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Dance ‘Spring Collection’ highlights motions of life

Ed Flores

UA Dance Ensemble members Hillary Walker and Weston Krukow in James Clouser’s “Ear to Stone.”

The school of dance at the UA is one of the top in the nation and has been developing an international name for itself thanks to the talent of both its students and faculty. This year’s “Spring Collection” showcase will close out the 2016-17 season with a variety of performances, displaying what the UA School of Dance is all about.

The program begins with “Ear to Stone,” a piece choreographed by James Clouser. Clouser is currently a visiting professor at the school and is reviving his piece to be performed 30 years after its debut. 

“Ear to Stone” has a timeless message that allows it to be just as poignant as it was when it was first performed in 1987:

“It’s a duet about a young couple at the beginning of their marriage,” Clouser said. “It’s a story about conflict and resolution and it takes the proposition that love is not an emotion but it is an activity; you have to be active in love in order to bring the emotion.”

The dancers adopt this view on love as the piece goes on. In the beginning, they are in conflict because they don’t understand one cannot simply say they love someone and must show their love through their actions. As they come to understand and compromise with each other, a resolution is found and their relationship is made stronger.

Beat poetry from John Giorno and an opera from Giacomo Puccini are the two music selections used in the piece, the title of which originates from a particularly poignant part of Giorno’s angry, passionate poem.

“In the middle of that anger there’s a quiet moment where he says, ‘I want you to put your ear to stone and open your heart to the sky,’ ” Clouser said. “Then the second half is the tenor aria from Puccini’s opera, ‘La bohème,’ the moment in the opera at the beginning when the hero meets the heroine.”

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Clouser has four pairs of dancers performing “Ear to Stone” on various nights during the “Spring Collection” run, with the dancers ranging from freshmen to graduate students.

Following “Ear to Stone” is “The Artist: Celebrating PRINCE,” choreographed by Michael Williams. The piece pays tribute to the late, great musician with dancers performing to a medley of his music. Williams collaborated with Lauren Truby on the tap piece to honor jazz singer Brenda Boykin’s “Step Back,” which follows the medley.

Two ensemble pieces are after that. The first, “Dead in the Shell,” is a new piece by choreographer Tamara Dyke-Compton that features 11 female dancers struggling with the feeling of being stuck. “Moments Caught” by Elizabeth George-Fesch comes after, exploring the idea of memory through the performance of five male dancers.

Guest artist Miguel Perez will present his autobiographical piece “Before Reality Sets In.” In the second week of performances, Perez will be followed by a number celebrating Afro-funk created by Barbea Williams. “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel will be the backdrop for a solo dance from the mind of Amy Ernst.

The penultimate performance of the night, like Clouser’s “Ear to Stone,” has been around for some time and is also celebrating the 30-year anniversary of first being performed. Sam Watson, an artist of residence at the UA School of Dance, co-choreographed “Wired” with fellow dancer Kenneth Comstock for a program in the city of Chicago in 1987, and the piece has stood the test of time. 

“ ‘Wired’ is an excess of stimulus,” Watson said. “It’s about a modern-day life where people are having to multitask, take in all different types of stimulus in a fast-paced world.” Watson mainly focuses on the idea of western culture functioning so quickly and explores this through jazz and a homemade sound collage. 

RELATED: ‘Evita’ marks Arizona Repertory Theatre’s first musical of the semester

“My specialty is jazz-based work that has some humor to it,” Watson said. “Humor and kind of quirky are what my trademarks are.”

Watson also choreographed the new closing selection to feature the 10 dancers in the Masters of Fine Arts program. The piece, titled “Amuse Bouche—Ten Tasty Treats,” plays off the culinary practice of the same name. When a chef presents his dinners with small samplings of his specialty, it is referred to as an amuse bouche, so each MFA student will be featured in their own short amuse bouche.

“ ‘Spring Collection’ is always a large mixture of ballet, modern, jazz; some are very flashy numbers and some are very intimate,” Watson said. “The program is a sampler series of several different styles of dance.”

“Spring Collection” begins Friday, April 21, and concludes the following Sunday, April 30. Tickets can be purchased at the College of Fine Arts box office or online at for $32 for adults, $28 for seniors, military and UA employees and $15 for students.

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