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Friday, January 04, 2013 - The Dance Community Comes to OU
by Gillian Ellis

Months of planning will come to fruition in February when Oakland University's Dance Program hosts the 2013 American College Dance Festival Association East-Central Conference. We are delighted to be hosting, and especially since this is the 40th anniversary conference. From Wednesday, February 20 until Saturday, February 23 there will be approximately 450 participants on campus, representing more than 25 college dance programs, including the University of Alaska – Anchorage.

They will perform for some very distinguished adjudicators -- Randy Duncan, Gerri Houlihan and Heidi Latsky.

Randy Duncan is a multi-award winning leading light of the Chicago dance scene. His choreography combines elements of ballet, jazz, African and modern dance. Read his biography here.

Gerri Houlihan is a member of the dance faculty at Florida State University. She has performed with many renowned dance companies. Read her biography here.

Heidi Latsky has also performed extensively. She first received wide recognition as a celebrated principal dancer for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Read her biography here.

The four days of the conference are packed with masterclasses. To accommodate the plethora of movement experiences being offered, borrowed sound systems and Marley dance floors will be used to turn additional spaces in Varner Hall and the Rec Center into dance studios. Assistant Professor Thayer Jonutz says that the final lineup of classes is not yet ready because visiting faculty are still submitting their proposals, but he believes that classes in everything from hip-hop to classical ballet, and everything in between, will be available.

On the last day of the conference the adjudicators will also offer masterclasses, and this opportunity to work with such iconic performers and choreographers is always an unmissable highlight for the students. Also on the final day is the gala concert. The honor of appearing in this concert goes to students who have been selected by the adjudicators based on their appearance in the nightly adjudication concerts. Each attending college may submit two pieces for the adjudicators’ consideration.

Opening the conference will be a concert that will showcase the professional companies of the OU faculty, both current and emeritus. Eisenhower Dance Ensemble will perform, as will Gregory Patterson’s Patterson Rhythm Pace. Thayer Jonutz and Ali Woerner will combine their companies, suduo and Shifting Sol, for the evening and feature work from their concert Take Root, which will premiere on February 7.

Many people, including all our technical and production staff, are working hard to ensure success for this huge undertaking, but it is an enterprise well worth the investment of time. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity for OU’s dance program to shine, it will also bring a wide spectrum of the dance world to our students and allow them a chance to interact with their peers and with teachers who bring a different perspective to understanding movement.

Head of the OU dance program Associate Professor Gregory Patterson is the conference coordinator. Co-coordinators are Ali Woerner, Thayer Jonutz and Debra Bernstein-Siegel. Also assisting with planning is student representative Alex Plaskey.

Alex is attending only her second ACDFA conference, but OU dance instructor Debra Bernstein-Siegel was at the very first ACDFA conference which was held in Pittsburgh. She recalls, “I went with the University Dance Company from The Ohio State University. We performed at Heinz Hall in downtown Pittsburgh. The work that UDC performed was 'Field Dances' by Merce Cunningham; which was the first time Merce had ever released a work to a college dance company. I remember a lot of kids from Ohio including University of Akron and Oberlin College.” Helping plan this 40th conference is a bookend of sorts for Deb who will retire from her teaching position at OU this spring.

The organizers are planning to commemorate the 40th anniversary with a mixture of the usual celebrations – a cake and a party after the gala concert – and specific dance events, including special masterclasses that illustrate dance techniques spanning the decades.

Look out for photos of the conference in an upcoming issue of Prism.

Photo: OU dance students Brynn Fehir & Lindsay Carless will be among those attending the ACDFA conference. Photo by Scott Lipiec.