Muhlenberg Honors Mildred Greene In Costume Retrospective

 

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown, PA – Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance will remember Mildred Greene, long-time costumer and costume designer, with a special exhibition of her work Feb. 5-27. The exhibition, titled “It Fits, You’ll Wear It & Love It,” will honor Greene’s impact on the department and its productions.


Greene built and designed costumes for the Theatre & Dance Department and Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre from 1979 until her retirement in 2003. During her 24-year career at Muhlenberg, she designed and produced thousands of costumes for the stage.


The exhibition will feature costumes as well as photographs of Greene’s design repertoire spanning her Muhlenberg career. A free reception for the exhibition will be held Friday, Feb. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m.


Greene’s skill, expertise, and no-nonsense charm endeared her to her colleagues and hundreds of students, according to Curtis Dretsch, professor of design and technical theater.


“Mildred could do more, with less, more quickly than anyone else I’ve ever known,” Dretsch says.


Greene was destined to create costumes for the stage, as her father was an upholsterer and her mother sewed clothing and dance costumes for the family. She worked in New York City during World War II as a pattern maker for McCall’s Pattern Company while also work in alterations shops honing her construction skills.


Reviewers consistently praised Greene’s work throughout her career. “Mildred Greene’s costumes deserve to be kept on display as examples of theater art even after audiences can no longer enjoy the sterling play they frame,” wrote Morning Call theater critic John Flautz in his 1988 review of “The School for Scandal.” “They are nothing short of stunning!”


Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review has ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program as in the top twelve in the nation for the past seven years, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.


“It Fits, You’ll Wear It & Love It” runs Feb. 5-27. The exhibition will take place in the Galleria Lobby, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

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Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre Production Of Rock Opera ‘Superstar’ Explores Human Side Of Crucifixion Story

Allentown, PA– James Peck vividly remembers the best rock concert he ever attended: U2 at the Meadowlands in 2011.

“It was one of the most quote-unquote ‘ritualistic’ theater experiences I’ve ever had,” he says. “It had that seize-your-body, wash-over-you aspect of rock-and-roll—that feeling that you’re part of something larger than you. That aspect of ritual.”

That’s the feeling that Peck wants to create as the director of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” opening July 10 at the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre.

“‘Superstar’ is a big epic rock musical about one of the greatest stories ever told,” Peck says. “In the way that a really great rock concert makes you feel like you’re part of something big and cosmic, I think a great production of this show should work the crowd into a sort of oceanic sense of being in touch with something in the universe.”

This summer marks not only the Muhlenberg premiere of “Superstar,” but also the return of former Muhlenberg dance professor Charles O. Anderson. Anderson returns from Austin, Texas, where he teaches dance at University of Texas Austin. Ken Butler serves as the musical director.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” runs July 10-28, Wednesday through Sunday on the Empie Stage, MuhlenbergCollege.

“Superstar” dramatizes the last seven days in the life of Jesus, from his entry into Jerusalem through his crucifixion. Set to a rock score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the show looks at those seven days through the eyes Judas, the disciple who betrays Jesus and “one of history’s great so-called villains,” Peck says.

“It is unusual for a show to take the vantage point of Judas,” Peck says. “But it’s what makes ‘Superstar’ unique.”

The show features the hit songs “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Superstar.”

What interests Peck most, he says, is the way the play explores the humanity of the characters—real people at the epicenter of one of history’s great moments.

“You get a sense of Jesus as a human,” he says, “of how exhausting it must be to be at the heart of a world movement.”

“Superstar” features a cast of 27, including Muhlenberg alumni Dan Cary ’08 as Jesus, Jessie MacBeth ’13 as Mary Magdalene, and Equity guest artist Kennedy Kanagawa ’08 as Judas. The show also features guest artists from the LehighValley including Ed Bara as Caiaphas, Bill Mutimer as Herod, and Joshua Neth as Pontius Pilate.

“What I love about ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is that it takes these iconic figures that we are used to thinking of abstractly, and it humanizes them,” Kanagawa says. “They have emotions and desires and allegiances and secrets. The idea of returning to my alma mater and making these discoveries along with this brilliantly talented creative team is thrilling.”

