‘Master Choreographers’ dance concert, Feb. 6-8, showcases talents of acclaimed choreographers, over 60 dancers

Highlights include pieces by guest artists Bill Evans, Yoshito Sakuraba

 Friday, January 24, 2020 05:52 PM

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photos by Marco Calderon

The Muhlenberg College dance program will showcase seven original works by seven world-class choreographers in its annual "Master Choreographers" concert, Feb. 6-8. The performance includes a 50th anniversary restaging by critically acclaimed guest artist Bill Evans, this season's Baker Artist-in-Residence, supported by the Dexter F. & Dorothy H. Baker Foundation.

In addition to Evans' piece, this year's "Master Choreographers" features an original work by guest choreographer Yoshito Sakuraba, as well as works by five Muhlenberg dance faculty: Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; Karen Dearborn, founder and chair of Muhlenberg's dance program; Megan Flynn, artistic director of Megan Flynn Dance Company; Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; and Randall Anthony Smith, former dancer with Armitage Gone!

"This concert presents a spectacular evening of dance," says Dearborn, the Muhlenberg dance program's founder and the concert's artistic director. "We are thrilled to showcase a restaging work from two world-class guest artists, as well as our talented faculty choreographers."

A Guggenheim Fellow and internationally known performer and choreographer of modern dance and rhythm tap dance, Bill Evans has created more than 275 works for more than 65 professional companies throughout the world. "For Betty," the piece he has restaged at Muhlenberg, is among his best-known pieces. A tribute to his teacher Elizabeth R. Hayes (1911-2007), the work premiered in 1970. In its Muhlenberg restaging, it maintains its original structure but includes movement contributions from the Muhlenberg dancers.

"I choreographed the work when I was 29," Evans says, "and at the time I was deeply immersed in the classic modern dance styles. The piece requires musical precision — it requires lots of leaps, lots of jumps, and the dancers had to come into rehearsal conditioned and prepared for the physical challenges.

"It's been a challenging experience and I would say an uplifting experience," he says, "because I've loved seeing these dancers dig deep inside and find the best of themselves and really bring themselves to this challenge."

Guest artist Yoshito Sakuraba has created an abstract contemporary piece he says is "infused with bits of ballet technique, with moments of break-dancing elements."

Sakuraba is founding artistic director of New York City-based contemporary dance company Abarukas, and an award-winning choreographer. His works have been staged around the country and the world.

"Before I was a choreographer I studied visual arts," he says. "I was a huge fan of (abstract painter) Jackson Pollock, and I'm a very visual person. I like to focus my attention on imagery and shapes, and leave the narrative to the audience. I think that's the best way to describe my work: abstract and visual."

Muhlenberg faculty member Heidi Cruz-Austin staged a new modern ballet titled "Tower 7," inspired by the novel "The Book of Phoenix" by Nnedi Okorafor.

"The piece explores the colonization of mind and body and what it does to your psyche," Cruz-Austin says. "I was interested in what happens when you gain the strength to transcend — and where you go from there."

Tap choreographer Shelley Oliver will restage a work she premiered in 2013, "Cascades," performed to live jazz music by the David Leonhardt Trio.

Other works premiering in the concert include the modern piece "Agape's Touch: Beyond Earthly Attachment," by Randall Anthony Smith; "shutter speed," by Megan Flynn; and a ballet by Karen Dearborn.

Pattie Bostick, a longtime faculty member with Muhlenberg's dance program, will receive the LVAIC Dance Consortium Award following the Feb. 7 performance. The award is presented annually by the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges Dance Consortium.

"Master Choreographers" runs Nov. 6-8 in the Empie Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Performances are Thursday and Friday, Feb. 6-7, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 8, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under; and $8 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges. For groups of 15 or more, tickets are $13.

Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or online.

About Muhlenberg College
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential, liberal arts college offering baccalaureate and graduate programs. With an enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences; selected preprofessional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health; and progressive workforce-focused post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees. Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, approximately 90 miles west of New York City, Muhlenberg is a member of the Centennial Conference, competing in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.