Highlights include pieces by guest artists Kevin Jenkins, Michael Nickerson-Rossi and Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner
Allentown, Pa. (Jan. 23, 2019) — The Muhlenberg College dance program will showcase seven world-premiere works by seven world-class choreographers in its annual “Master Choreographers” concert, Feb. 7-9.
This year’s “Master Choreographers” features original works by three guest choreographers: Kevin Jenkins, Michael Nickerson-Rossi, and Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, as well as new works by four Muhlenberg dance faculty: Heidi Cruz-Austin, Megan Flynn, Shelley Oliver, and Randall Anthony Smith.
“This concert presents a sensational evening of dance,” says Karen Dearborn, founding director of Muhlenberg’s dance program, and the concert’s artistic director. “We are excited to showcase these electrifying works by our acclaimed guest artists and faculty.”
An award-winning choreographer and a faculty teacher at the Boston Ballet School, Kevin Jenkins has choreographed for numerous ballet companies, and his works have been performed in the Inside/Out Series at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. His piece “A Simpler Time?” incorporates several genres, including ballet, contemporary and jazz.
“My time at Muhlenberg has been exceptional,” Jenkins says. “The intricate choreography that I’m able to set on them is really interesting; they bring a hunger and focus to rehearsal.”
The founder of Nickerson-Rossi Dance, Michael Nickerson-Rossi teaches dance at John Hopkins University and at the Princeton Ballet. His contemporary-inspired piece “self-postponement” captures the guilt he feels when he puts things off.
“I told the dancers, ‘Think of things you want to do and you just keep putting them off,’” Nickerson-Rossi says. “I told them, ‘Don’t postpone joy, let it happen. Live in it. Feel it. Breathe it. Walk in it.’”
Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner is a professor of dance at Western Oregon University whose work has been commissioned by colleges across the country. She contributes a world-premiere jazz-style work for 16 dancers, titled “Bending Towards Justice,” inspired by Motown music and a sense of hope.“As a choreographer, my artistic philosophy has to do with connection, either to audience or to the dancers in the room,” she says. “It’s really about inclusivity and about blurring the lines between art and life.”
Muhlenberg dance professor Randall Anthony Smith will present the world-premiere of his modern piece “Gambit of Humanity,” which is inspired by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s story “The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright.” The piece’s original music score is composed by Ian Scot.
“Each dancer in my newest work embodies her innermost desires and instincts, represented through a spirit animal,” he says. “I have an amazing all-female ensemble of dancers who are ebbing and flowing from their most upright selves to their most grounded selves.”
Megan Flynn, in collaboration with her 10 dancers, is staging an original piece titled “For Harriet, Whom History Forgot.” Muhlenberg dancers will also perform the piece at this year’s American College Dance Association Northeast Conference.
“I was inspired by the novel ‘The Blazing World,’ by Siri Hustvedt, which tells the story of a female artist who hires three different men to present her artwork as their own,” Flynn says.
“I was captivated by this tale of a grand social experiment exploring gender biases in the art world, which led me to research the stories of female painters, sculptors, musicians and composers from history. This work is dedicated to the women whose work has been erased.”
The evening will also feature a world-premiere modern ballet by Heidi Cruz-Austin and a new tap piece by Shelley Oliver, performed to live jazz music composed by David Leonhardt.
“The original composition by David will provide a dynamic interplay with the dancers on stage,” Oliver says.
Performances of “Master Choreographers” will take place Thursday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 9, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. The concert is appropriate for patrons of all ages. 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 muhlenberg.edu/dance.
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.
