Review: George Mason University School of Dance Proves Their Worth With a Diverse DANCE GALA

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Dancers Lauren Stucko (senior) and Madison Brott (junior) beautifully dance the roles of Red Girl and Pink Girl in Lar Lubovich's A Brahms Symphony. Photo by Tim Coburn.

George Mason University is a bit of a trek when compared to other arts organizations in the DMV area. If Saturday night's School of Dance Fête and Gala Concert is any indicator, however, this trek is worth making. Celebrating the strides Mason's (still young) dance program has made in recent years, the evening serves as a unique combination of educational panels and dance showcases. With four moving performances capping off the evening, Mason's dance program cements itself as one to not be underestimated.

Beginning the evening with the Dance Fête (meaning a celebration or festival) allows Mason faculty and students to better connect with their most ardent supporters. Multiple panel discussions educate audience members on the upcoming performances in a way which allows those who may not have an extensive dance knowledge to understand the nuances of the evening.

Faculty members also have the opportunity to use such an event to make their appeals to their dedicated donors. Associate professor Dan Joyce emphasized the cruciality of supporting Mason's scholarships by stating "when you support people that is a profound way to help the future. What a more beautiful thing is there to do?" When arts programs are consistently on the chopping block, it is always crucial for messages like these to be heard above the naysayers.

Two hours of panels, remarks, and discussions later and the main event is ready to begin. Four separate pieces allow the Mason dancers to demonstrate their best skills with great athleticism, precision, and elegance. While three of the pieces soar to great heights, the fourth hits a couple of stumbling blocks along the way.

First up is Doug Verone's Mass, a section from his 40-minute piece entitled in the shelter of the fold. Varone, whose company is celebrating its 30th anniversary, proves to be a dilligent choreographer who keeps constant movement throughout this frantic piece. Despite the jarring string quintet, playing mostly in contradictory phrases, the dancing is shockingly cohesive. Seeing this little taste of Verone's choreography demonstrates why he has been such a highly demanded choreographer whose work has been commissioned by Martha Graham Dance Company, New York City Opera, and beyond. The dancers deserve commendation as well for bursting forward with energy from start to finish. Overall, this is a piece that would serve well to open any dance show.

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Dony'ae Bush (junior) and Marcel Mejia (junior) impress as the Blue Boy and Purple Boy in Lar Lubovitch's A Brahms Symphony. Photo by Tim Coburn.

Following an explosive opener as that would be a difficult task for any number. Ivan Pérez's emotional work, Flesh, prides itself on ignoring musicality and focusing on the emotions of the dancers. Sacrificing the technical precision, however, seems odd for such a technical number. There is so much partnering and the lifts can be incredibly difficult that the musicality becomes crucial at times. No matter how beautiful the work, it gets a little uncomfortable to watch shaky lifts because you begin imagining something tragic happening. That being said, Saturday's dancers, Marcel Mejia (junior) and Jesse Arnst (sophomore) demonstrate their ability to live up to Mr. Pérez's vision and dance with emotion which translates so clearly to the audience. All of this is assisted by beautiful lighting design by Tom Visser, recreated for this performance by Scott Leathers. In fact, it is worth noting Mr. Leathers' recreations for each number's lighting remained a high point of each performance.

Within Reach is Mason's third production and their most stylistically different. Featuring the signature stylings of choreographer Yin Yue, dancers pulse, drop, and flow their way to a brilliant execution of Ms. Yue's pioneered FolkContemporary style. Madison Brott (junior), Maya Fedorenko (sophomore), Julianne Kannan (senior), and Robert Rubama (senior) dance with such passion that Yin Yue herself led the standing ovation at the number's end. While the performance doesn't necessarily improve on the first number, the style shift is enough to make it one of the evening's highlights.

Speaking of highlights, the final (and longest) number of the evening is the true highlight: Lar Lubovitch's A Brahms Symphony. Lubovitch, whose company is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is an adept choreographer whose routine allows both the ensemble and principles to shine. Proving the importance of this piece at this time, the four principle dancers who originated this number were in attendance. All four (Doug Varone, Nancy Cologan, Christine Wright, and Rob Besserer) led the rousing applause at the end of Saturday night's production. To top it all off, George Mason's Dance company will be closing out an upcoming Lar Lubovitch show in New York with this same number.

There's a reason George Mason was named as one of the top twenty dance schools by Dance Magazine. Their dancers move with grace, precision, and heart. If they are able to overcome the minor stumbles seen in one of their numbers, there is no reason this program can't continue to climb and become the top tier prestigious school their administration clearly hopes to be. Heritage Professor Christopher d'Amboise entreats audiences who watch dance "what does it make you feel? And you're right." Mason's dancers will likely make their audiences feel this is one of the most promising programs in the DC area. They happen to be right.

For information and tickets to upcoming George Mason University School of Dance performances click here.

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Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.

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Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and c... (read more about this author)


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