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It’s All About Dance

By Melanie Moffett
In Center Block
Feb 25th, 2015



photography by Martin G Meyers

To be honest, if you don’t have a son or daughter participating in a Regional Dance America (RDA) dance festival, the chances of you making the trek to a distant city to see a weekend full of the future of dance are pretty slim. But with the return of the RDA member companies to the Monroe/West Monroe area on March 26-28, 2015, you will get your chance to see firsthand how the world shapes dance and dance shapes the world. Forget what you think you know about dance, and prepare to be amazed by pre-professional companies from cities throughout Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas.  It’s not just tiaras and tutus anymore, but ballet is still the foundation. Louisiana Delta Ballet is the host company for the 2015 RDA-Southwest Regional Dance Festival, and LDB’s Artistic Director Missy Crain and her festival co-chairs Jeanine Balance Patton and Connie Walden have been working for years to ensure an incredible event for participants and audiences alike.

Says President and CEO of Northeast Louisiana Arts Council, Tommy Usrey, “As one of the sponsors of Regional Dance America/Southwest Festival 2015, we hope the more than 800 dancers attending will bring their imagination and an appetite for learning, sharing and networking with old friends and new acquaintances; we want them to leave the Twin Cities tired, yet energized, and full of ideas for the future!  It is the Council’s objective to continue providing the means for access by all to the arts, providing valuable experiences for which there is no substitute, capturing the winning spirit of Northeast Louisiana.”

Let’s start at the heart of the art, Regional Dance America began as a movement to advance and foster the growth and education of dancers, choreographers, directors and dance companies in every community across the United States and Canada. RDA provides a national identity and support for its five regional associations; Mid-States, Northeast, Pacific, Southeast and Southwest of which local dance companies, Twin City Ballet Company and Louisiana Delta Ballet are members. Development of member companies is further promoted through regional and national festivals by affirming standards of appraisal, evaluation and performance to which all members are held. The RDA-SW Region was established in 1988. Explains Crain, “Growing up performing with Regional Dance America/Southwest has allowed me to study with some of the world’s finest instructors as a dancer.  As a Director, it creates excellent networking for small town regional Companies like LDB and helps to keep us in check by comparison.

Explains Crain, The artistic standards set forth by the region are high, therefore a good motivation in striving for excellence. Each member Company MUST perform at least two times per season in their local towns, and present proof of performance. Each Company is adjudicated once a year by a different dance professional and the assessment for each company goes out to EVERY Company.  Our dancers are able to take classes side by side with dancers from other Companies, therefore establishing relationships beyond their local dance peers and instructors.”

To get ready for Festival, member ballet companies thoughtfully prepare choreography for adjudication, which is a process of bringing in a juror much like an art show, who views dances and chooses which pieces he or she feels best represent each company and fit them together to create an interesting and thought-provoking Festival, which is comprised of three nights of dance. This year’s distinguished adjudicator, Angela Whithill, is the Founding Artistic Director of Burklyn Ballet Theatre, trained by the National Ballet of Canada and at the Arts Educational Schools in London and performed throughout Europe and America during her professional career. In 2012, Whitehill was awarded the Dance Teacher Magazine international award for the development of a major conservatory of dance. (Burklyn Ballet Theatre). She is the recipient of numerous awards including, the Vermont Woman of the Year 1989, NJ Institute of Technology Authors Award 1989 and is listed in Who’s Who Women of the World and Women in Entertainment. She is also the co-author of five books on ballet and the art of its production.

So what has Whithill chosen for our local companies to perform? The evening of Thursday, March 26 will open with Louisiana Delta Ballet dancers performing a Nat King Cole/Natalie Cole piece entitled “Hot Coles” followed by the Emerging Choreographers Concert featuring work produced by up and coming choreographers.  LDB will also perform “Fate,”  a contemporary work by emerging choreographer Kersten Todey from Los Angeles, CA.  Twin City Ballet Company will perform “Behind Castle Walls,” choreographed by TCBC Artist in Residence Madelyne Clark.  In addition, there will be a special guest performance by professional dancer, Houston Ballet’s Aria Aleksandra, who is sponsored by Bloch/Mirella.  Says Crain,  “She is quite stunning and probably worth the ticket just to see her perform!”    Friday night will be a mixed repertoire of various Company performances. Regional Dance America/Southwest has 23 pre-professional companies and about half will perform Friday and half on Saturday. Saturday is the Gala Performance. The choreography each night be will be innovative and diverse in style and music, so there will be something for everyone to enjoy. TCBC will dance Leaia Alsup’s intriguing piece set to Philip Glass’ “Continuum” during the Saturday night Gala performance. And LDB will close the Gala with “Dies Irae,” which is quite an honor. The closing piece is a combination of choreography by Alvin Ailey’s Christopher Huggins along with four sections choreographed by Missy Crain. Says Crain, “It is excerpts from Power & Grace, and I chose to adjudicate this due to it being the premier performance for Louisiana Delta Ballet in 2005” when the company was formed.

While nightly performances are the public aspect of any RDA-Festival, what’s behind the scenes is even more instrumental in creating the stars of tomorrow. Participants will be able to immerse themselves in classes taught by world-renowned masters of the art in all its forms – from ballet and pointe, to modern, jazz and hip hop. Faculty for the festival includes “the most advanced male ballet dancer in the world” Ethan Steifel, star of the film, Center Stage; internationally recognized choreographer and teacher Thom Clower;  former NYCB dancer Jason Fowler; former Alvin Ailey soloist Dianne Maroney-Grigsby; DJ Guthrie, who choreographs for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and tours nationally with “Glee Live;” former principal dancer with Joffrey Ballet and ABT, Michael Levine; South African ballet master John Magnus; Valerie Robin, a Varna International Ballet Competition finalist and Joffrey Ballet alum; Freedance creator and dance convention director Jackie Sleight; television and film choreographer and dance convention teacher Christian Vincent; and Maia Wilkins, another former Joffrey Ballet alum. Another treat for festival dancers are the myriad of musicians who will play live music for dance classes. Dance musicians and accompanists for festival dance classes include: Richard Abrahamson, William Catanzaro, Joe Mathia, Steven Mitchell, Michael Orsillo, Natalya Panchenko, and Janeen Vestal.

So how do you get tickets for performances of the RDA-SW Festival? Tickets can be purchased at the Monroe Civic Center Box Office. Ticket cost is $25.00 per evening. Your support for RDA-SW Festival 2015 is important to Northeast Louisiana. According to Usrey, “Art and cultural tourism is a major industry in Louisiana.  In Northeast Louisiana, the development of our cultural institutions continues to play a major role in the ongoing renaissance of our cities and townships.  The Arts Council, in collaboration with Louisiana Delta Ballet and our region’s diverse and vibrant arts partners, works to place the arts on the community agenda, alongside economic development, community planning and other initiatives which shape our quality of life.”

Says Crain, “Monroe is a small town with a big heart for the arts, and we are honored to host our prestigious adjudicator, faculty, musicians, directors, dancers and parents for this exciting three day event. It is rare Monroe has the privilege of seeing so many companies, choreographers and dancers all in the same theater.  The innovative works will offer something for everyone. ”

    Sponsors of the RDA-SW Festival include: The City of Monroe, The University of Louisiana at Monroe, Diamond Vault, Northeast Louisiana Arts Council,  CenturyLink, Lagniappe Broadcasting and Dr. Dan Holt. For more information about the festival, go to www.rdaswfestival2015.org.