By Amy Wells
Winter Dance Concert 2008 puts the hard work of dance students and faculty on display this weekend. The annual concert features performances at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Elizabeth Baker Theater in Kantner Hall.
The concert will premiere works by faculty members Travis Gatling, Mickie Geller, Ruben Graciani, Marina Walchli and visiting artist Stefanie Batten-Bland.
School of Dance Director Madeleine Scott said this is one of the most artistically diverse concerts in recent years.
"It presents a modern ballet on pointe, live trumpet accompaniment by School of Music Director Michael Parkinson and new music compositions for two dances," Scott said. "The concert includes a large cast and presents some exceptionally dynamic dancing."
Faculty members held auditions in the fall at which each taught movement material based on the work he or she wanted to create, and then they met as a group to select dancers for the compositions.
Concert coordinator Gatling explained that any audition process, whether internal or external to the School of Dance, provides a valuable experience for students.
"It prepares students to engage successfully in the different movement styles and audition and choreographic processes," Gatling said. "Being a versatile and informed dancer will be key to their success."
This year's Winter Dance Concert marks the third for junior Julie Van Zant.
"As a freshman I was always extremely nervous, but now I am at home with my peers and faculty," Van Zant said. "It is nice to get in the habit of having an audition. It prepares us for our futures in the dance world, where we will be in auditions with dozens of dancers who are all trying to take our spot."
Van Zant will perform alongside faculty members Gatling and Graciani in "Office Space," a piece choreographed by Graciani.
"It is definitely different working with faculty versus working with students," Van Zant said. "Because they are professionals, they raise the caliber of my dancing. I'm glad that I have the opportunity to perform with Travis and Ruben because I can look to them for support and encouragement."
Gatling said faculty and students have an equal, working relationship as performers.
"We all have to be supportive of each other and work collaboratively through the process of learning the choreography, experimenting with it and rehearsing it to achieve the best performance level possible," he said.
In working side by side with faculty, students learn by example how to conduct themselves more professionally in the creative process and experience how faculty balance the seemingly separate aspects of their lives -- practicing artist and scholar.
Batten-Bland, a visiting artist in residence on campus in January, auditioned and selected students the first day of winter quarter. Students performing her "Apart One Word or Two" spent two intense weeks in daily rehearsals with the artist, and Graciani continued the rehearsals after Batten-Bland's departure.
"This experience has had the biggest impact on me since I have been here," said junior Jesse Keller. "(Batten-Bland) really opened my eyes and made me want to give everything to dance. I could feel her passion for this art and I fed off it.
"For two weeks, we had three-hour rehearsals seven days a week, and our bodies were beat up," Keller added. "This was another lesson taught: there's no point in dancing if you aren't going to give it your all."
Scott explained that for every minute of choreography on stage, there are at least 10 hours of work in the studio devoted to creating and coaching that minute.
"All creative approaches demand focused work and investment on the part of the dancer and individualized coaching by the faculty," she said. "As a result, we see exponential growth in the classroom."
In addition to those on stage, dance students work behind the scenes to make the event a success. All crews -- lighting, sound, costume and publicity -- are staffed by dance students.
Tickets are available from the Fine Arts Tickets Office in the lobby of Kantner Hall from noon to 5 p.m. or by calling the office at 740-597-4800. The price is $12 for adults and $9 for children. Ohio University students receive free admission through Arts for Ohio.