Muhlenberg College ‘Master Choreographers’ dance concert, Feb. 8-10, showcases talents  of acclaimed choreographers, 60 dancers


Highlights include piece by guest artist Tiffany Mills

Allentown, Pa. (Jan. 16, 2018) — The Muhlenberg College dance program will showcase dance pieces by seven world-class choreographers in its annual “Master Choreographers” concert, Feb. 8-10. The performance includes a restaging of a dance by critically acclaimed guest artist Tiffany Mills, this season’s Baker Artist-in-Residence at Muhlenberg, supported by the Dexter F. & Dorothy H. Baker Foundation.

In addition to Mills’ piece, the evening will feature world premiere works by five Muhlenberg dance faculty: Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; Corrie Franz Cowart, co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance; Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; Randall Anthony Smith, former dancer with Armitage Gone!; and Karen Dearborn, founder and chair of Muhlenberg’s dance program. Also featured: a restaging of “Side By Side,” choreographed by Jeffrey Peterson, former dancer with Danny Buraczeski’s Jazzdance.

Mills’ piece, “It Only Happen Once… Yesterday and Tomorrow,” was critically lauded in its 2013 premiere, performed and commissioned by 10 Hairy Legs dance company. In its Muhlenberg restaging, it maintains its original structure but includes movement contributions from the Muhlenberg dancers.

“The dancers rock and squirm and lock together to form designs like human puzzles,” wrote Robert Johnson of The Star Ledger. “Stealthy and filled with surprises, Mills’ work seems to tap the unconscious.”

Jeffrey Peterson’s piece “Side By Side” premiered at the 2013 edition of “Master Choreographers.” The piece was restaged this past summer on a commission from Rhymically Speaking, a presenting organization in Minneapolis, specializing in jazz vernacular dance. The cast of this restaging included Muhlenberg alumna Courtney Hunsberger and faculty member Randall Anthony Smith. Peterson’s work has been called “moving and heart-racingly joyous” by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

As well as performing in Peterson’s piece, Randall Anthony Smith will also be presenting his own world-premiere work, a modern piece titled “Between.”

“‘Between’ captures what I feel all human beings go through, which is being caught in the middle of two identities, feelings, and states of being,” Smith says. “We never know where we will end up in life, but by making one choice over another, we create impact, influencing the way we see ourselves and the world.

“My rehearsal process this year has been incredible,” he says. “I am creating in ways I have not before, and this experience is one that encourages me to share with my dancers my most vulnerable self. This has been a wonderful teaching tool that I hope my dancers are using in their own artistry and dancing beyond this intimate yet crazy piece of art.”

Corrie Franz Cowart will contribute a new modern-style work for 13 dancers, inspired by “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and set to the music of Peggy Lee, featuring 1950s cocktail party attire designed by costume designer Lex Gurst.

“There’s a line I love from Capote’s novel: ‘She’s a phony, but she’s a real phony,’” Cowart says. “The dancers move through and against social conventions and appropriate party behavior. They grapple with being ‘fake’ and being ‘real’ as they fly, swirl, leap and posture in vignettes reminiscent of early film choreographer Busby Berkeley.”

Heidi Cruz-Austin is staging a modern ballet piece titled “Widow’s Promenade II,” which she says is about “experiencing life beyond the mundane.”

The evening will also feature a world-premiere ballet by Karen Dearborn, the concert’s artistic director, as well as a new tap piece by Shelley Oliver, performed to live jazz music.

Connie R. Kunda, retired Associate Athletic Director and Wellness Director at Muhlenberg, will receive the LVAIC Dance Consortium Award following the Feb. 9 performance. Kunda founded the Wellness Institute at Muhlenberg in 1982, and developed a comprehensive student wellness program. The award is presented annually by the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges Dance Consortium.

Performances of “Master Choreographers” will take place Thursday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 10, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Empie Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or


Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg College is a highly selective, private, four-year residential college located in Allentown, PA., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, sciences, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review has ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.

