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ACDFA showcases college dance in Washington, D.C.

THE TERRACE Theater of Washington D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts crackled with excitement as capacity audiences of dance students and teachers watched the American College Dance Festival Association's eleventh biannual choreographic gala unfold in June. Fare from campuses across the country, ranged from forgettable to breathtaking, but the capacity. crowd's exhilaration remained consistent throughout the festival's three evenings of performance. It persisted even after what was anticipated to be the high point: University of Utah student Natosha Washington's eye-popper, House of Timothy, featuring sex, conflict, and music by Daft Punk.

The national festival is held every two years to showcase choreography culled from ten annual regional festivals, each with its own panel of three adjudicators. The 2003-2004 cycle involved 3700 dancers from 250 institutions (one from Taiwan) in 400 entries. Although the thirty-one pieces selected for the Kennedy Center were performed exclusively by students, just fifteen were choreographed by students.

In addition to the performances, the regional and national festivals include classes, workshops, and panel discussions. Educators particularly value the gathering of the clans to show and share.

"It's a super-saturated lesson on how the field is developing," says Erica Helm, dance department chair at Shenandoah University in Virginia. "The Festival offers an opportunity to grow so we don't become limited by our own community's aesthetic as to what is acceptable, beautiful, challenging."

Cathy Davalos, associate professor at St. Mary's College in California who taught during the 2004 festival, pointed to the advantage of hearing from the adjudicators (which this year included choreographers Bill Evans, Joe Goode, and Donald McKayle) after each regional concert. "They are very clear about what they are looking for, whether it's moving art forward or keeping with tradition," said Davalos, who had won a choreographic award in 1994. "For students, the excitement of performing or taking classes all day long would be enough, but good feedback is a benefit."

SOME OF the most impressive performers at the Kennedy Center were men recruited from sports programs to take dance classes. "We all buckled down and did what we had to do," said Erie Chambray, a gymnast-turned-dancer in Central Oklahoma University instructor Tina Kambour's lyrical, five-man Keeping Things Whole. In fact, the Festival's showstopper was Zoom Out, which Long Zhao of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee faculty set on magnificently sculpted athletes, Edwin and Roberto Olvera, who are identical twins. Both Army reservists, they interrupted their budding dance training to report for duty in 2003 and, upon release, restarted where they had left off.

Overall, the students were more fearless than their elders in pushing the choreographic envelope. "It's about breaking the rules," says Kristin Schifferli, who performed in With This Faith by San Francisco State University's Serenity Siya Lui Mlay to the sonorous cadences of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

For best choreographer, the awards panel (Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre, dance historian Sali Ann Kriegsman, and Douglas Sonntag of the National Endowment for the Arts) selected Lindsay Shepherd of East Carolina University. Shepherd's Onomatopoeia explored the technical range of four dancers, first as soloists, then as an ensemble, letting the dancing shine without gimmicks, a message, or a story line.

OTHER standouts included Daniel Stark's aggressive Diplomacy that turned Kurt Jooss's famous Green Table on its head by making negotiation the battle and including women as combatants (University of Iowa); William Dynamite Brown's Grey, an erotic harmonization of ten bodies (University of Missouri-Kansas City); Paul Singh's articulate feet in a solo improbably called Stutter (University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana); and Leanne Schmidt's Drawn, a duet for two women performed almost in stillness (Arizona State University).

In House of Timothy, Natosha Washington blasted some stereotypes associated with the ballerina's role in a pas de deux. She also offered a new take on the French apache genre, popular throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Vintage apache depicted a tough guy throwing a woman around the stage. But Washington required brute force of both partners, granting the genders equal weight in a mutually abusive sexual encounter. Confidently tossing off the range of moves--and her partner, the accomplished Nathan Shaw--drop-dead gorgeous Jill Patterson became the obvious choice for DANCE MAGAZINE'S award for outstanding student performer.

The crowd wildly cheered the honorees and everyone on the program. As Andrea Olsen of Middlebury College faculty said, "It's inspiring to see the new generation doing work of such depth."

Jill Patterson of University of Utah received the ACDFA 2004 outstanding student choreographer award.

Paula Durbin is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
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Title Annotation:Education Matters
Author:Durbin, Paula
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U5DC
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:764
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