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Making Headway

Dance Concert Returns to Maryland Arts Festival after Hiatus

Flying High: Towson University alum Terence Duncan performs two pieces in the TU concert En L’Air"In Flight.

By D.C. Culbertson | Posted 7/26/2000

En L'Air-In Flight

For many years, dance shared space with theater and film at Towson University's annual Maryland Arts Festival. The yearly festival dance concert, Headway, showcased university faculty and alumni and was one of the few professional dance performances offered in Baltimore during the summer. For the past two years, dance has disappeared from the festival lineup, but this year the concert is back, taking the stage with a new title: En L'Air--In Flight.

Dennis Price, who chairs Towson's dance department, says the hiatus was deliberate. When he took over the department two years ago, he says, "we didn't have people capable enough" to run the concert. In addition, Price says, the last Headway concert in 1997 was not well received--some of the more well-known groups scheduled to perform canceled or disbanded before that year's show, and some audience members asked for their money back or simply walked out. Taking a break "to let that experience pass" seemed in order, he says.

Price says he changed the concert's name "to give it a new image," picking the show's current, high-flown title because "most of the work being presented is stuff that should be uplifting."

In keeping with tradition, the concert features works in many styles performed by distinguished Towson alumni, faculty members, and students, including two pieces choreographed by faculty members: Stephanie Powell's "This Earthly House" and Neli Beliakaite's "Bumblebee."

Powell's work, which premiered at Washington, D.C.'s Dance Place in April, was created for a TU repertory class, students of which will perform the piece at En L'Air. Power says the title comes from a Bible verse contrasting our bodies (our "earthly houses") with the spiritual home God prepares for us, and she describes the work is a commentary on how people tend to neglect relationships in favor of material things: "We're chasing after so much that it's getting in the way of relationships."

Beliakaite's piece, by contrast, is a fast-paced solo (performed by the choreographer) to an unconventional arrangement by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma of the classical warhorse "Flight of the Bumblebee." Price says that when Beliakaite performed this piece at the closing gala of this year's International Ballet Competition in New York, "the audiences were screaming for her."

Towson alumni also play a major role in En L'Air. Terence Duncan, who graduated in 1996 and now dances with the New York Theatre Ballet, is featured in two contrasting works with his partner and fellow Theatre Ballet member Christina Paolucci. This is the third time Duncan has returned to perform at his alma mater; he appeared during the 1997 Arts Festival and in a March program this year. Duncan says he was happy to accept Price's invitation to return to Towson for the concert. "Every time I get a chance to go back and perform I do," he says. "I spent four years [at Towson] and still consider it a home base, and it's always good for me to go back."

Duncan and Paolucci are performing a pas de deux from the little-known 1844 ballet Esmerelda (based on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Donald Mahler's contemporary work "Liebestraum." While the first piece is a love duet between gypsy girl Esmerelda and Phoebus, the handsome young man she loves, the Mahler duet is mostly abstract. "We're dealing with themes of tenderness and two people dancing together," Duncan says. "We're not really characters."

Three works on the En L'Air program are by D.C.-based choreographers who have served as Towson guest faculty and/or have university alumni in their companies. Juan Carlos Rincones' D.C. Dance Theater, which includes Towson grads Rebecca Morgan and Bruno Augosto, is featured in "Nine Love Songs and a Bucket of Tears," a work set to Patsy Cline songs that was performed at Towson in February 1999, and a tango for two men, "A Fuego Lento," which recently premiered at the Kennedy Centers. Silver Spring-based Tony Powell/ Music & Movement, which includes TU alumni Maggie Belzer and Suzanne Bryant and Towson guest teacher Kristina Windom, performs Tony Powell's "Pas de Six," an abstract work set to music by Arvo Pärt that premiered this month at Dance Place. (Tony Powell is not related to Stephanie Powell.)

Towson alum Peter Pucci, who was the principal dancer and rehearsal director for the acclaimed Connecticut-based Pilobolus Dance Theatre for nine years until he formed his own group, Peter Pucci Plus Dancers, contributes "Sing," a 1993 solo performed by Morgan.

One work in En L'Air, Patrick Bordovsky's hip-hop-style "Heartbreaker," has no connection with Towson at all--Bordovsky is studying at Anne Arundel Community College. But Price decided to put Bordovsky on the program after seeing him perform at the National Gala of the American College Dance Festival. "There was incredible work on the program, but he stole the show, so I made a judgment call," Price says. "It should be dy-no-mite!"

En L'Air is performed at 8 P.M. July 28 and 29 at Towson University's Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre, at Osler and Cross Campus drives. Tickets are $15. Call (410) 830-2787 for tickets or more information.

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