Choreographer Bios

Corrie Franz Cowart is an assistant professor at Muhlenberg College, teaching modern dance, choreography, screen dance, social dances, and a first-year writing seminar. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Cornish College of the Arts and an MFA from the University of Oregon. She is a certified DanceAbility instructor and a Laban Movement Analyst. Ms. Cowart has performed with the Pat Graney Dance Company, Mary Miller Dance Company, LABCO Dance, Minh Tran and Dancers, the Dance Theatre of Oregon, and the Pittsburgh Opera. She has performed both nationally and internationally with Impact Productions’ Dayuma and The Masterpiece. Ms. Cowart co-directs Co-Art Dance, a contemporary dance company she founded in 1997 with her husband Tim Cowart. In addition she has created numerous dances made specifically for video that have been shown at the San Suci Festival of Dance on Camera in Boulder, Moving Images in Philadelphia, and the Dance on Camera Festival at DeSales University, among others. Ms. Cowart is a contributing filmmaker to a work by choreographer Bebe Miller and filmmaker Mitchell Rose entitled Globe Trot, which premiered spring 2014.

Heidi Cruz-Austin began her dance training at the age of four at the Dolly Haltzman Dance Academy in Allentown. She went on to study at the School of American Ballet and the Pennsylvania Ballet. Cruz-Austin received an apprenticeship with the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1994 and joined the company as a member of the Corps de Ballet in 1995. She danced numerous featured roles in her tenure there including leads for various choreographers such as George Balanchine, Val Caniparoli, Ben Stevenson, Alvin Ailey, Margo Sappington, Christopher d’Amboise and Matthew Neenan. In addition to dancing with Pennsylvania Ballet, Ms. Cruz-Austin danced with the Philadelphia-based company Ballet X and has performed as a guest artist throughout the United States and Europe. Cruz-Austin currently teaches for the Earl Mosley Institute of the Arts, Muhlenberg College, The University of the Arts, and Temple University. Heidi received a 2008 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for her choreography and is currently the co-artistic director and resident choreographer of DanceSpora dance company.

Karen Dearborn has choreographed over 70 works in concert, theatre, and musical theatre, including national tours of the Tony Award-winning National Theatre of the Deaf, and for several Equity theatres. Recently, she has provided choreography for the Muhlenberg Mainstage productions of “On the Town,” “The Pajama Game,” “The Other Shore,” “Oklahoma!, “Urinetown,” “Cabaret,” and “West Side Story,” and Summer Music Theatre productions of “A Chorus Line,” “Hello Dolly,” “Crazy for You,” “Hairspray,” “The Music Man,” “The Mikado,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Who’s Tommy,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Carousel,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “Oliver!” She also regularly choreographs dance works for “Master Choreographers.” Ms. Dearborn is the founding director of Muhlenberg’s Dance Program. Her scholarly research has been published in The Journal of Dance Education, and she contributed an essay to the book Performing Magic on the Western Stage. Ms. Dearborn is the recipient of the 2015 Arts Ovation Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Performing Arts, the 2015 Dance Serve Award from the LVAIC Dance Consortium, the 2010 Spira Award for Distinguished Teaching, the 2003 Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. She serves as treasurer of the American College Dance Association and chair of the Support and Mentoring Committee for the CORPS de Ballet International.

Tiffany Mills is a choreographer and artistic director of the NYC-based Tiffany Mills Company, which she formed in 2000, earning praise from The New York Times: “Mills is making a name for herself as a young modern-dance innovator.” The company recently celebrated its 15th Anniversary Season at La MaMa in the La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival. Previously, the company was selected by the Brooklyn Academy of Music to participate in the inaugural session of BAM’s Professional Development Program in 2013, culminating in a NYC season at the BAM Fisher. The Company’s past collaborative work has been presented at: PICA’s TBA Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Residency, Dance Place (Washington, D.C.), Guggenheim Museum Works & Process Series, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, Joyce SoHo, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Danspace Project’s City/Dans Series, PS 122 Avant-Garde-Arama, Tribeca Performing Arts Center, among many others, as well as in Russia, Italy, Mexico, and Canada. Ms. Mills has received numerous awards and conducted residencies around the country. Recent highlights include NYU’s Tisch Summer Dance Festival (2015); CUNY Dance Initiative Residencies (2014-15, ’17), BAM/DVIAM PDP (2012-13), Joyce’s Mellon Anchor Tenant Program (2011–present), Baryshnikov Arts Center Residency (2010), and Dance New Amsterdam Residency (2010). Ms. Mills hails from Eugene, Oregon and holds an MFA from Ohio State University.