The show features a spare, earthy design by Tim Averill, who brings his interest in sustainable theater design to the production. Annie Simon’s costume designs draw from 1970s and contemporary grunge fashion. Lighting design by John McKernon brings a rock-show sensibility to the performance. The five-piece band led by Vince Di Mura will feature a lean rock-band sound—less lush Broadway score and more rock-and-roll.

The Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre has been bringing excellent theatre to the LehighValley for 33 years. All productions are performed at MuhlenbergCollege, one of the top-rated college performance programs in the country according to the Princeton Review rankings. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” runs July 10-28 in the Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown, Pa.

Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Regular admission tickets for the first four shows are $32; seniors (65 +) are $28; students and children are $20. For the remainder of the run, regular admission tickets are $38; seniors (65+) are $35; students and children are $20. Family matinees on Sundays are just $10 for children. For groups of 15 or more, tickets are $25 per person and $16 for students and children.

Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or http://www.muhlenberg.edu/smt

‘Master Choreographers’ Dance Concert, Feb. 7-9, Displays Talents Of Acclaimed Choreographers, More Than 40 Dancers

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown, Pa. — Muhlenberg College will showcase world premiere dance works created by five of the region’s most accomplished choreographers and two restagings by internationally acclaimed choreographers, in the College’s annual “Master Choreographers” dance concert, Feb. 7-9.

“This concert is a spectacular evening of ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary dance,” said Karen Dearborn, the director of dance for Muhlenberg’s Department of Theatre & Dance, and the artistic director for “Master Choreographers.” “We are fortunate to be showcasing new works by internationally acclaimed guest artists and faculty.”

The performance will take place on the Empie Theatre stage, in Muhlenberg’s Baker Center for the Arts.

This season’s “Master Choreographers” concert will feature a restaging of the second movement of “Viva Vivaldi,” the Joffrey Ballet‘s signature work, choreographed by Gerald Arpino and restaged for Muhlenberg by Trinette Singleton, co-artistic director of Repertory Dance Company and longtime Joffrey Ballet dancer.

Singleton was the first dancer to appear on the cover of a national news magazine (Time, in 1968). She is featured prominently in the recent Joffrey documentary, “The Joffrey Ballet: The Mavericks of American Dance,” and is one of a handful of choreographers entrusted with restaging Joffrey pieces around the country.

“When it’s your own choreography, you have total license,” Singleton says. “When you’re restaging, you have to stick as closely as possible to the choreographer’s original vision. It’s almost a little more nerve racking restaging someone else’s choreography, because you want to get it right.”

The evening will also feature a restaged work by Danish choreographer Charlotte Boye-Christensen, artistic director of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, as well as world-premiere works by: Corrie Franz Cowart, co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance; Heidi Cruz-Austin, co-artistic director of DanceSpora and a Pennsylvania Ballet alumna; Dorrell Martin, founder and executive artistic director of LEON Dance Arts NY; Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; and Jeffrey Peterson, former dancer with Danny Buraczeski’s JAZZDANCE.

Shelley Oliver’s tap piece, “Inspiration Calls to Me,” will feature a live performance by the David Leonhardt Jazz Group. She says that the band and the dancers both feed off of the synergy of live collaboration.

“When the music is performed live,” Oliver says, “the dancers hear the work exactly as they know it, but with live embellishments that just bring the work to the next level. During performance, the band influences the dancers’ energy, and the dancers’ rhythms influence the band.”

“Master Choreographers” features performances by more than 40 Muhlenberg dance students, in a wide range of contrasting styles, from classical ballet to cutting-edge contemporary. One piece from the latter end of the spectrum is “Passage,” by Dorrell Martin, one of this season’s guest choreographers. Martin says he has found the process of working with Muhlenberg’s dancers to be particularly rewarding.

“Karen gave me the freedom to set whatever inspired me,” Martin says. “A lot of the movement is movement that I have been working on a while. A lot of it came from the heart and just from the music itself. I have wanted to set this piece on my company for a while now. This gave me the opportunity to try out the concept, movement, and music on the Muhlenberg dancers first.

“The Muhlenberg dancers were really a delight to work with,” he says. “Sometimes there are dancers that are used to moving a certain way but the Muhlenberg dancers were open and willing to accept new movement on their bodies. I love that sense of freedom because it opens me up to explore more movement.”

Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of about 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The College offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.

Performances of “Master Choreographers” will take place Thursday and Friday, Feb. 7-8, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 9, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under and for students, faculty and staff of LVAIC colleges. Performances are in the Empie Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/dance.

