dancer in blue dress leaps into the air

Spring Dance Fest to feature world premieres of new dance works

By

Lacy Chaffee

Each year, Spring Dance Fest celebrates the work of dance students and faculty in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University and represents a culmination of their efforts. 

This year’s presentation features an exciting collection of works created by guest choreographers, faculty and students. The eight works represent a wide range of genres and aesthetics, from hip-hop to Afro-Latin, contemporary modern to Turkish belly dancing. All of the pieces feature student performers.

Mary Fitzgerald, ASU professor and artistic director of dance, said she’s excited about the variety of dance styles that will be presented in the show by the student artists.

“Each dance brings a unique aesthetic to the program and beautifully highlights the artistic range of our students,” Fitzgerald said. “Graduate student Tanya Dimitrov choreographed a Turkish-style belly dance, which I believe is the first time we have featured that dance form in the Spring Dance Fest.

“The program will also feature a physically-charged hip-hop dance choreographed and performed by Tom Bullard and Winston Birdwell, a compelling ensemble work choreographed by Audi Miller, and a lyrical, contemplative solo choreographed and performed by graduate student Isabella Lepp.”

David Olarte, clinical assistant professor, and John D. Mitchell, associate research professional, have each choreographed and directed a work for Spring Dance Fest. Mitchell is part of an interdisciplinary performance group called DATURA, composed of graduate and undergraduate students as well as members of the greater Phoenix arts community, that created an improvised multimedia work including real-time video, live sound and images with dance. The work is directed by Mitchell, Esteban Rosales and Houyu Pan. 

The program also includes the premieres of two new works by guest artists Raphael Xavier and Alicia-Lynn Nascimento Castro. 

Xavier is an award-winning artist and alumnus of the world-renowned hip-hop dance company Rennie Harris Puremovement. He is also a professor at Princeton University. Xavier collaborated with ASU dance students earlier this year to create a unique choreographic work. In holding auditions for the work, he told the students he was looking for movers more than dancers. 

“If you can raise your hand, you can move. If you can bounce in the knees, you can move,” Xavier said. “If you take the labels off everything, it’s all just movement.”

As part of his visit, Xavier gave a public presentation to students, faculty and community members where he spoke about his experience breaking down barriers between street dance, stage performances and academia. He also shared about aging as a dancer and how that has affected his dancing.

“People have always expected me to drop off at a certain age, but the truth is, you actually get better, because you understand what your body is capable of doing,” Xavier said. “It's about sustaining the movement over a period of time.”

Keith Thompson, associate professor and assistant director of dance, said he hopes students came away from the residency with Xavier with a broader perspective.

“Having someone of (Xavier’s) caliber engage and interact creatively with our students can truly shift their current artistic journeys into a matrix of new and untapped pathways in creative process,” Thompson said.

Karla Marquez is a junior studying dance education. She said she auditioned for Xavier’s piece because she wanted to advocate for and participate in hip-hop work at the university level.

“It is very important for me to show up for my community and make sure that not only am I advocating for us to be represented, but that when we are, to be there fully,” Marquez said. “Something important that I learned from him was the importance of letting go of labels and barriers we put up for ourselves. There is space and room to explore who I am beyond the movement and where it can take me.”

In addition to working with Xavier, ASU dance students had the opportunity to work under the direction of faculty associate Alicia-Lynn Nascimento Castro. Castro is an artist, choreographer, professor and choreographer in the Phoenix area. She is also a former member of the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, where she performed works of master choreographers. She said she really enjoyed the opportunity to choreograph with the students at ASU.

“The students here are so fantastic,” she said. “They all came ready to work from day one and so committed to the movement.”

Nascimento Castro said she was looking for dancers who could embody the movement and make it theirs. The piece features eight dancers who move as individuals but create a cohesive quality together. 

“I don’t want the work to feel cookie cutter. I like to see dancers as themselves,” she said. “The ensemble has to really watch each other and find their rhythm within the work.”

She said her piece, “Between a Crown and Hard Place,” comes from a place of joy and healing.

“My work on stage is usually about the hardships of women of color,” Nascimento Castro said. “This piece is as well, and it’s also about finding a balance between the struggles that women of color go through and how we find joy – what keeps us going.”

The eight works will be presented in Spring Dance Fest at 7:30 p.m. on April 22 and 23 and at 2 p.m. on April 24 in the Galvin Playhouse. Tickets must be purchased in advance through the Herberger Institute box office.