Shelley Oliver is a Canadian-born tap dancer, choreographer and educator. She has appeared internationally with some of the legends of the tap world, including Savion Glover, Gregory Hines, Buster Brown, Jimmy Slide, and Chuck Green. She is a founding member of Manhattan Tap and served as a co-artistic director and choreographer with the company touring concert halls and festivals in Europe, China, the Caribbean, Canada, and the United States.  Oliver was the artistic director of the Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers for 15 years, touring with the David Leonhardt Jazz Group throughout the northeast. Her television appearances include “Tap Dance in America” with Gregory Hines and “Star Search.” A dedicated teacher and educator, Oliver has conducted lecture demonstrations for Lincoln Center, New York City Public Schools and various universities throughout the United States. On faculty at Muhlenberg College, she directs the Muhlenberg Jazz Tap Ensemble, providing community outreach in the Allentown area. Oliver has produced a series of Tap Music for Tap Dancers CDs that have become a standard pedagogical tool in the tap dance world. More recently as a soloist she toured as guest artist with the River City Brass Band in Pittsburgh and with Le Sextet Clic-Clac-Cloc in Geneva, Switzerland. She is the recipient of the 2009 Outstanding Dance Educator Award from the Lehigh Valley Dance Consortium.

Jeffrey Peterson is an assistant professor of dance at Muhlenberg, teaching studio coursework in jazz, modern, partnering, composition, and Laban Movement Analysis. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and a certification in Laban Movement Analysis and Bartenieff Fundamentals from Integrated Movement Studies. Early performing highlights include works by Chris Aiken, Zvi Gotheiner, Bill T. Jones, José Limón, Doug Varone, and Johannes Wieland. Peterson began his professional dance career in national tours with JazzDance by Danny Buraczeski. Since then, he has performed in the work of Clare Byrne, Edisa Weeks, and Stephan Koplowitz, and with the Minnesota Opera, among others. His choreographic work, called “poetic precision” by the Minneapolis StarTribune and “moving and heart-racingly joyous” by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has been commissioned by Dance New Amsterdam, Movement Research at Judson Church, and Rhythmically Speaking. His choreography has been seen in venues in Philadelphia, New York City, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and around the Lehigh Valley. At Muhlenberg, he has choreographed for the last four “Master Choreographers,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and “Chicago.” Peterson’s ongoing creative and scholarly work includes choreographic projects as well as research on the application of Laban and Bartenieff Studies to dance and life.

Randall Anthony Smith is an assistant professor of dance. He currently is a dancer with Armitage Gone! Dance (NYC) and the Megan Flynn Dance Company (Philadelphia). Smith serves as a répétiteur and assistant to legendary choreographer Donald McKayle, having performed for McKayle’s Etude Ensemble for four years. He maintains a practice of performing, restaging, and interpreting McKayle’s repertory, creating his own dance works and teaching dance nationally. Smith earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in dance from the University of California, Irvine. His most recent credits include: performing for acclaimed ballerina and choreographer Jodie Gates in “Mein Zimmer” (2012), work by Taiwanese choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava, Shen Wei (NYC), zoe|juniper (Seattle), as well as “WOW,” an experimental opera created in 2014 by Joe Diebes, Christian Hawkey, and Adam Levin. In 2015, Smith restaged McKayle’s “The Fight” (from the musical Golden Boy, starring Sammy Davis, Jr.) for The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century. In the summer of 2016, he performed in Philip Glass’s opera, “Witches of Venice,” commissioned by Opera Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, New York. Smith received a Distinguished Alumni Award at the 46th Annual Lauds and Laurels Awards Ceremony at the University of California, Irvine. He is currently finishing his Pilates certification and will be embarking on his Yoga certification in 2018.


Information Provided By:
Scott Snyder
Marketing Manager
Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre & Dance