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Meadows at the Winspear: The Dancers' Perspective

Meadows Dance Ensemble Prepares for Concert at Winspear Opera House

by Chrysta Brown (B.F.A. Dance '10)

The following is the dancers' perspective on the preparations for the Meadows at the Winspear concert on March 20. Read the musicians' perspective.

The time is 11:34 on a Wednesday night. Most students are preparing for bed or busy cramming for an upcoming midterm. The Meadows students sprawled on the floor of a fellow dancer’s living room, however, are not among them. They’ve just finished another night of rehearsals. One of them has just eaten dinner. This semester, instead of performing their annual spring concert in the Bob Hope Theatre, they, along with the students of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra, will be performing at the brand new Winspear Opera House in downtown Dallas.

Morgana Phlaum, a senior dance performance major and psychology minor, says the process has been difficult because, with the annual dance Sharp Show in the fall instead of the spring, no spring Brown Bag performance, and no five-day Spring Dance Concert, it is not the spring semester they are used to having – but the difference is justified by the fact that Meadows will be the first group to ever perform an evening of dance with full orchestra at the Winspear.

The dancers have been rehearsing since August. Katy Cashin, senior dance performance and history major, jokes, “It feels like we’ve been rehearsing since the beginning of time. And God said, ‘Let there be light and Serenade.’ ”

Katy will be performing in Serenade, which was George Balanchine’s first ballet in America, and says that as challenging as the process has been, it is her favorite ballet. “It has been my favorite ever since I became interested in ballet,” she said. “I’ve always aspired to perform it and it is an achievement and an honor to do so in such a beautiful venue.”

Senior dance performance major Vanessa Trevino is also excited about the experience. Unlike Serenade, which is a restaging of the original Balanchine work by SMU faculty member and former Balanchine ballerina Leslie Peck, Vanessa is part of a new creation, An American in Paris, choreographed by SMU dance professor Danny Buraczeski and inspired by the Gershwin score. “The thought of having only one night to get everything right is a little nerve-racking,” she says, “but it is going to be thrilling knowing so many people are watching me dance.”

The Winspear performance will consist of three pieces: Serenade, An American in Paris, and Pascal Rioult’s Wien. Corinna Phillips, senior dance performance major and psychology minor, is a dancer in Wien, and is excited about the long term benefits of the production. “This is as close to a professional experience as we can get in an undergraduate program,” she said.

Dance production manager and faculty member Debbie Barr-Truitt likens the experience to touring. The dancers will not have access to the opera house until March 19, the day before the performance. The dancers will have a very limited amount of time to get used to the space, which is quite different from their experiences in the Bob Hope Theatre, where technical and dress rehearsals can last up to two weeks. “It’s not our home base or home theater,” Corinna says. “It’s something new that we have to get used to.”

There is one break in tradition that the dancers gladly welcome, a live orchestra. The dancers agree that working with a live orchestra makes the pieces they’ve been rehearsing for so long feel like new experiences. Morgana says that she feels safe, inspired and energized when working with the musicians. Sophomore dance performance major and psychology minor Katrina Kutsch says that working with the orchestra and their energy “makes the Winspear ten times more thrilling.”

Rioult’s Wien tells of the effects of World War I and the approach of World War II on 1920s and ‘30s Vienna. “The piece is very heavy because of its mood and weighted movement,” Corinna says. The image the dancers were given was having the weight of the world on their shoulders.  “You have this dichotomy. The movement brings you down but the music could just lift you up.”

Zack Reaves, junior cello performance major and a member of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra, has worked with dancers before in the Brown Bag and Sharp Show productions. “We’re all friends. For us [the musicians] it’s not that different. We’re just playing,” he says. “However, Serenade is different because a lot of string players have played the piece before. Adding dancers brings new ideas to the piece and even though you won’t see us dancing in the pit, we had to learn to think like dancers.”

Until the dancers move into the Winspear on the 19th, they are using the studios at Fair Park, which are similar in size to the Winspear stage. Katy said Fair Park was an interesting experience because they could see the musicians and see how they physically reacted to the music. Corinna noticed the similarities in the rehearsal process of dancers and musicians. “They use their instruments the same way we use our bodies,” she said.

This experience is special for everyone involved. It will be the largest audience that many of the dancers have performed for. “It’s more than our moms and dads and close friends,” Morgana says, “and tickets are selling quickly.”

Katy is extremely excited to be performing in an opera house that differs from a typical theater in size, capacity, architectural arrangement and technical capabilities. “There aren’t a lot of them in America,” she says. At the root of it all, many of the dancers echo the feelings of freshman dance performance major Aaron Kozak, when he says, “I’m just excited to be performing.”

Meadows at the Winspear will be performed at the Winspear Opera House on March 20 at 8:00 p.m. To purchase tickets, call 214.880.0202 or purchase online.

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