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Choreographers to Premiere New Work at State Theatre

by and on February 22, 2018 5:00 AM

Professional Centre County choreographers will premiere a new work in downtown State College.

On Friday and Saturday, Ann Van Kuren, director of VanDance Inc., will present "JazzBird," her most recent creative offering, at the State Theatre. The presentation will also feature Steel Valley Rhythms, the work of independent professional choreographer Michele Dunleavy.

Intrigued by the Stravinsky classic "The Firebird," Van Kuren will present what she calls a “contemporary fairytale,” imprinting it with nuances unique to her style while setting the ancient Russian folk tale in a venue far from its origin in the Siberian forest.

"I'm taking the story from the early 20th century, and setting it in the Jazz Age," she said, "and it will use a jazz rendition of the Stravinsky score."

Originally, the scenario involved a prince wandering through a forest, encountering the firebird, an enchanted feather, captive princesses, monsters and an evil sorcerer. Van Kuren envisions a more urban setting and more realistic characters for her interpretation.

Perhaps best known to local audiences as the creator of "The Raven," which she presented while artistic director of Pennsylvania Dance Theatre in the 1990s, Van Kuren rarely adheres to a literal representation of subject matter. She believes in using props and sets as integral parts of her depictions.

"I want an atmosphere closer to a cabaret or a night club," she said, "with tables and chairs set up, and maybe evolve into the back alley behind the stage."

And the firebird herself becomes a showgirl, clad in a flowing design calling to mind Art Deco.

In addition to Van Kuren, dancers Vicky McQuaide, Amyko Ishizaki, Sarah Rich, Ethan Gwynn and Abby Wilson will take part in the production.

The choreography, according to Van Kuren, "will work with the symmetry, line and shape of Art Deco, finding definition and flowing in and out of it."

She has some geometric moments planned, with dancers making arching shapes, incorporating lifts and movements winding around each other. The use of shifting weight and curved lines that melt into angles and back again has always typified Van Kuren's work.

"I like the idea of taking my own way of moving and fine-tuning it to create a new movement language," she said.

"I hope this will open people up to the possibilities of what dance can be, and to appreciate those who went before as dancers and artists."

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Ann is an Arts and Entertainment correspondent for the Gazette.
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