Megan Flynn is an assistant professor of dance at Muhlenberg College, and serves as a faculty mentor and co-artistic director for the Muhlenberg Community Dance Center. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree in dance from the University of California, Irvine, and earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance, summa cum laude, from Newcomb College of Tulane University. Flynn studied at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London, England, where she earned a professional diploma in dance studies. She has danced professionally with David Parker & The Bang Group, Eliza Miller Dance, Kathy Westwater, and EgoArt, Inc. in New York City and Boston. Currently, Flynn is the artistic director of the Philadelphia-based Megan Flynn Dance Company, and is a performer/choreographer with The NADINE Project, a choreographic collective under the direction of Janet Soares and Libby Nye. Flynn’s choreography has been presented in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, England and Spain. Performances abroad include: Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Scotland); Daghdha Mentoring Program (Ireland); Brighton Fringe (England); Resolution! Festival (England); The Russia Project (Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Ekaterinburg); and the Dance Improvisation & Choreography Festival (Andalucía, Spain). She previously taught at UC Irvine, MiraCosta College, and Milton Academy, and as a guest teacher for the Delaware Valley Dance Academy, Summer Stages Dance at Concord Academy and the Boston Ballet’s Summer Dance Program.
Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner is a choreographer and dance educator committed to inclusion, representation and social consciousness in both pedagogy and creative practice. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree summa cum laude at the University of Minnesota, and her Master of Fine Arts degree as an Advanced Opportunity Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts. She has served as the choreographer in residence for the Minnesota Dance Theater and is a four-time winner of the Arizona Choreography Competition’s Professional Division. Original works by Gutierrez-Garner have been commissioned by numerous colleges and universities across the United States, including Kent State University, University of Minnesota, Arizona State University, Gustavus Adolphus College, University of Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Texas Rio Grande, Muhlenberg College and the American University. Additionally, she has enjoyed commissions by professional companies including the Minnesota Dance Theater, Dulce Dance Company, Eclectic Edge Ensemble, Zenon Dance Company and JazzAntiqua. Gutierrez-Garner’s work has seen support from organizations such as the Jerome Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Walker Art Center, and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She has taught on the dance faculties of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and Gustavus Adolphus College, among others, as well as the prestigious Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine, and as a guest faculty at Xuchang University in China. She currently serves on the faculty of Western Oregon University and is the artistic director of Company Movimiento, based in Eugene, Oregon.
Kevin Jenkins has choreographed for State Street Ballet, St. Louis Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Columbia Ballet Collaborative, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, Island Moving Company, Big Muddy Dance, Ballet Dallas, Bellingham Repertory Dance, and the School of Ballet Arizona, among others. His choreography has been performed on the Inside/Out Series at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and at West Wave Dance Festival in San Francisco. Dance Magazine has praised his work as “riveting,” and he is currently on faculty at the Boston Ballet School. Kevin grew up in San Diego, California, and trained on a full scholarship at the Academy of Performing Arts under Kevin Patterson, Ahita Ardalan, and Jean Isaacs. He majored in dance at Grossmont College before going on to work with Mirable Ballet, San Diego Dance Theatre, and Butterworth Dance Company. He performed in regional productions of “Guys and Dolls” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” and appeared in television commercials for Allstate Insurance, Verizon Wireless, and Latinva Fitness. In 2006 he founded Garage Contemporary Ballet with Ryan Orion Beck and served as artistic director through 2012. Jenkins choreographed 20 new works for the company that were presented in their own annual season as well as in festivals and showcases including Celebrate Dance Festival, Emerge, Ignite, Breaking Ground and San Diego Choreographer’s Prize. He won the Editors’ Choice Award from Dance Magazine in 2011 and 2013 and from Pointe Magazine in 2011 for “Finding Narnia,” “Snap Pop,” and “Luminos.” In 2013 Kevin moved to San Francisco, where he choreographed for Western Ballet, Emote Dance Theater, and the Orchestra Institute of Napa with Smuin Ballet dancers. He choreographed and directed the film “Chaplin,” which was featured at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, Greensboro Dance Film Festival, Tiny Dance Film Festival, and America Dance Festival’s Movies by Movers. In 2014 the San Diego Asian Film Festival commissioned him to create “Light & Hope” to commemorate the hurricane Haiyan in the Philippines. His ballet “C’est La Vie” premiered to a sold-out audience and was selected for the West Wave Dance Festival where it won rave reviews. Kevin now resides in New York whenever he’s not traveling throughout the country and working as a freelance choreographer. He teaches for Boston Ballet School, Endicott College and Green Street Studios. He has also served as an instructor at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, University of San Diego, Arizona School of the Arts, Southwest Classical Dance Institute and Master Ballet Academy.
