Muhlenberg College Master Choreographers, Feb. 7-9

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 the 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.