Review – The Edge of the Rock

By Debra Danese for the Dance Journal

Audience members filed into one of six dance studios on South Broad Street Saturday, September 23rd for The Rock School for Dance Education’s annual fringe performance. The Edge of the Rock was a 60 minute showcase featuring students ranging from 11-20 years old. The dancers hailed from across the United States as well as Japan, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Mexico, Canada and Venezuela, affirming why The Rock School is considered one of the nation’s top pre-professional training programs.

School Director’s Bojan and Stephanie Spassoff gave a brief welcome to start the performance. The program that followed consisted of twenty four solos and duets highlighting classical ballet, contemporary, acrobatics, and contortion. Bojan Spassoff introduced each student and the piece they were dancing in. The dances were fairly brief, and varied in style, which gave the show a quick moving pace.

Taking into consideration these are students- not professional dancers- the caliber of technique was highly impressive. Mine Kusano, from Japan, performed challenging turn combinations in the Medora Variation. Fellow students in the audience showed their appreciation by snapping their fingers throughout. Gabriela Gutierrez, from Venezuela, was a powerhouse in Magnifique. Her alluring presence and extreme flexibility was an asset in the piece. Other stand-outs included the young, waif-like Emma Spilane, from Massachusetts, who had excellent control in The Dancer. Brandon Ranalli, from Pennsylvania, performed his Coppelia Variation with obvious joy on his face. Also on display was some interesting, nicely textured choreography by Resident Choreographer and Ballet Master, Justin Allen. His dances ranged from traditional ballet (Laurencia Variation) to nuanced contemporary (Possession.) His ability as a choreographer to highlight his dancer’s strengths was clearly evident. Allen is an alumnus of the Rock Academics Program Alliance and was awarded Outstanding Choreographer at the YAGP Philadelphia competition this year.

Since the audience was sitting in front of the wall-to-wall mirrors, the students could observe themselves while performing. This often hindered the connection between performer and viewer. It is a challenge for dancers of any level not to utilize the mirror for self- corrections and in this case, most of the dancers looked above our heads into the mirror. The disconnect was also visible during the duets. The dancers appeared disengaged from each other in order to focus on executing demanding partnering work. Again, one keeps in mind these are students whose further training will surely refine their stage presence.

The program was well balanced and finished with Tona Lopez-Gomez, from Mexico, performing the Flames of Paris Variation. Lopez-Gomez was both commanding and self-assured as he took flight across the floor. His variation showcased his formidable jumping ability. He completed a series of leaps that ended with an effortless 540. This piece provided a strong ending to a creative, robust program.

About Debra Danese

Debra graduated with a degree in dance from the University of the Arts and also holds a B.A. in Arts Administration. She is accredited at the Master Level with the National Registry of Dance Educators. Debra has performed in Europe, Tokyo, Canada, and the Caribbean. She teaches and choreographs world-wide and has been an international guest artist in Switzerland, England, and Slovakia. Debra has been an Artist in Residence on five occasions in Norway where she showcased full length dance productions at the acclaimed Nordland Theatre. She has also presented an original dance production at the Elspe Festival in Germany. Debra has been featured in Dance, Dancer and Dance Teacher Magazines for her work in dance education. Additionally, she has been a contributing writer for Dance Studio Life Magazine since 2010.

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