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BUNHEADS CONVERGE AT RDA PACIFIC FEST.

ON A HOT, airless May morning, in a carpeted ballroom at the Modesto Double Tree Inn, College of Marin dance teacher Alan Scofield is leading a musicality class for two dozen teenaged ballerinas. Bewildered looks are exchanged and nervous giggles erupt as Scofield begins class by instructing the dancers to walk around the room, rhythmically snapping their fingers, bowing to one another and exclaiming "I'm charmed!" and later, "I'm cool." ("Oh, God," groans one, smacking her forehead at the uncoolness of it all.) "Snuggle up to your talent," Scofield insists, as he attempts to lighten a prevailing mood of grim determination. "It's always right behind you, but as the years pass, it starts moving back, and one day when you look around, it's having lunch with someone else." As the girls gather closer for further instruction, Scofield feigns claustrophobia. "It looks like a bunhead ghetto in here," he cracks.

It's not just the ballroom that looks this way. During the four-day Regional Dance America Pacific Festival 2000--hosted by Modesto's Central West Ballet and artistic director Gretchen Vogelzang--this small California town is teeming with young dancers. Nearly seven hundred participants, representing twenty-three pre-professional companies in Regional Dance America's western region, have converged, mostly in the hotel and Modesto Junior College's athletic facilities, where classes are held. But they seem to be everywhere: lined up for Center Stage, which is showing at a nearby cineplex; in the gym bathrooms, where pairs of ballet flats peek out from below the stall doors; on street corners, chatting animatedly and marking steps with their hands, and on the hotel deck, where they sun themselves, turn somersaults in the pool, and leave wet, splayed footprints in the elevators.

Work hours find former New York City Ballet soloist Darla Hoover coaching pointe in the gym, as a pianist bangs away at the foot of the basketball key, and modern dance legend Donald McKayle sending sweat-soaked dancers sliding across a tiny, dark, opera company hall. American Ballet Theatre veteran Alaine Haubert, substituting for a weather-bound Suki Schorer, demonstrates Italian fouettes for Paquita variations ("The Cynthia Harvey variation and the Leslie Browne variation," she says, chuckling), while Mayo Clinic surgeon Dr. James Orrick elicits squeamish squeals with a graphic slide show titled "What Is an Injury and How Do We Prevent It?" The dancers also get ballet, jazz, character dance, choreography and a Pilates seminar. Some of them take the open audition, where representatives from major national ballet companies pick potential summer study scholarship candidates.

But technique is only part of the focus here. In a choreography workshop, Lines Contemporary Ballet artistic director Alonzo King talks about generosity and making simple, honest work. Between polonaises and mazurkas, character teacher David Boyet emphasizes artistry as he demonstrates epaulement. "Have fun," he admonishes the dancers. "This is an entertainment form. They'll teach you steps, but nobody is going to teach you to entertain." And while Scofield may tread that fine line between iconoclast cool and utter dorkdom, many dancers, like Utah Regional Ballet II's 17-year-old Jennifer Schow, declare his class their favorite. "He took me out of my comfort zone," Schow says.

Utah Regional Ballet II, which is hosting next year's Regional Dance America Pacific festival, is typical of participating groups. At home, the dancers take class from 3:30 to 5 P.M. on the weekdays, followed by rehearsal from 5 until 8 "when we're working on something, which is most of the time," says Erin Hutchins, 17. The company, led by former Ballet West dancer Jacqueline Colledge and comprised of twenty-five girls and brothers Vance and Brian Debes, just finished a full season with Utah Regional Ballet, the professional arm of the company, dancing original works, Coppelia, Nutcracker and Balanchine's Serenade. At the festival, they present the first movement of Alan Hineline's Sans Souci, a lyric ballet with Balanchinean lines.

According to Regional Dance America hierarchy, nighttime programs begin with performances by intern companies and emerging choreographers, followed by performing and honor companies. Adjudicator Amando Duarte chooses works and awards some performing companies gala credit for their pieces, bringing them closer to honor company status, the organization's highest ranking. Duarte arranges programs so that modernist barefoot pieces share billing with tutu ballets and sleek neoclassic works. At night, the dancers who aren't performing change from the regulation black leotards and pink tights into delicate slip dresses, wedging their battered, blistered feet into strappy heels. After performances, they flit, sylph-like, across the wooded lawn of the Modesto Junior College Auditorium, hems fluttering in the warm breeze.

Observing their peers is a big part of the experience--"You pick up things from other dancers and try them," says Utah Regional Ballet II dancer Amanda Bodily, 18, whose fellow company members nod when she admits that performing for other dancers can be stressful, too. "Your mom is always going to say you look beautiful, even if you fall on your butt," she adds frankly. Utah Regional Ballet company member Amy Peterson, no longer eligible to participate, observes with fellow professional Brittnee Squires, who recently left Ballet West's corps for the opportunity to perform solo roles at the regional company. They describe past festivals as a kind of reality check, a sentiment echoed by Utah Regional Ballet II dancer Ivana Wood, 17. "Being around other dancers makes us realize how hard the ballet world is," she says. Still, she and her contemporaries say they're eyeing professional careers, drawn by a classical form they describe as the most difficult and conversely, the most beautiful.

By the closing night's gala dinner, some of Utah's young dancers have come one step closer: Summer study scholarships go to Jessica Kelly and Celesta George; Brittany Shoemaker and Naomi Reed win scholarships to attend the Craft of Choreography conference in Houston this summer. Wood also strides to the podium, barefoot, to accept a $250 Monticello Craft of Choreography scholarship following the presentation of her neoclassical Nuances on the Emerging Choreographers program. "Think about what you saw here," Duarte advises in a farewell speech. "Think about what people saw in you."
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Title Annotation:Regional Dance America Pacific Festival 2000 described
Author:Wisner, Heather
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Words:1011
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