Guest choreographer creates 'rigorous' routines for high school production

Posted: Thursday, November 11, 2004

Zoe Hawkins-Wells, a dancer and choreographer from Key West, Fla., came to Juneau to visit her boyfriend. She's staying for a few more weeks than she had planned.

Director Bethany Bereman invited Hawkins-Wells to be the guest choreographer for "Jungal-book." Hawkins-Wells teaches modern dance at a studio in Key West, and started Brazen Hussies Dance Company a few years ago. The company, mostly women, puts on multi-disciplinary dance shows in south Florida, often featuring short films, live music and juggling.

Hawkins-Wells has worked with the actors on acting as if they're animals. She's also choreographed five or six dances, including the opening sequence, a few battle scenes and the "Passage of Time" dance, where Mowgli grows from a baby to a 10-year-old boy. The latter is inspired by a traditional African circle dance.

"We weren't expecting it to be this physical," said junior Giselle Stone (Grab, the young wolf). "The wolves and the cats, we're crouched the whole time, and we've been building up huge calves and thigh muscles. The dances that we do with Zoe are really rigorous, and we spent a couple school days trying to learn her technique and the dance sequences. It was so rewarding, but, oh my god, everybody was so tired."

"It's like running the 2-mile every day," said senior Justin McCown (Akela, the wolf pack leader).

"It's very grounded, and it uses a lot of leg muscles," said Wells-Hawkins. "It definitely beefs up your thighs, and it's definitely not balletically up in the air. I didn't give them easy stuff, I didn't think that would be fair. I gave them what I wanted to give them, so I could see if they could do it. They pretty much are kicking butt."

Coincidentally, Hawkins-Wells studied top-of-the-head mask-work last year at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theater in Blue Lake, Calif., a small college which mask, puppet and movement director Roblin Gray Davis also attended some years ago. Her work in masks, and her background in physical dance, made her a welcome addition to the "Jungalbook" crew.

"It seemed to work perfectly, to do these physical characterizations with the masks, along with actual dance movement on top of it," Hawkins-Wells said.

"We had professionals at the (Dell'Arte) workshop last year, and we trained for a month with this kind of mask work and almost got there," Hawkins-Wells said. "It would take a long time to really be able to do this mask-work to perfection, but the kids, being in this situation where they only have 10 days to work with them, are doing amazingly good work."



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