‘Master Choreographers’ Dance Concert At Muhlenberg College, February 9th -11th

 

English: George Balanchine in the 1920s

Image via Wikipedia

Allentown, Pa. (Jan. 23, 2012) — Muhlenberg College will showcase world premiere dance works created by six of the region’s most accomplished choreographers, in the College’s annual Master Choreographers dance concert, Feb. 9-11. The concert will also feature a restaging of a work by the acclaimed contemporary ballet choreographer George Balanchine.

Featuring a diverse selection of styles and genres, including classical ballet, jazz, tap, and modern dance, Master Choreographers will also showcase performances by more than 40 Muhlenberg dance students. The performance takes place on the Empie Theatre stage, in Muhlenberg’s Baker Center for the Arts.

“This concert is a spectacular evening of ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary dance,” says Karen Dearborn, the director of dance for Muhlenberg’s Department of Theatre & Dance, and the artistic director for Master Choreographers. “We are particularly fortunate to be working with The Balanchine Trust to bring the work of the great Balanchine to a new generation of dancers and audiences.”

This season’s Master Choreographers concert will feature a restaging Balanchine’s “Valse Fantaisie,” set and rehearsed by guest artists Deborah Wingert and Marisa Cerveris. Evening performances will feature dancer Nick Kepley, formerly with the Kansas City Ballet and currently performing on Broadway in “Mary Poppins.”

The evening also will feature original dance works by: Corrie Franz Cowart, co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance; Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; Olase Freeman, co-artistic director of BaldSoul modern dance company; Dorrell Martin, director of the Joffrey Ballet School‘s jazz and contemporary program; Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; and New York-based contemporary choreographer Sydney Skybetter.

Deborah Wingert, serves as a Baker Artist-in-Residence, sponsored by the Dexter F. and Dorothy H. Baker Foundation. She has been associated with George Balanchine and The Balanchine Trust for more than 25 years, as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher.  

Full biographies of the choreographers follow.

Performances of “Master Choreographers” will take place Thursday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 11, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Empie Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or muhlenberg.edu/dance.

George Balanchine (1904-1983) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and is regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the world of ballet. He came to the United States in late 1933, at the age of 29, accepting the invitation of a young American arts patron Lincoln Kirstein, whose great passions included the dream of creating a ballet company in America. The first product of the Balanchine-Kirstein collaboration was the School of American Ballet, founded in 1934, an American academy of ballet that would eventually rival the long-established schools of Europe. Eventually, with a performance on Oct. 11, 1948, the New York City Ballet was born. Balanchine served as its ballet master and principal choreographer from 1948 until his death in 1983. Balanchine’s more than 400 dance works include “Serenade” (1934), “Concerto Barocco” (1941), “Orpheus” (1948), and “Mozartiana” (1981). His final ballet, a new version of Stravinsky’s “Variations for Orchestra,” was created in 1982. A major artistic figure of the twentieth century, Balanchine revolutionized the look of classical ballet. Although at first his style seemed particularly suited to the energy and speed of American dancers, especially those he trained, his ballets are now performed by all the major classical ballet companies throughout the world.

Marisa Cerveris is a former dancer with The New York City Ballet, Compania Nacionale de Danza, and Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse. She is currently the owner of ByMarisa: handmade, couture quality, designer dancewear, pilates-wear and yoga-wear, the only elastic-free bodywear on the market. ByMarisa apparel has been featured in Sony Pictures’ “The Company,” starring Neve Campbell, and on the hit ABC series “Dancing with the Stars,” season 10. ByMarisa is manufactured completely in the USA.

Corrie Franz Cowart has performed with the Mary Miller Dance Company, LABCO Dance, Minh Tran and Company, the Dance Theatre of Oregon, and the Pittsburgh Opera. She is also the co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance and has performed both nationally and internationally with Impact Productions’ “Dayuma,” and “The Masterpiece.” Cowart continues to perform and choreograph for her own company Co-Art Dance, a contemporary dance company she co-founded in 1997 with her husband Tim Cowart. Corrie is an assistant professor at Muhlenberg College, where she teaches modern, dance composition, and dance on camera.

