Winter Dance Concert features MSSD dancers and guest companies
February 7-9, 2013
The Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) hosted its 31st annual winter dance concert, Gotta Dance, from February 7-9, bringing to the stage of the Theatre Malz the talented student dancers and an array of guest companies.
This year MSSD students worked with professional choreographers and one student choreographer to create eight original new dance numbers. Woven around those dances were performances from eight guest companies-from large ensemble productions to small groups-presenting in styles ranging from classical and modern dance to hip hop and street dance.
When MSSD launched its first dance concerts in 1981, it was a radical new idea to bring together amateur and professional dancers and choreographers, deaf and hearing, to showcase dances from classical, to modern, to street dances. At this year's dance concert, the dance instructor who started it all, Marcia Freeman, returned to the Theatre Malz to perform with some of her former students.
This year's concert also marked a significant anniversary in the MSSD dance program: when Freeman and a group of nine MSSD students took a two-week trip to Senegal, West Africa, in 1993-a trip that changed the life of each of the participants.
"We were thrilled that to honor this occasion, some of the members of the tour came back to perform West African-inspired dances and to share video and photos from that historic trip," said Freeman. The trip to Senegal was done in collaboration with the KanKouran West African Dance Company (who performed at this year's concert) and Pennvisions Dance Theater.
To celebrate the trip, Freeman, Dr. Carol Penn, Fred Beam, and MSSD alumni Mervin Primeaux and Ronnie Bradley premiered a new work at the concert called "Human Heart" to reflect their love of African dance and culture and to showcase photos from the Senegal trip. Primeaux, MSSD '95, who has become an established professional dancer, wanted to reflect in "Human Heart" his experience of the Senegalese people. In that dry and dusty country, he found warmth and generosity of people who prided themselves on hospitality and who wanted to share whatever they had. "I grew up in the projects in a small town in Louisiana, and visiting Senegal made me realize I was not the only one with struggles. I felt a connection in my heart with these people for their dignity. I wanted to reflect the history of Africa in my choreography."
One of the most memorable experiences on the Senegal trip was a visit to Goree Island, where the slave ships departed for America. The current MSSD students honored that experience with the show's powerful opening number, "Africa: A Freedom Ship to America," choreographed by MSSD alumnus Ronnie Bradley.
One of the traditions of the MSSD Performing Arts Program is to pass on the knowledge from one generation of students to the next. The alumni who return to the stage offer encouragement and guidance to the current students as they make plans to pursue their own dreams. This year's alumni participants in addition to Primeaux and Bradley, included Ameena Patterson, Wade Green, and Michelle Banks. MSSD student Melanie Hubbard choreographed a piece for the show called "Work It." She was grateful to Yola Rozynek, artistic director of the winter dance concert, for the opportunity. "I never thought I'd have the chance as a student to do my own choreography for the concert."
From the beginning, the dance concerts have been designed to open up the world of dance to deaf and hard of hearing students through opportunities to perform and create dance with and alongside deaf and hearing professionals-to try out and learn new dance styles from cultures around the world-the United States, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. From the seeds of an idea 31 years ago, today's MSSD students use the Theatre Malz as a practice stage for future life performances.