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First Steps

Goucher Grad's Company Takes the Stage

"Iím not expecting to come out with a masterpiece," Marshall says. "Itís always a learning process, so this is the first step of my process right now."

By D.C. Culbertson | Posted 7/12/2000

Amy Marshall's summer is booked solid. Not only is she a faculty member at Goucher College's Summer Arts Institute, where about 90 young dancers are enrolled for two weeks of intensive classes, but she's preparing for the debut performance of her own company. On July 16, she'll be presenting a program of her work with her 6-month-old troupe at the institute.

The New York-based company, the Amy Marshall Dance Company, represents a new phase of Marshall's career. Although Marshall's been dancing professionally since her graduation from Goucher in 1992, she's done virtually no choreography since then. But she feels she's up to the challenge, buoyed by the support of both her company members and one special former teacher.

The arts played an important part in Marshall's life almost from the beginning. Both her parents are artists, and she describes her hometown of Sandwich, N.H., as "sort of an arts community." Marshall loved to perform from earliest childhood, taking ballet and gymnastics classes from age 6 on. In the ninth grade, she met local dance teacher Paula Vinzi, who was brought in to choreograph a pompom routine for Marshall's cheerleading squad. Something about Vinzi inspired Marshall, so much so that she left the team and went to study dance with the teacher. Vinzi put together a performing group of teenage girls who performed three or four shows a year. "We were really like a company," Marshall says. "It was very unusual." The instructor also taught dance history and choreography, occasionally allowing the students to perform their own works, although Marshall says the results "were more like choreographic studies" than full-fledged dance pieces.

At Goucher, where Marshall majored in both dance and theater, she met her second mentor, faculty member Amanda Thom Woodson, who was so impressed with the student's work in dance composition that she encouraged Marshall to do a full-length recital of her own pieces in her senior year. "Amanda has always sort of pushed me to do my own thing because she believed in me," Marshall says. "She's really been an incredible support to me."

After graduation, Marshall moved to New York, where she found a job with Chen and Dancers, a company that mixes traditional Chinese dance with modern. She stayed with the company for a year, after which she worked briefly with several other groups before getting a job with Taylor 2, an offshoot of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, with which she danced for almost five years.

During her time with Taylor, Marshall harbored ambitions of forming her own troupe. But it wasn't until 1995, when Woodson invited her to teach in the Goucher summer program, that she acted on her ambition. "I said, 'You've been talking about it. How about some action?'" Thom Woodson says.

Marshall didn't let her lack of choreographic experience faze her. "I don't question these things," she says. "I just say, 'OK.'"

Knowing she wanted to keep the company small, Marshall began casting about for dancers with whom to join forces. One was an easy choice--her boyfriend, Chad Levy, whom she met when both worked in Taylor 2. Two other dancers, Tyler Gilstrap and James Samson, also come from Taylor; she met another of her company's dancers, Erin Parsch, in a ballet class.

For the company's debut at Goucher, Marshall has created five works: "Two Duets and a Quartet," with music by Bach; "Parasite," a duet with music by contemporary English composer Thomas Ades; "Aria," a solo for Gilstrap; "Leyli," a Marshall solo set to the music of Egyptian pop singer Natatcha Atlas; and "Askew," a company piece with music by the Balenescu Quartet. The concert will also include an improvisational piece by the full company. While Marshall is excited about the performance, she's also realistic about the fact that "it's just the beginning. . . . I'm not expecting to come out with a masterpiece.," she says. "It's always a learning process, so this is the first step of my process right now."

Though the company is new, Marshall says she and her dancers look forward to the future. "They would like to see it [the company] go ahead. They believe in me to a certain extent," she says. "I would love to keep inspiring them."

The Amy Marshall Dance Company will perform July 16 at 7:30 P.M. at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium. Admission is $5. For more information, call the Goucher Dance Department at (410) 337-6390.

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