Heidi Cruz-Austin is an alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet, and she has danced featured roles in works by choreographers ranging from Alvin Ailey to George Balanchine. In addition to dancing with Pennsylvania Ballet, Cruz-Austin has performed with the Philadelphia-based company Ballet X and as a guest artist throughout the United States and Europe. As a choreographer, Cruz-Austin was a winner for the 2003 Ballet Builders showcase in New York City. She has been commissioned to create works for Franklin and Marshall College, Bryn Mawr College, Repertory Dance Theater, and Ballet D’errico, and she was a recipient of the 2004-2005 New Edge Residency at The Community Education Center of Philadelphia.

Olase Freeman recently completed his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, focusing on issues of black post-modernism. He is honored to serve as the 2011-2012 Visiting Lecturer in Dance at Muhlenberg College. A partial list of the companies with which he has worked include Jane Comfort & Co., Creach/Dance and Marlies Yearby’s Movin’ Spirits Theater, Headlong Dance Theater, and Leah Stein Dance Company. Mr. Freeman’s choreographic work has been performed in such diverse venues as The Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX), Movement Research at Judson Church, Links Hall (Chicago), the Cunningham Studio, Joyce/Soho, Dixon Place, Thelma Hill (Long Island University), and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival (2002). Mr. Freeman is the co-artistic director of BaldSoul, a company he shares with his partner in dance, and life, Kathryn McNamara.

Dorrell Martin is founder of LEON Dance Arts NY, a jazz and contemporary dance program associated with LEON Contemporary Dance Company/NY, of which Martin is the artistic director. Martin, a native of Houston, Texas, is the creator/director of the jazz and contemporary program at the Joffrey Ballet School. He is also former artistic director of Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. Martin was a soloist for the national and international touring company of “A Few Good Men Dancin” and has danced in shows such as “Aida,” “West Side Story,” “The Lion King” and “Swing.” Martin has also performed with many professional companies, including Arch Dance, Locke Contemporary Dance, Houston Grand Opera, Metropolitan Opera, and Richard Rivera’s PHYSUAL as well as Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, just to name a few.

Shelley Oliver has more than 20 years experience as a professional tap dancer. She is a founding member of the noted dance ensemble “Manhattan Tap,” and she has toured extensively throughout Europe, China, the Caribbean, Canada and the United States, performing with such tap notables as Savion Glover, Jimmy Slide, Buster Brown and Chuck Green. She has conducted lecture demonstrations for Lincoln Center, New York City public schools, and universities throughout the United States. She teaches a comprehensive jazz tap program at Muhlenberg College and directs the Muhlenberg Jazztap Ensemble, providing community outreach programs in the Allentown area. Oliver’s piece will feature live musical accompaniment by the David Leonhardt Jazz Group.

Sydney Skybetter is a choreographer, curator, and consultant for performing arts organizations. After studying at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Columbia University, and New York University, Skybetter performed with Christopher Williams and the Anna Sokolow Foundation. His choreography has been presented in New York at The Joyce Theater, The Joyce SoHo, Dance Theater Workshop / New York Live Arts, Jacob’s Pillow, and The Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church, among many others. Skybetter is a founding partner at Edwards & Skybetter | Change Agency, which provides product development, brand management and technology consulting for such international organizations as the Mark Morris Dance Group and the DBNA Group, and has written about performance history and technology for the Ballet Review and The Huffington Post. He received his Master of Fine Arts in dance performance and choreography from New York University.

Deborah Wingert was selected by George Balanchine at age 16 to join the company of the New York City Ballet. During her 15 years with the company, Ms. Wingert danced over 25 principal, soloist, and featured roles in productions that include Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Coppelia,” “Orpheus,” “Prodigal Son,” Peter Martins’ “The Sleeping Beauty,” and many more. A principal and soloist with numerous nationally acclaimed companies, her film and television credits include “The Nutcracker” (Time-Warner), PBS Great Performances’ “Dinner With Balanchine,” and Live from Lincoln Center’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Ms. Wingert is a prize-winning choreographer, and is one of a small group of artists selected by the Balanchine Trust to set his choreography.

Karen Dearborn, artistic director, has choreographed more than 70 works in concert, theater, and musical theater, including national tours of the Tony Award-winning National Theatre of the Deaf and several Equity theatres. She has provided choreography for the Muhlenberg theater productions of “Oklahoma!,” “Urinetown,” and “West Side Story,” and Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre productions of “The Sound of Music,” “The Who’s Tommy,” and “Oliver!” to name just a few. Dearborn is the founding director of Muhlenberg’s dance program. Her scholarly research has been published in the Journal of Dance Education, and she contributed an essay to the book “Performing Magic on the Western Stage.” She serves on the executive board of the American College Dance Festival Association.

Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of about 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The College offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. Princeton ranks Muhlenberg’s theater program first in the nation, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.

Sondheim’s “Merrily” At Muhlenberg‏

Merrily We Roll Along‘ takes audiences backwards through a life in the arts

Wistful and innovative, Sondheim musical opens Oct. 28 at Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance

Allentown, Pa. (Oct. 17, 2011) — When “Merrily We Roll Along,” the wistful 1981 musical by Stephen Sondheim, opens Oct. 28 at Muhlenberg College, it will take audiences on a journey through time, as many musicals do. The difference is that “Merrily’s” audiences will be journeying backwards, following a group of artists from the end of their long friendship, at the beginning off the show, to their first moments together, at the show’s end.

Rueful and nostalgic, the show explores the lure of show business and the price of success, says director James Peck, chair of the college’s Theatre & Dance Department. Also, he says, the importance of having a network of friends to remaining grounded and connected to what matters.

“It’s a cautionary tale about how not to screw up your life in the arts,” Peck says. “It’s inspiring and heartbreaking, and it contains some of Sondheim’s most irresistible songs.”

The second production in the department’s 2011-12 mainstage season, “Merrily We Roll Along” plays Oct. 28 through Nov. 6 in the college’s Baker Center for the Arts. Because of the college’s Family Weekend programs, tickets will be scarce for Oct. 28-30.

“Merrily” features music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by George Furth, Sondheim’s collaborator on the earlier hit musical “Company.” The show’s musical score received rave reviews, and features the Broadway standards “Good Thing Going,” “Not a Day Goes By” and “Our Time.”

The show tells the story of composer and film producer Franklin Shepard and his two closest friends, playwright Charley Kringas, Shepard’s lifelong collaborator, and novelist Mary Flynn. The trio begin their careers full of idealism and ambition–and they find success, but not necessarily fulfillment. The play moves backwards through their personal and professional milestones–starting with a disastrous opening-night party for Shepard’s uninspired new movie, and journeying back to a rooftop at dawn, at the start of a friendship and a career.

“The play is about being a middle-aged person, and the struggles of staying true to your vision,” Peck says. “It’s also about being a very young person, just starting out in the world, with a certain vision of yourself and of the kind of artist you’ll turn out to be.

“I’m in one stage of that journey, and I remember the other,” he says. “And my cast are still very much at the beginning of that journey, looking forward to their careers. And that’s the heartbreak, in a way. Some young artists will of course go on to have splendid careers, and some will be disappointed, but certainly none will have exactly the careers they envision for themselves. That vision can be hard to let go of, and looking back, can be hard to come to terms with.”

Choreographer Jeremy Arnold, a senior dance major at Muhlenberg, says that the play resonates especially strongly for him as a young artist.

“It’s very much about the choices we make in our lives,” Arnold says. “And it’s very applicable to where we are as students. I can identify with the characters as an artist about to start my career.”

Senior Andrew Clark concurs. In his portrayal of Charley Kringas, he says he has found himself thinking about his own decisions, and wondering what effects they might have down the road.

“Every decision we make resonates out like ripples in a pond,” Clark says. “We are shown how things resonate with and affect others without our being aware of it. This show is very sad, but there is an inherent sense of hope in our production because, like our characters at the end, we’re all so young.”

“Merrily’s” backwards-running structure is also reflected in its musical score, according to musical director Ken Butler. Shepard composes a musical theme early in his life that becomes the basis for several later compositions, and Butler says that sharp-eared patrons will hear that theme develop backwards as the play progresses.

“The glory of the reversal is when the audiences has those ‘a-ha’ moments,” Butler says. “It’s a process of excavation, and it’s always a jolt.”

The Sunday, Nov. 6 performance at 2 p.m. will feature Open Captioning for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing and Audio Description for patrons who are blind or visually impaired. Tickets are available at a reduced rate to patrons who require these services. To purchase tickets for OC or AD services at the Nov. 6 performance, contact Jess Bien at boxoffice@muhlenberg.edu or 484-664-3087.

