Arts & Culture

November 15, 2012

Kansas Dance Festival to showcase student performers

They’ll leap. They’ll plie. They’ll tumble.

They’ll leap. They’ll plie. They’ll tumble.

Each dancer at the Kansas Dance Festival will entertain through movement.

Student dancers from Kansas State University, the University of Kansas and Wichita State University will perform at this annual festival, which starts Friday.

“Dance is about being present,” Nick Johnson, WSU director of dance, said. “It’s an abstract language that speaks right to the heart, right to the soul.”

Johnson wants audience members to relax, watch the dancers and not worry about understanding the piece or the movement. He wants the audience to feel emotion.

“It’s not a movie; it’s not a play,” Johnson said. “You’re watching it from your insides.”

The students will present choreographed numbers that feature a variety of dance with differing numbers of dancers. Costumes and colors will vary. Some numbers will feature classic ballet moves, while others will lean toward contemporary dance — a mixture of modern moves and classic styles.

Along with pieces from several alumni and faculty, WSU will feature two works by nationally acclaimed choreographer Darrell Moultrie. A graduate of The Juilliard School, he danced in the original Broadway cast of “Billy Elliot.” He also performed in Broadway productions of “Aida” and “Hairspray.”

Moultrie taught a master class to the WSU dancers earlier this year and was invited back to help with the festival.

“He liked it here so much, he decided to create a different piece for the festival,” Johnson said. “We’re so lucky to get him. He’s wonderful.”

WSU dancers will perform Moultrie’s “The Zone” and premiere his “Two Sides of a Coin.”

“It’s easy for me to start creating new work,” Moultrie said. “It’s the idea of creating a work for them that challenges their weaknesses and accentuates their strengths.”

“The Zone” puts the dancers in “a zone,” while “Two Sides” demonstrates a Jekyll-and-Hyde component.

“Two Sides” “starts out slow and then has more of an energetic flow to it,” Moultrie said. He was able to see how each WSU dancer moved and created a piece that worked for the company.

Although Moultrie enjoys working with professional dancers, he said he is thrilled to share his gifts with students.

“They are the future,” he said. “Working with them is like having the pulse on the future.”

Moultrie travels throughout the world dancing and choreographing. The award-winning choreographer’s work has been performed by Atlanta Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem. A New York City native, Moultrie’s love of dance and people is shown in both his vibrant personality and inventive work.

“I enjoy planting the right seeds on the next generation,” Moultrie said. “I enjoy the pleasure of getting to work with these future professional artists.”

Dancers from WSU have gone on to professional companies.

“We have students on Broadway and touring throughout the world,” Johnson said. “Great artists want to come here and teach master classes; companies want to come here and perform.”

Johnson credits the people of Wichita for helping his program through their audience support.

“The audience loves watching the students grow,” he said. “It’s about the students and how strong they are.”

Johnson also finds the companionship of working with other dancers important.

“We (the universities) are sharing the art and doing shows together,” he said. “The students are learning how to be gracious hosts.”

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