From ballet to Broadway: JDU prepares for spring show

New York choreographers work with Juneau dancers to culminate with performance

Posted: Thursday, April 13, 2006

With two guest choreographers from New York City, Ricci Adan and John Passafiume, Juneau Dance Unlimited will present a little bit of everything in "Ballet to Broadway," its spring showcase at the Scottish Rite Temple.

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The program includes a three-part Bob Fosse finale restaged by Adan, a modern dance Passafiume selection set to a Richard Strauss poem; modern dance and jazz pieces by company instructor Leslie Wagner and a neoclassic pointe piece by JDU director Philip Krauter.

"Juneau Dance Unlimited has gone through various directors and ballet masters, most of whom have come and gone after two years," Krauter said. "Our dancers have never had the opportunity to develop any kind of steady experience with the choreography. What we're hoping to do is develop a continuous program for our students by bringing in guest choreographers and getting them on stage to do legitimate performing. We want to give the Juneau audience a higher quality of dance, and try to make it look as professional as we can."

Each performance will begin with "The Sky Is Falling," Krauter's neoclassic pointe piece based on "Fratres," by Arvo Part. The first half of the program will proceed with "Playful," a modern dance piece set to Bobby McFerrin's "Bang! Zoom" and "Grace," a jazz piece set to Ani DiFranco's "Amazing Grace." Leslie Wagner has choreographed the last two pieces.

After the intermission, the dancers will perform Passafiume's choreography for "Die Nacht (The Night)," a modern dance piece based on a poem by Richard Strauss.

The first part of the dance will be performed by five younger dancers, as a cloaked figure reads the lyrics of "Die Nacht." In the second part, guest soprano Lorraine Marshall will sing the poem, with piano accompaniment by Sue Kazama, as the older students perform.

Passafiume, based in New York, has performed throughout the United States, Morocco, Taiwan and Mexico. He formed John Passafiume Dancers in 1993 and has been co-director of the modern dance classes at Whitman College Summer Dance Labs in Walla Walla, Wash., since 1986. He knows Krauter from Walla Walla.

"Modern dance is very unique and different, and I don't say that to sound snobbish," Passafiume said. "It really presents different kinds of problems than ballet or even jazz, and in some ways, American theater.

"Some of these students have never had my approach to modern dances, and some have never even had modern dance before, yet they're really open to experiencing something else," he said. "I chose parts of the poem, because I found that young people can put their imagination into it. It's a very sincere, romantic poem. There's nothing jaded about it."

Passafiume is known for his expressive, elongated lines.

"I've taken modern dance classes from him in (Walla Walla), but I've never done a piece for him," said Kailee McMurran, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School. "It's very different and very hard to learn. You pretty much have to stretch further than you're used to."

"I'm not terribly small, but I'm not a really large person, so I always like to feel my movement shows the clarity of the expression of the energy," Passafiume said. "I move rather athletically, and I try to pull it out and stretch the clarity of the spaces. Otherwise it can look garbled or jumbled together and present a very messy picture."

Adan has restaged the performance's three-part Bob Fosse musical theater finale: "Dancin' Man" from the musical "Dancin'," the "Frug Trilogy" from "Sweet Charity;" and "Sing Sing Sing" from "Dancin'."

Adan is the founder of Dance Machine International, a nonprofit organization focused on preserving and archiving musical theater dance. She's visited Juneau several times in the last two years to teach workshops and has also choreographed at Perseverance Theatre.

"I think the Fosse is the hardest," said Stephanie Hazel, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School. "It's all technical. We watched the DVD of the actual dance, and there's very precise movement in everything they did."

"You can see a lot of Fosse's style - his minimalism, his wit - in these pieces," Adan said. "There's a lot of vaudeville in these pieces, a lot of Charlie Chaplin, a lot of Latin, ballet, acrobatics. They're very good kids. They want to learn, and they're absorbing it."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com



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