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department is the top-rated college performance program in the country, according to the Princeton Review‘s 2012 survey report. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa, offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance.

“Merrily We Roll Along” runs Oct. 28 to Nov. 6. Opening-weekend performances are: Friday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 29, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 30 at 2 p.m.  The second week of performances are Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 2-5, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $20; patrons 17 and under, $8; students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges, $7. For groups of 15 or more, tickets are $15. Performances are in the Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew Street, Allentown.

Tickets and information: 484-664-3333 or http://www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre

‘The Tempest’ at Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance‏

Prospero and Miranda from a painting by Willia...

Image via Wikipedia

Dance theater adaptation of ‘The Tempest
delves deeper into Shakespeare’s classic


With its parallel universes, Afro-contemporary choreography, non-traditional casting, and a keen ear for issues of power and privilege, Charles O. Anderson and Troy Dwyer’s ‘Tempest’ is anything but traditional Shakespearean fare

Allentown, Pa. (March 12, 2011)—Your high school English teacher might not approve.

If you’re planning to attend Charles O. Anderson and Troy Dwyer’s dance theater adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” opening March 31 at Muhlenberg College, they would like you to know they have no interest in doing “traditional Shakespeare.”

“Come prepared to know that everything’s up for grabs,” says Anderson, a dance professor in the College’s Department of Theatre and Dance.

“Shakespeare finished ‘The Tempest’ in 1611, so it’s exactly 400 years old,” says Dwyer, a theater professor in the department. “We don’t believe it has exactly aged well, despite what many say. Our production aims to recoup ‘The Tempest’ for 2011. That means no doublets—but it also means getting honest about the play’s blemishes.”

Those familiar with Shakespeare’s fantasia of magic, power and revenge will certainly recognize that narrative in Anderson and Dwyer’s production, which runs March 31 to April 3 on the Empie Theatre stage, in Muhlenberg’s Baker Center for the Arts. “The Tempest” is the story of Prospero, a sorcerer set adrift by his rapacious brother, Antonio, and washed up on the shore of a remote island with just three souls for company: his beguiling child Miranda; Ariel, a mischievous sprite; and the bitter so-called “monster,” Caliban. When Antonio strays near the island, Prospero conjures a storm to wreck his ship and exact revenge—but the vessel crashes ashore bearing much more than Prospero could have anticipated.

This production, however, works to transform Shakespeare’s classic into a richer, more complicated experience, for audiences and actors alike—one that weaves the words of the Bard with movement and dance and alternate realities to create  distinctly non-traditional points of view.

Anderson and Dwyer have collaborated before, most notably on the 2009 Muhlenberg world premiere production “Caw,” a dance theater fantasia spanning from the Yoruba religion of Nigeria to Uncle Remus tales of the Deep South to the drag balls of urban gay culture in the late 20th century.

Their work, both individually and in collaboration, takes a particular interest in issues of power and privilege: the ways in which history and literature can make it difficult for those not of the privileged classes—that is, the wealthy, white, straight, male, Western classes—to be heard.

This interest in part fueled their exploration of “The Tempest,” with its problematic gender roles, class violence, and slavery—many of which, they say, tend to be glossed over in traditional productions.

“Directors and actors have to bend the narrative in a way to find the whole person of Caliban and Ariel,” Dwyer says. “We’re complicating the Caliban story—ripping open characters and situations and letting the story of ‘The Tempest’ represent other stories and other power dynamics.”

The production features a star turn by Muhlenberg acting faculty member Holly Cate in the role of Prospero—another sign of its distinctly doublet-free nature. Along the same lines, Prospero’s servant Ariel will be portrayed by a group of five actors, each embodying a different facet of the ethereal character. Many of the characters, in fact, are inhabited by actors who do not look the part in any traditional sense.

“If you follow the conventional interpretation, this play has one role for an actor of color, and it’s as a savage,” Dwyer says. “It has one role for a woman. We are interested in creating opportunities for all artists to participate in and respond as artists to Shakespeare.”

Another significant departure is the parallel universe that directors and cast have created around the traditional story. In this meta-narrative, which frames the Prospero tale, Cate plays an elderly white woman wrestling with the bewildering urbanization of her surroundings, and the dire toll it takes on her own tattered imagination.

