” and many more. A principal and soloist with numerous nationally acclaimed companies, her film and television credits include “The Nutcracker” (Time-Warner), PBS Great Performances' “Dinner With Balanchine,” and Live from Lincoln Center's “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Ms. Wingert is a prize-winning choreographer, and is one of a small group of artists selected by the Balanchine Trust to set his choreography.

Karen Dearborn, artistic director, 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 "Oklahoma!," "Urinetown," and "West Side Story," and Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre productions of "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.

Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of about 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The College offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. Princeton ranks Muhlenberg’s theater program first in the nation, and the 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.