May 21, 2014

Dancing to D.C.

UMass Dance Department set for Kennedy Center
Student dancers rehearse for a June 6 performance for the National College Dance Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., after winning a regional competition.

“We’re doing choreography,” are the words Irving Berlin made famous in his song “Choreography” in 1945 and in the studios of the UMass Department of Music and Dance, those words are being translated to the leaps and pliés of eight dancers as they prepare to take Washington, D.C., by storm.

The dancers are scheduled to perform on June 6 at the National College Dance Festival, hosted at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. This national festival showcases dances selected from regional conferences with the primary objective to nationally highlight exceptional choreography and performance created at college and university campuses. Adjudicators who viewed performances by 45 other schools from the New England region at the American College Dance Association Conference in Boston in February selected the ballet presented by UMass Amherst. Judging was based on outstanding artistic excellence and merit.

In a program with only about 50 dance majors, the dance department has long made its excellence known and is now set for the bigger stage. “We know in the dance department that we have a good, strong program and that we have very talented dancers. This is a validating experience for the department and for UMass as well,” says ballet professor Thomas Vacanti.

The group will perform Before/After, choreographed by guest choreographer Jennifer Hart of Ballet Austin in Austin, Texas. Hart, brought in by Vacanti, held auditions in October, where she cast eight students to perform the piece.

“It was a great professional experience. She is a very established person who choreographs works for many companies nationally, so it was such an honor to have that experience while in college, before we get out into the real world,” said junior dance major Emily Relyea-Spivack.

Her fellow cast members agreed. “She brings a unique style to our movement that I could easily connect to,” said Annie Heath, also a junior dance major. “I felt like I was moving so differently than I had ever moved before. It definitely opened up my eyes to what is out there as far as ballet goes and as far as dance goes in general. I think it was great to go through what the professional process would be when you audition for a piece and then you rehearse intensively for a long time, and then perform multiple times,” said sophomore dance major Alanna Sade-Milberg, who is on the pre-med track. “I think we definitely proved ourselves. Even though we’re a small department, we’re strong,” she added.