Master Choreographers concert at Muhlenberg College, Feb. 11-13

This season’s “Master Choreographers” concert at Muhlenberg College will feature restagings of three major works by world-renowned choreographers and four world-premiere works by faculty and guest artists. Presented Feb. 11-13 in the college’s Empie Theatre, the annual concert by the college’s nationally recognized Dance Program will feature more than 70 dancers.

The concert will feature restagings of “Ligeti Essays,” choreographed by Karole Armitage; “Songs of the Disinherited,” choreographed by Donald McKayle; and “To Have and To Hold,” choreographed by Shapiro & Smith Dance.

The concert will also feature world-premiere works by Karen Dearborn, Jeffrey Peterson, Heidi Cruz-Austin, and Shelley Oliver.

Karole Armitage is the artistic director of the New York-based Armitage Gone! Dance Company. Known as the “punk ballerina,” her performance credits include the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, and leading roles in Merce Cunningham’s landmark works. Armitage has choreographed two Broadway productions (“Passing Strange” and “Hair,” which garnered her a Tony Award nomination), videos for Madonna and Michael Jackson, several Merchant-Ivory films, and Cirque du Soleil’s 2012 tent show “Amaluna.”

“Ligeti Essays” is “breathtaking, providing a pristine setting for Ms. Armitage’s partially frozen world,” according to the New York Times. “As the lighting gently shifts from light to dark, the stage takes on the look of a remote, icy pond in the middle of a dream.” The piece is presented with funding from the Dexter F. & Dorothy H. Baker Foundation. The Baker Foundation has sponsored Muhlenberg’s Baker Artist in Residence program every year since 1992.

Donald McKayle has been named by the Dance Heritage Coalition “One of America’s Dance Treasures: the First 100.” He has choreographed more than 90 works for dance companies in the United States, Canada, Israel, Europe and South America, and has received five Tony Award nominations for his work in musical theater.

“Songs of the Disinherited,” originally choreographed in 1972 for the Inner City Repertory Dance Company of Los Angeles, is one of McKayle’s heritage masterworks. Dance critic Madeleine Swift calls the piece “a finely wrought suite of the enduring human heart that reaches out to others and up to God in its despair and joy… The movement is so specific and true to its theme that it breaks your heart and mends it again.”

Shapiro and Smith Dance began as a collaboration between Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith after meeting in the companies of Murray Louis and Alwin Nikolais. The company has a reputation for performing tales of beauty and biting wit that run the gamut from searingly provocative to absurdly hilarious. Dancing with breathtaking physicality and emotional depth, they have earned an international reputation for virtuosity, substance, craft, and pure abandonment.

Described as a “genuine treasure,” “To Have and To Hold,” has become one of the company’s signature works since its premiere in 1989. “The piece is zestily acrobatic and eerily haunting, by turn,” according to the Seattle Times. “It’s a meditation on revelry, peril and loss. Choreographers Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith created it when the ravages of the AIDS epidemic were at their most intense, and that may explain some of its power.”

This year’s edition of “Master Choreographers” also will feature four world premiere pieces by Muhlenberg faculty and guest artists.

Karen Dearborn, the concert’s artistic director and the director and founder of Muhlenberg’s dance program, has created a new, all-male piece that incorporates aerial acrobatics. The concert will also feature a new ballet by Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; a tap piece by Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; and a modern piece by Jeffrey Peterson, former dancer with Danny Buraczeski’s Jazzdance.

“Master Choreographers” will be performed Thursday, Feb. 11, and Friday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 13, 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 muhlenberg.edu/dance.