Friends University Ballet goes contemporary for spring

02/28/2014 4:56 PM

08/08/2014 10:34 AM

The fall ballet offered each year by Friends University leans toward classical dance: tutus, point shoes and such.

But the spring ballet is always more contemporary, said Stan Rogers, associate professor and director of ballet at the school. Its pieces are more modern, with current music, minimalist costumes and dances that tell stories.

Rogers and his group of 24 ballet majors, which he describes as the best collection of students he’s taught in years, will present their contemporary spring ballet starting March 7. The performance will contain three dances: two choreographed by Rogers himself, including an old audience favorite, and one put together by an up-and-coming young choreographer from St. Louis.

The highlight of the performance, Rogers said, will be an encore of his work “The Great Plains,” which last was performed in 2011 in honor of Kansas’ 150th birthday. Rogers, who started his career in New York City, said he choreographed the 30-minute piece as a tribute to his adopted home state, whose big, beautiful skies captured him. The dance portrays the circle of life on the Plains.

“It’s beautiful,” said Rogers, who brings the ballet back by popular demand every few years. “The audience even gets teary-eyed a bit.”

“The Great Plains” is set to music by David Foster and stars longtime Friends dancers Sophie Meyers and Maylon Tibbets. The costumes were designed by former Wichitan Charla Sanderson, who also is responsible for the colorful costumes Friends uses for “The Nutcracker.” The backdrop also was created by Sanderson and reproduces a watercolor landscape by her famous artist father, the late Charles Sanderson.

“The Great Plains” will make up the second act of the show.

“I like it because of the music,” Rogers said. “David Foster’s music is beautiful. It’s symphonic.”

Music also inspired Rogers to choreograph one of the first-half pieces, which he’s calling “Countertime.”

Rogers presented the beginning of the piece during the fall ballet but said he realized it wasn’t quite finished. He set it to music by composer Jeff Beal, who penned the music for the 2000 movie “Pollock.” He’s also written music for the popular series “House of Cards.”

In the fall, the piece was a series of six dances. Now, it’s 10, which allows Rogers to use even more of Beal’s music. The students perform in simple leotards and tights, which allows the audience to better study the movements.

“Mainly, it’s about the music,” Rogers said. “There’s no story to it. There’s a lot of flow with it, and shapes and speed. It’s rare for me to find music that I’m really, really inspired by, but I was completely inspired by this because it’s progressive and the meters change all the time.”

The dance that will open the performance is by Nick Blaylock, a choreographer from St. Louis whom Rogers met at a college dance festival. Rogers liked the piece Blaylock presented at the festival and asked him to come work with his students.

Blaylock visited Friends for a week at the end of January and put together a new dance titled “Zero” that’s made up of three pieces. It includes parts where the dancers speak on stage, and they’re asked to create odd positions, Rogers said, some of them on the floor.

“It’s an interesting piece,” Rogers said. “I think that young people will enjoy it, and older people will, too, because it’s a departure from a lot of things that we do, which is good.”

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