Each day at Steps on Broadway, dancers of all ages and backgrounds take their places in the studios to diligently practice their craft while working toward achieving their personal goals in the arts. Students in the Steps Conservatory Program have been in classes almost every day since September, and have studied a variety of styles of dance, as well as having attended weekly classes in composition, repertory, anatomy/wellness, and vocal technique/performance. At the end of the academic year they are provided with an opportunity to showcase what they have been working on for the Program Director Mindy Upin Jackson and the faculty at Steps, their family, fellow students, and friends. The end-of-semester showcase on Saturday May 30th took place in the Steps Studio Theater, and included guest performances by students in the Work/Study and the International Independent Study Program.
The Steps Conservatory Program is designed for serious dancers ages 17-24 pursuing a professional career. Each student selects either a ballet/contemporary or a theater dance/jazz track throughout their time in the two-year program. Students take a core group of technique and elective classes from the daily open class schedule, and rotate through a series of classes designed specifically for their program. The end-of-semester showcase offered the audience the opportunity to see the progress of the students year at the end of their first.
The perfect opening for the show featured all of the conservatory students performing what they learned this semester in their repertory class with Mimi Quillin. Ms. Quillin, a Fosse dancer and dance assistant to both Mr. Fosse and Gwen Verdon, chose Carol Haney’s “Satin Doll” to re-stage on nine of the dancers. Ms. Quillin not only taught the choreography to the students, but also taught them the feeling of the number, and the emotions it conveyed. The number that night oozed with style, elegance, and class. The Conservatory students did a great job of getting out of their comfort zone and learning a style of jazz that is not offered much anymore. Ms. Quillin’s choice of this iconic piece, with stunning music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, underscores the training that comprises the foundation of the Conservatory program.
Director of Professional Training Programs Mindy Upin Jackson, and Conservatory Program student Megan Roe each set a contemporary number for the show. Mindy’s piece featured International Independent Study Program students, as well as those on Work/Study. A standout performance was Anna Backteman, who not only showed her incredible technique throughout Mindy’s “Moving Through,” but who also expressed a wide range of skills and emotion as she lived through each moment of choreography. A great number to watch that was full of expression, great use of lines/movement, and strong connections between the dancers. Deep music, strong dynamics, and a beautiful composition by Johann Johannsson. Megan Roe’s “How Are You?” appeared to be centered on relationships and reactions to speech/dialogue, and featured Conservatory Program and International Independent Study Program students. Many of the movements seemed to stem from a pedestrian way of moving, with dancers breaking out into dancing as they were moved or motivated by the spoken word in the music, or a certain nuance. Casual into dynamic changes. The music was by Daniel Johnston & Dirty Projectors.
While most of the showcase focused on the dancing of the performers, the Conservatory students also showed the audience what they have been working on in their vocal workshops with their instructor Sally Morgan. Together they sang Frank Loesser’s “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” from Guys and Dolls, and it’s a great number for those just starting out with their singing. (It’s typically sung by men, so it takes a different approach when it’s mostly women singing it). Anastasia Egorova, Cassy Follett, Hannah Jennens, and Saki Oyama sang Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” from Sweet Charity, and it was also well acted. They appeared to be having a lot of fun with the number, and seemed to show their confidence as they interacted with one another. To complete the vocal section, the four women each sang a 32 bar cut solo, which would often times be the length required for musical theater auditions. Hannah Jennens sang “Home” from Beauty and the Beast, and she is equally strong as a singer and dancer. She has the most experience with singing out of the other dancers, and her confidence and characterizations throughout the song were quite intriguing. She was expressive and captivating, and personified the character nicely. What she was singing was believed, and she could hold and hit the range of notes. Kudos to the other three for singing a solo, and for trying something new that is very different from what they’re accustomed to doing.
A section of the evening focused on what the dancers were working on in their composition classes with Janis Brenner. It was interesting to see how they all worked together with the different starting points and ideas they were given to relate to. The composition presentation was divided into the categories of body-part studies– focusing on how to initiate movement from one part of the body; music transformation studies– how movement plays off of music and relates to it; and collaborative group choreography– each student choreographed a phrase and taught it to the others. As someone who studied dance composition in college, I have a great appreciation for the process of building upon the exercises that lead to choreography, but for the purpose of a show with many non-dancers in attendance, it got to be a little bit too long. They showed the progression for many of the exercises they did in class, and while interesting, it got to be repetitive at times, and seemed too lengthy for what should be shown to the public. Many exercises in compositions are meant to be used for classroom purposes, and then using the final product for what is presented to an audience. Non-dancers may not understand the purpose/intent behind each exercise, so they may not relate as much to what is going on. The final collaborative group piece of choreography was quite fun, and showcased all of the dancers and their strengths, even when one did not necessarily know who came up with what movements. It was described before they started showing their work that “it is an invention and discovery of how each body moves, and how to translate that movement into the language of how that applies to dance.” The dancers listened to each other, whether through verbal cues with their voices, or through the music.
Closing out the showcase, Work/Study student Daquan Whaley set a fun hip hop piece on international students, members of the conservatory program, and some fellow Work/Study students. Titled “July 32nd” with music by Justin Timberlake, the piece ranged from smooth and cool, to upbeat and rhythmic. The dancers were able to show off some of their specialties and practiced tricks. It was great to see dancers from all of the programs working together, and supporting one another throughout the number in how they related to what they were doing. It was great to see them take on a different style than previously seen in the show, and to see how they are able to apply their knowledge of dance to many different styles of moving. An entertaining way to end the show.
Bravo to all of the students involved in the conservatory showcase, and I look forward to seeing what the next year of the program has in store for them. Check out stepsnyc.com for more information on the programs, including their upcoming auditions for the next year. A great way to end their semester and first year of the program. Congrats to all for their hard work and dedication. Keep on dancing! See you in the studio.
– Anne-Allegra Bennett
Musical Theater Dancer & Administrative Assistant at Steps
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photo: Paul B. Goode