As family, friends, and Steps faculty chatted in anticipation in the audience, backstage the dancers ran around making last minute adjustments to their costumes and makeup as they awaited their call to take places in Steps Studio Theater. Excited (and a little nervous), the dancers were ready to share what they had been working on for the past several months in their End-of-Semester Showcase on January 18th, 2015 as members of The Steps Conservatory Program.
Under Mindy Upin Jackson, Administrator of Student Programs, the Steps Conservatory Program is an intensive two-year program designed to help intermediate and advanced dancers, ages 17-26, develop into well-trained, versatile artists, while working toward professional careers in concert and/or commercial dance. These dancers, have been taking 15-18 classes per week comprised of both elective and mandatory courses in addition to closed enhancement classes and workshops created specifically for the program, such as repertory (Broadway & contemporary), performance skills, and a vocal workshop for dancers. Steps on Broadway Founder/Artistic Director Carol Paumgarten and Co-Artistic/Managing Director Diane Grumet have provided dancers from all over the world the opportunity to train toward a professional career by offering them the chance to study with Steps faculty and guest artists, while dancing with up and coming students and professional dancers alike in the open classes. The dancers in the program make connections with world-renowned dance companies, choreographers, and teachers.
So it was with great anticipation that the audience waited to see the accomplishments of the first semester of this new program. The evening showcased the versatility of the conservatory dancers, and also featured members of the Steps Repertory Ensemble (Bradley Shelver, Artistic Director), and students in the International Student Independent Study Program.
Opening the show with a structured improvisation directed by guest faculty member Heidi Latsky, the conservatory students took the stage in “My Name Is”, which highlighted each dancer’s individuality through the creation of their own movement which was repeated several times throughout while also stating their name. As the piece progressed, the individuality of “me” turned into the inclusiveness of “us” as the dancers joined together as one, while breaking out occasionally to tell their story. Listening and responding to the cues of their peers, the dancers were able to transition from working individually to becoming a community of one bringing to the fore what they learned about performance.
Members of the Steps Repertory Ensemble took the stage performing Aurélién Peillex’s piece, “Withdrawal Pang”. Performing alongside some of the international students, the dance represented withdrawal symptoms, and the possibilities of what someone going through could experience. Full of rhythmic impulses and feeling the disconnect of the body, the piece went back and forth between the highs and lows of what the body may go through, and ended with the sounds of a heart machine as the stage went to black. The conservatory students shared the stage with the ensemble members in Bradley Shelver’s, “3114 BCE”. They learned this piece as part of their repertory class. Performed to Maurice Ravel’s masterpiece, “Bolero”, the piece represented the themes of evolution, and the music became more intense and powerful as the piece evolved. The movement along with the music represented the changes. This number allowed the conservatory students the opportunity to work alongside dancers currently working as professionals.
To truly be a professional performer, versatility is crucial. The more versatile, the more opportunities there will be. The students performed a few vocal numbers that they worked on with their vocal workshop instructor Sally Morgan. Accompanied by Ms. Morgan on the piano, they sang Harold Arlen’s “Get Happy” and “Hallelujah”. The dancers showed that they are not afraid to try something new. Some of the students do not have a vocal background, so singing in front of an audience is quite intimidating. A standout vocal performance was Hannah Jennens as she took the stage with a solo showing that not only can she dance, but that she has a strong vocal background and is already a very versatile performer.
Following the vocal performances, the dancers took the stage performing the choreography of Bob Fosse. Restaged for them by Fosse veteran, Broadway performer, and Steps faculty member Dana Moore, these dancers had the opportunity to learn repertory of works originally performed before they were born. Dana Moore worked with Bob Fosse on shows such as Dancin’ and Sweet Charity, and introduced the students to Mr. Fosse’s very specific way of moving. She set Fosse’s “Manson Trio” from Pippin, as well as the phrase that dancers did for his auditions to the music “On Broadway.” Mr. Fosse’s choreography is full of intricate details, and Ms. Moore did a great job in her restaging, and in paying homage to his work.
The dedication of the conservatory students to their studies showed in their performances in the showcase, and it will be great to see where their training takes them as they continue studying in the program. Visit StepsNYC.com for more information on Steps, the training programs, classes, and for more on upcoming performances and events produced through the Steps Beyond Foundation.
By Anne-Allegra Bennett