In this alternate reality, each of the company’s actors plays a different character, with a different set of relationships to each other and to the world of the play. Their story, told entirely through movement, often overlaps the tale of “The Tempest,” working sometimes in harmony or in counterpoint with the main narrative, and sometimes in conflict, creating dissonance and complication.

Anderson’s background as a dancer and choreographer is in Afro-contemporary movement forms, a synthesis of traditional West African movement and rhythms with modern dance techniques and the urban beats of today. He brings this fusion to the dance elements of this “Tempest,” which features contemporary music and what Dwyer calls “streetwise grittiness” alongside the poetry of Shakespeare.

While the production leaves off the doublets, the couplets are largely intact. Most of Shakespeare’s dense, poetic, often problematic language remains—and the element of dance allows the actors to clarify, comment on, and sometimes contradict the text they’re speaking.

“Dance theater allows tension and ambiguity to exist in a work,” Anderson says. “You can present remarkably clear but contradictory meanings through the movement and words of a piece.”

A dance theater approach also can bring a deeper, visceral understanding of the language of the play, according to Dwyer and Anderson, particularly language as dense as Shakespeare’s.

“Movement has the power to be this battery that can fuel an audience’s understanding,” Dwyer says. “No one can fully, cognitively grasp all of the language of Shakespeare’s characters. The meaning is associative, more than it is rational; you get it in your chest, more than in your brain—at least, you do when you’re in the hands of talented actors.

“And if you get someone who can really move, you take the Duracell out and put a nuclear reactor in there.”

Both Dwyer and Anderson would regard their relationship to Shakespeare as respectful without being reverential.

“Privileging the traditional narrative was never on the table,” Dwyer says, “because it just doesn’t make sense with what we do. Charles and I are both queer artists, Charles is an artist of color. We have a certain relationship with authority that doesn’t really allow for an adaptation that is both honest and ‘traditional.'”

“The Tempest” performances are Thursday through Saturday, March 31 through April 2, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 3, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Empie Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

“The Tempest” performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre.

‘Master Choreographers’ Dance Concert, Feb. 10-12, Displays Talents Of Acclaimed Choreographers, 40+ Dancers

Allentown, Pa. (Jan. 18, 2011) — Muhlenberg College will showcase world premiere dance works created by seven of the region’s most accomplished choreographers, in the College’s annual “Master Choreographers” dance concert, Feb. 10-12.

Featuring a diverse selection of styles and genres, ranging from classical ballet to jazz, tap, and modern dance, “Master Choreographers” also will showcase performances by more than 40 Muhlenberg dancers. The performance will take place on the Empie Theatre stage, in Muhlenberg’s Baker Center for the Arts.

“This concert is a spectacular evening of ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary dance,” says Karen Dearborn, the director of dance for Muhlenberg’s Department of Theatre & Dance, and the artistic director for “Master Choreographers.” “We are fortunate to be showcasing new works by internationally acclaimed guest artists and faculty.”

This season’s “Master Choreographers” concert will feature works by: Charles O. Anderson, artistic director of the Philadelphia-based dance theatre X; Corrie Franz Cowart, co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance; Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; Nicholas Leichter, director of Nicholas Leichter Dance; Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; Trinette Singleton, protege of ballet icon Robert Joffrey; and New York-based multidisciplinary performance artist Nicole Wolcott.

[Full biographies of the choreographers follow.]

“I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to work with such a talented group of professionals,” says Kelsey Griffith, a senior at Muhlenberg, who will perform in the concert, as well as serving as its production manager. “Working so closely with faculty and guest artists, we get to experience a deeply creative, artistically intense studio process. I’ve learned an incredible amount about the creative process of these choreographers.”

Performances of “Master Choreographers” will take place Feb. 10-12: Thursday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 12, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Empie Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or muhlenberg.edu/dance.

Charles O. Anderson is artistic director of the Philadelphia-based dance company dance theatre X. Both as a solo artist and with dance theatre X, Anderson has presented his work nationally and internationally. His choreographic research has led to collaborations with international choreographers working in fusions of traditional dance forms and contemporary movement styles. In the fall of 2010, Anderson premiered his new evening-length work “World Headquarters,” inspired by the writings of late science fiction writer Octavia Butler. Recipient of numerous grants and awards, Anderson was most recently selected as one of 12 “Emerging Scholars” for 2011, by Diverse magazine. He is an associate professor of dance at Muhlenberg College and the director of the African American studies program.

