Two members from world-renowned dance companies and a ballet legend are on campus this week teaching Stephens Summer Dance students new movements and original choreographed works in preparation for the summer dance concert.
Francisco Graciano, a Stephens alumnus, is a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company in New York. On campus, he’s teaching water-inspired movements, a Taylor trademark.
Morgan Hulen, a Columbia native, is also borrowing movements from the company he dances for, MOMIX, which relies a lot on impromptu dance involving props. In class yesterday, he challenged dancers to explore techniques using teeter-totters. The result was some impressive acrobatic stunts.
And while Russell Sulzbach, director of Ballet South and of The School of Performing Arts in Florida and a former member of the Joffrey Ballet, is focused on classical ballet, students are being challenged to execute basic steps in new ways. Thanking Sulzbach after class yesterday, one student noted that she’d moved in ways she hadn’t thought possible.
That’s the goal of all of the guest artists during Stephens Summer Dance, an intensive program that connects students with working professionals.
“The idea is to teach them that their ability isn’t finite,” said Elizabeth Hartwell, program director. “As soon as something becomes easy and automatic, it’s time to introduce something new.”
The techniques students are learning in the program will be showcased at a public concert, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. June 27-28 at Macklanburg Playhouse.
Attendees can expect a wide-range of original works. Graciano’s piece aims to explore the contrasts between human spirit and our automaton nature. He compared his vision for the piece to dystopia, void of the human dynamic. The dance will be set to the music of American composer Philip Glass.
Hulen’s piece will incorporate the seesaws, although he’s still in the creation process. While the choreographed piece will have a formal format, he’s toying with the idea of including impromptu sections that allow the dancers to create their own movements.
“I have ideas and a basic structure, but I like the idea of letting them explore,” he said.
Hulen is also emphasizing the importance of music and said the piece will combine piano music with Rusted Root, a band best known for the hit “Send Me On My Way.”
“It will be fun to see how we marry the two styles,” he said.
Sulzbach is choreographing a classical ballet piece with contemporary music and the costumes somewhere in the middle.
“The steps and arm movements are the same as used in traditional ballet but with a twist,” he said.
Hulen and Graciano have both been enrolled in and have worked at Stephens Summer Dance previously. However, this is Sulzbach’s first time on campus and in Columbia. So far, Sulzbach—known in the 1970s as one of the lead performers in Joffrey productions—has been impressed.
“I love this place,” he said. “The students are so wonderful and willing to try new things.”
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