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By Elena Hecht
The Florida State University School of Dance’s home in Tallahassee, Florida, is 1,100 miles from New York City, but its student dancers and choreographers are just one small leap away thanks to FSU’s School of Dance in Concert, a performance held every few years in New York.
The concert began as an informal showing of alumni and student work at the 42nd Street Studios in 2004, under the departmental direction of Libby Patenaude. The goal was to both spread the word about the FSU School of Dance and to continue forging a bond with alumni who were living, working, and creating in New York. “We want that connection between current students and alumni,” says Russell Sandifer, co-chair of the department. “It’s so hard to keep in touch with all of our students that are in New York. This brings them together.”
This year’s performance included a mix of work from current BFA and MFA students, as well as pieces by visiting guest artist/alumna Maria Bauman and current professors Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (also an alumna), Tim Glenn, and Dan Wagoner, a much-loved choreographer in the 1970s and ’80s. Held in May at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, the concert was part of a week of New York showcases by FSU’s arts schools.
Performing in New York offers students the opportunity to dance for a larger audience. But students are still students, and Sandifer admits that the idea that some may not be ready for a New York audience is always in the back of his mind. Nonetheless, he is confident in the FSU dancers’ talent and ability. “Our students are pretty fantastic,” he says. “We know they’ll represent us well.”
The evening’s program was diverse in its artistic sensibilities, opening with Zollar’s Women’s Resistance—in which a pack of six women displayed strong, viscerally combative movement in a war against an undisclosed enemy—and closing with One Thing After the Other by Wagoner, whose work is now rarely seen in New York. The new piece, dedicated to the score’s composer, John Cage, and choreographed on nine FSU dancers, was filled with technical, quirky, and frequently pedestrian movement reflective of the gloriously hyperactive soundtrack.
For Thryn Saxon, a rising junior who choreographed and danced in a work for this year’s concert, the chance to perform in New York was exhilarating. “It just felt so much more real. Being in the city with our FSU family but knowing that when you would step out, you were in this incredible world of dance—it was a really exciting wake-up call, but it really felt natural, like that’s where we’re all meant to be.” And a family it certainly seemed to be, with a veritable sea of hands answering a question from the stage about how many audience members were alumni.
After the show, a supportive and congenial atmosphere resonated throughout the lobby as smiling cast and audience members milled about. The concert, followed by a reception, allows students “to meet people and make friends, so they’ll have somebody to help them in the transition to New York,” says Sandifer.
While the choice to bring his students to New York is based partially on the city’s history as a center for American dance, Sandifer mentions that they may look into performing in San Francisco, where they have a growing alumni presence. But his main hope is that the New York concerts can continue. “We do want to get back to having more alumni work shown, so that it’s not just for our current students,” he says. “But as far as milestones, it’s been a great progression. We just hope that we’re able to keep doing it.”
FSU students Rachel S. Hunter and Keisha Calderon in Maria Bauman’s Stand. Photo by Jon Nalon, Courtesy FSU.