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The Beauty And Siversity Of Dance Expression: MSU's 2019 Spring Dance Concert, "Sightlines"

(Poster design courtesy Missouri State University Theatre and Dance)

The Missouri State University Theatre and Dance Department’s annual Spring Dance Concert takes place this weekend. This year’s concert is called “Sightlines,” which refers to the hypothetical line from an audience member’s eye to the subject on stage.  According to Sara Brummel, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance at Missouri State University, “one of the reasons we decided to name it ‘Sightlines’ is that there are some pieces that play with where that center line of focus is, and then there are other pieces that used the sightline very traditionally.  So it’s a kind of a play between the classical ideas and more modern ideas of how you can play with someone’s perspective in the audience.”

Typically the MSU dance faculty choreograph the pieces for the Spring Dance Concert, says Brummel.  But this concert also highlights a piece choreographed by graduating MSU senior Kendra Key, a Dance and Diversity Studies major. The Theatre and Dance Department recently hosted the 2019 American College Dance Association (ACDA) Central Region Conference, and Kendra Key’s piece “as we watch, they burn” was chosen for the honor of being performed at the conference’s Gala Concert.  In addition to Kendra Key and Sara Brummel, the choreographers for the Spring Dance Concert are Ruth Barnes, Angi Black and Sarah Wilcoxon, as well as guest artist Azaria Hogans from Texas Women’s University. Hogans is a specialist in West African dance.

The concert will, as it always does, cover a wide range of dance and musical styles. “Something for everyone,” promises Sara Brummel. The first piece, adapted by Sarah Wilcoxon, is called “Barn Raising Dance.” She adapted it from Michael Kidd’s original choreography for the 1954 film musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” “We have a lot of musical theater majors as well as dance majors who all dance,” says Sara Brummel, ‘and it’s fun for the dancers and the musical-theater majors to do something from that kind of style.”

In addition to choreographing one of the dances in the concert, Kendra Key is dancing in several of the offerings in “Sightlines,” including “Barn Raising Dance.” “The way that Sarah (Wilcoxon) has adapted it for the stage has made it such a fun environment. It honestly fills the theater with joy to watch us up there, just doing our thing.”

Sara Brummel goes for a more classical approach with her restaging of an excerpt from Marius Petipa’s 1881 ballet “Paquita,” to the music of 19th century ballet composer Leon Minkus. “I had two dancers in my Pointe class last semester who were very strong en pointe, so I wanted to feature that. It’s a piece that I’ve staged before.  It’s a full-length ballet but we’re just doing a very short excerpt.  I wanted to give them a chance to show their ballet skills and have fun with it. And the Minkus music, of course, is always fun.”

Next is a video dance number. Sarah Wilcoxon collaborated with videographer Quinlan Orear on a piece called “Sea Legs.” Kendra Key dance in this piece as well, along with another graduating MSU senior. She says it’s a project she and the other participants began last summer.  “It’s a take on some personal stories of ours, and it’s honestly one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of. It’s really kind of pushed me out of my comfort zone. Dancing for film is so different than dancing just for the stage.”

Following the filmed piece will be Kendra’s own work, “as we watch, they burn.” It originally premiered under the title “All Burns Down” in the MSU 2018 Fall Dance Concert—which, as Kendra notes “is typically student work.  My piece was selected out of that group of pieces to go to ACDA.  And that was such a big honor for me because I put my blood, sweat and tears into it. It was just amazing.  So from there it’s just been me detailing it and cleaning it, and just morphing it to be on a proscenium (stage), because originally it was in the black box theater. So we’ve had to mold our piece into something else. It’s a piece that’s taken all year to work on,” she laughs.

After that, the first of two pieces choreographed by guest artist Azaria Hogans, called “Amal.” Says Sara Brummel, “It’s a trio, very kind of post-modern… how do I describe it? It’s very image-based, and just interesting relationships between the three dancers, and it’s kind of intriguing!”

Ruth Barnes utilizes the manic, avant-garde player-piano compositions of 20th-century American composer Conlon Nancarrow for her piece “Quicksilver.” “That’s one of the pieces where we’re playing with sightlines,” says Sara Brummel. “We take out all of the masking on the stage, so you see all of the wings, the back (of the stage), everything that’s there. And they also have these little head lamps, and there’s fog, and it’s really quirky and grating—and also fun.”  It closes the first half of the concert.

The second half opens with Sara Brummel’s second piece, a more modern work based on Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” called “Songs of Ourselves.” It was originally a longer piece, first mounted by Brummel 10 or more years ago, she says—a 45-minute long “full-evening” work. “I wanted to look at condensing it and tightening it. And it’s been a labor of love. Some of the choreography is original, and some of it was kind of played with by the dancers and myself.” She has cut the piece down to a length of around 15 minutes.  It includes actors (coached by Ed Swidley) and singing, with music by Dylan Bassett. “It’s a real mixture of movement, dance, speaking, singing. I just love (Whitman’s) words—they just resonate so beautifully and so positively, even with the kind of dark undertones that are in there. And the students are just doing a wonderful job with it.”

Next is the second work by guest artist Azaria Hogans, “Greenhouse.” Says Brummel, “it’s a beautiful solo, danced by graduating senior Janae Hammond. Again, it’s just a luscious, beautiful homage to black womanhood.”

Then it’s “Students for Smooth Criminal,” a tap piece by Angi Black based on the Michael Jackson song “Smooth Criminal.” “It’s just really fun,” according to Sara Brummel, “really lively. Lots of people on stage making wonderful rhythms.”

The Spring Dance Concert concludes with Ruth Barnes’s “Last Dance, First Dance,” set to piano variations on British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ well-known work “Farewell to Stromness,” composed and played by MSU Jazz Piano instructor Kyle Aho. “Ruth (Barnes) fell in love with ‘Farewell to Stromness,’ but it wasn’t long enough for what she wanted to do,” explains Sara Brummel. (Peter Maxwell Davies’ work is under five minutes in length.) So Kyle (Aho), who’s brilliant, created variations on a theme. It’s for the graduating seniors in acting, dance and musical theater. They had approached Ruth about maybe doing a piece. Kendra (Key)’s also in that piece. It’s kind of like, “Okay, this is our last dance together… but this is maybe leading us to our first dance in the new direction that we’re going in.”

Performances of the MSU Spring Dance Concert are Thursday-Sat March 28-30 all at 7:30pm, and Sunday the 31st at 2:30pm in Coger Theater. Tickets range from $8 to $14 and are available at 836-7678 or at

Randy Stewart joined the full-time KSMU staff in June 1978 after working part-time as a student announcer/producer for two years. His job has evolved from Music Director in the early days to encompassing production of a wide range of arts-related programming and features for KSMU, including the online and Friday morning Arts News. Stewart assists volunteer producers John Darkhorse (Route 66 Blues Express), Lee Worman (The Gold Ring), and Emily Higgins (The Mulberry Tree) with the production of their programs. He's also become the de facto "Voice of KSMU" in recent years due to the many hours per day he’s heard doing local station breaks. Stewart’s record of service on behalf of the Springfield arts community earned him the Springfield Regional Arts Council's Ozzie Award in 2006.