Heidi Cruz-Austin is an alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet, and she has danced featured roles in works by choreographers ranging from Alvin Ailey to George Balanchine. In addition to dancing with Pennsylvania Ballet, Cruz-Austin has performed with the Philadelphia-based company Ballet X and as a guest artist throughout the United States and Europe. As a choreographer, Cruz-Austin was a winner for the 2003 Ballet Builders showcase in New York City. She has been commissioned to create works for Franklin and Marshall College, Bryn Mawr College, Repertory Dance Theater, and Ballet D’errico, and she was a recipient of the 2004-2005 New Edge Residency at The Community Education Center of Philadelphia.

Corrie Franz Cowart has performed with the Mary Miller Dance Company, LABCO Dance, Minh Tran and Company, the Dance Theatre of Oregon, and the Pittsburgh Opera. She is also the co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance and has performed both nationally and internationally with Impact Productions’ “Dayuma,” and “The Masterpiece.” Cowart continues to perform and choreograph for her own company Co-Art Dance, a contemporary dance company she co-founded in 1997 with her husband Tim Cowart. Corrie is an assistant professor at Muhlenberg College, where she teaches modern, dance composition, and dance on camera.

Nicholas Leichter is the director of Nicholas Leichter Dance, for which he has created more than 25 works. He was a member of Ralph Lemon Company from 1993 to 1995, and has performed with the companies of Jennifer Muller, Ronald K. Brown, and others. Leichter has taught throughout the United States, at festivals in Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, and Canada. He has been on faculty at Tisch School of the Arts and the American Dance Festival in Durham, New York, Russia, Korea, and most recently, Shanghai. Leichter and his company presented “The Whiz,” a reimagining of Broadway’s “The Wiz,” at the Zoellner Arts Center in January in conjunction with the Muhlenberg Dancers.

Shelley Oliver has more than 20 years experience as a professional tap dancer. She is a founding member of the noted dance ensemble “Manhattan Tap,” and she has toured extensively throughout Europe, China, the Caribbean, Canada and the United States, performing with such tap notables as Savion Glover, Jimmy Slide, Buster Brown and Chuck Green. She has conducted lecture demonstrations for Lincoln Center, New York City public schools, and universities throughout the United States. She teaches a comprehensive jazz tap program at Muhlenberg College and directs the Muhlenberg Jazztap Ensemble, providing community outreach programs in the Allentown area. Oliver’s piece will feature live musical accompaniment by the David Leonhardt Jazz Group.

Trinette Singleton is a protege of ballet icon Robert Joffrey and was on faculty at The Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, teaching until 2004. Singleton has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe in ballets by such notable choreographers as Joffrey, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Kurt Jooss, and Twyla Tharp. She was the first dancer to ever appear on the cover of a national news magazine — Time, in 1968. Currently, Singleton is co-artistic director of Repertory Dance Theatre in Allentown, and is on the faculty at DeSales University. Her original work “Capriccios” garnered the Outstanding Choreographer award at the semifinals of the Youth America Grand Prix, spring 2010.

Nicole Wolcott is a choreographer, teacher, and performance artist based in New York City. In 2003 Wolcott co-founded Keigwin + Company with Larry Keigwin and was the associate artistic director until 2010. Nicole has performed at the Metropolitan Opera House under the direction of Julie Taymor and Mark Dendy, worked with site-specific choreographer Noemie Lafrance, was a featured dancer in Doug Elkin’s original “Fraulein Maria,” appeared in music videos and concerts with Fischerspooner; and is a featured dancer in “Across the Universe,” an Oscar-nominated film by director Julie Taymor.

Artistic director Karen Dearborn has choreographed more than 70 works in concert, theater, and musical theater, including national tours of the Tony Award-winning National Theatre of the Deaf and several Equity theatres. She has provided choreography for the Muhlenberg theater productions of “Oklahoma!” “Urinetown,” and “West Side Story,” and Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre productions of “The Sound of Music,” “The Who’s Tommy,” and “Oliver!” to name just a few. Dearborn is the founding director of Muhlenberg’s dance program. Her scholarly research has been published in the Journal of Dance Education, and she contributed an essay to the book “Performing Magic on the Western Stage.” She serves on the executive board of the American College Dance Festival Association.

Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of about 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The College offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.