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, 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 as well as the resident choreographer of DanceSpora dance company.
Michael Nickerson-Rossi, founder of Nickerson-Rossi Dance, is a dynamic dancer/choreographer/master teacher. Nationally, he has premiered work in San Diego, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Tempe, Miami Beach, Palm Springs, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, Los Angeles, New York, and internationally, Belize and Italy. In July 2014, Nickerson-Rossi Dance created and performed “Deeply Rooted” in the Cape Cod Dance Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts, alongside the Martha Graham Dance Company, Paul Taylor, American Ballet Theater, Boston Ballet and others. In February 2015, the company premiered “Checkmate,” their evening length work at the Helene Galen Performing Arts Center in Rancho Mirage, California. In 2016, Nickerson-Rossi produced “Past and Present,” a performance in the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, where he also served as the Creative Director of Dance 2015-16. Nickerson-Rossi transitioned to the east coast, where he served as creative director of dance and resident dance company for the Uptown Knauer Performing Arts Center in Chester County in 2016-17. Currently, he teaches composition/choreography at Johns Hopkins University and technique at Princeton Ballet. Nickerson-Rossi’s work was commissioned in: Alex Theater, McCallum Theatre, Annenberg Theater, Marsee Theater – Center for the Arts, Royal Theater (Teatro Regio, Torino, Italy), New York Live Arts, Barclay Theater, among many others. Nickerson-Rossi has worked with 22 universities and community colleges such as: Johns Hopkins University-Peabody Institute, California State University Fullerton, Drexel University, Fresno State University, College of Charleston, West Chester University, Arizona State University, Texas State A&M University, Loyola Marymount University, Santa Monica Community College, Santa Ana College, El Camino College, and many more. Nickerson-Rossi also was a guest instructor of multiple American College Dance Association (formerly American College Dance Festival). Commercial Industries commissioned include: Porsche, Maserati, Marshalton Inn, and Anthony’s Cucina and Fresca. Nickerson-Rossi is ardent about the company’s outreach program, entitled “uNdeRstanD,” which is a platform of education for youth designed to provide both physical and emotional liberty through the medium of dance. Students are given the opportunity to perform alongside professional dancers. Nickerson-Rossi’s work has been recognized as profound and it is with this passion he founded the Palm Springs Dance Festival.
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. She 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.
Randall Anthony Smith is an assistant professor of dance at Muhlenberg College. He is a former dancer of Armitage Gone! Dance and Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre, both located in New York City. He currently performs work with Megan Flynn Dance Company (Philadelphia) and has been seen in works by Jeffrey Peterson throughout upstate New York and Minneapolis. Smith serves as a répétiteur and assistant to legendary choreographer Donald McKayle, having performed with 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 performance credits include dancing 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 (NYC). 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 in 2016. In 2018, Smith restaged excerpts of Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow Round My Shoulder” for DeSales University (Center Valley). He is a current Pilates instructor and will be embarking on his yoga certification in 2019. His latest choreographic credits include: SpringUP Dance Festival (Allentown), “Swifts Shifts of Identity,” co-choreographed and performed with Megan Flynn, for the Built on Stilts Dance Festival (Martha’s Vineyard), Koresh Artist Showcase and Come Together Dance Festival (Philadelphia). In 2019 Smith and Flynn will perform “Swift Shifts of Identity” at the American College Dance Association Northeast Conference at The College at Brockport (SUNY), as well as premiering two new dance work, “Fragments,” for the Lehigh Valley Charter Arts High School (Bethlehem) and “Rock ‘n Rhythm” at Cedar Crest Community College (Allentown).
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