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From Jekyll and Hyde to social justice


The 2015-16 dance season is all about diversity

There will be no lack of variety or drama in the 2015-16 season's dance offerings. Choices include top contemporary dance companies such as Nai-Ni Chen Dance (which features Asiatic-influenced contemporary) and our own BIODANCE. Then there is the annual treat of seeing Garth Fagan Dance premiere new works by both Fagan and Norwood Pennewell. We also have two story-based dance productions to look forward to: "A Light in the Dark," by Thodos Dance Chicago and "Jekyll & Hyde" by local dance-theatre company PUSH Physical Theatre.

Nazareth College Arts Center can always be counted on for a few standout dance shows during the scholastic year. During the 2015-16 season, visiting companies Thodos Dance Chicago and Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company are both worth catching.

Thodos Dance Chicago, a 22-member contemporary dance troupe, performs one show at Nazareth in October. The company is known for its expressive story ballets and athletic performing. At Nazareth, Thodos Dance will showcase its latest story ballet "A Light in the Dark" based on the lives of Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. The ballet focuses on the initial stages of their relationship, when Sullivan was still trying to communicate with a child who was in a state of almost feral wildness. Company founder and choreographer Melissa Thodos and Broadway legend Ann Reinking perform the title roles. Video clips of the piece are enticing: both performers are convincing in their roles while performing gorgeous and entertaining dance. The company will also show other pieces from their repertory. Thodos Dance Chicago will perform on Friday, October 2, at 8 p.m., with a pre-performance film and lecture beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company will offer of a visually stunning, large scale performance which will include works stemming from ancient Asiatic culture, and highly abstract modern pieces. Nai-Ni Chen, the company's choreographer, was an early member of Cloud Gate Theater in Taiwan. She came to the United States to establish her voice in contemporary dance and has now led her company for 26 years. She is known for her graceful blend of American modern dance with Chinese classical arts. One performance only: Saturday, November 14, at 8 p.m. There will be a pre-performance lecture at 7 p.m.

Then, of course, there is the annual Garth Fagan Dance home season to look forward to. This internationally acclaimed company celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, so expect premieres by both Fagan and Norwood Pennewell as well as popular revivals from their repertoire. Fagan choreographed "Dancing for/With Geoffrey" for Lincoln Center Out of Doors in New York City this summer, and reviewers praised the company's performance. Chances are we'll get to see it here in Rochester come December. Performances run December 2 through December 6 at Nazareth College Arts Center. Tickets for all three Arts Center shows are available online at artscenter.naz.edu or by calling the box office at 389-2170.

As far as local groups go, I am particularly excited about "Jekyll & Hyde," a new story-based performance by PUSH Physical Theatre, the dance theater troupe led by husband and wife partners Darren and Heather Stevenson. The company excels at conveying the emotional depths of characters through their masterful use of mime and movement. I was floored by the dramatic intensity of PUSH's "Dracula" several years ago and expect nothing less from their retelling of the iconic tale of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." The show will run at Blackfriars Theatre on January 29 through February 14. Call 454-1260 or go to bftix.org for tickets.

BIODANCE, led by Missy Pfohl Smith, will continue its BIO/DANCE & Social Justice Series this fall and will be free to audiences at a variety of community locations. The series, which examines people's indifference to societal injustices, incorporates the works of choreographers from around the country, including a piece of Smith's own creation. BIODANCE will take the series to the Spurrier Dance Studio at the University of Rochester on Saturday, October 10, at 4 p.m.

Also at the University of Rochester will be Anne Harris Wilcox's popular "When the Souls Rise," a spooky celebration of the spirit world which she has presented annually in Rochester for years. The production incorporates dance, theater, and music and will be performed by students in the Program of Dance and Movement and the International Theatre Program. Performances will take place Friday, November 6, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, November 7, at 4 p.m.

If you want to see FuturPointe Dance Company this fall, you'll have to catch it at Rochester Fashion Week in October; that's the only performance the group has on its calendar right now. However, Artistic Director Guy Thorne will be starring in a one-man play produced by his partner on-and-off the stage, N'Jelle Gage. The "adults only" performance will be at Gallery 74 on November 12 through November 21.

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