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When UMD’s dance concert “Off the Record” hits the mainstage this weekend, it will be both an unveiling and a homecoming.
Offering 12 dance pieces brought to life by a dozen choreographers and a dozen live musical acts, “Off the Record” is an explosion of a production. It’s apropos that it's the fruition of a larger rehearsal space, UMD’s new dance studio. Located a floor below the old studio in the Marshall Performing Arts Center (MPAC), it gives dancers 30 more feet for a full-range of motion.
For the MPAC’s first 39 years, dancers practiced in a space that was smaller than the stage. “We would make things in this space, and we’d have to expand it once we got on stage. It impacted how we trained our actors, and how they performed,” explains Rebecca Katz Harwood, the show’s artistic director and associate professor in the theatre department.
The formal movement towards a new dance studio started about 2 1/2 years ago, but students have been lobbying for an expanded space for much longer than that. Rebecca says that course evaluations have included comments like, “A bigger dance studio, please” for years.
When Bill Payne became the dean of the School of Fine Arts in 2011, he heard the pleas and gathered a team. “He really kept everyone’s feet to the fire in terms of making this happen, and in a very positive, warm, collaborative way,” says Rebecca.
In two years, the team raised the $150,000 needed. "The new dance studio was created through a partnership with TCF Bank, individual donors, facilities management, and the John and Mary Gonska Fund,” says Bill. “Public private partnerships are helping upgrade our facilities, many of which are in need of significant renovation. Completing this space was vital to the long term health of our theatre and dance programs."
After the financing was established, the construction team got to work. Senior Engineer Mike Swanson led a facilities management crew that, he admits, was just outside of their comfort zone in a dance studio. "Those guys weren't real comfortable at first, but they really cared about the end result and are proud of the finished product." Peek inside the studio's cabinets and you'll see evidence of that care. Learning that the cabinets would be used to store swords for stage battle practice, the carpenters went beyond the basic plans and added individual slots for them to be safely tucked away.
Grace Holden graduated last semester with a minor in dance and a degree in communication. She’s taking a few more classes at UMD while participating in “Off the Record,” which is giving her the experience she needs for grad school, her next step.
Her involvement is heavy. Grace says she’s investing 40 hours a week in the production as the performance nears, which is to be expected given how much she’s doing: Dancing in two pieces, choreographing one, and playing the trumpet with her band Red Mountain in another. This breadth of experience is what Grace appreciates about UMD. “My education at UMD had smaller groups which meant that I could do more exploring, and I had a closer relationship with my professors. At a bigger school, it would have been harder to be heard.”
As Grace begins transitioning into professional performance, "Off the Record" gives her the opportunity to perform in a piece choreographed by one of the world's best-known percussive dancers, Max Pollack. Max is also performing in the show, adding one more ingredient to the show's impressive mix of live music, choreographers, set designers, costumers, professionals, faculty, and students working together with the singular goal of leaving their audience astounded.
|Rebecca Katz Harwood performing with the Duluth Ballet in the late 1970s and today|
For years, a box of VHS tapes collected dust in artistic director Rebecca Katz Harwood's office, a time capsule that captured dance performances going back to 1980. Student Alex Goebel dusted off the box and edited three hours worth of video and into a 10-minute montage that will be shown during Saturday's show. A special alumni dance will also be performed on Saturday, complete with lighting designed by alumni Colin Riebel.
The video and the alumni performance will showcase the strong history of UMD's dance program, but for Rebecca, roots at MPAC are even deeper.
The spotlight will turn to Rebecca for two "Off the Record" pieces; she's choreographed one and will dance in another. When she takes the stage, her life as a performer will have come full circle. Duluthians may remember when the Minnesota Ballet was the Duluth Ballet and the troupe performed at MPAC. Those in the audience in the 1970s may have noticed a little brunette, dancing her heart out. It was Rebecca, who danced with the Duluth Ballet, "I was born and raised here. The first ballet performance that I saw was at MPAC, and the first performances that I did were at MPAC." This, she says, is where she fell in love with dancing.
Rebecca calls this concert both a contribution to and a reminder of MPAC's dance legacy. "I dedicate this concert to all the dancers who have graced this stage and all those who are yet to come."
WHAT: UMD Theatre OFF THE RECORD Dance Concert, featuring all new dances to all live music
WHEN: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. | Sunday at 2 p.m., Feb. 20 through the 23, 2014 with special Alumni Events as part of the Saturday evening show
WHERE: MPAC Mainstage, 1215 Ordean Court
TICKETS: Adults: $18; Senior 62+: $13; UMD Faculty/Staff: $15; Student: $8; UMD Student: $6
Available online or by calling 218-726-8561
Learn more about "Off the Record" in this video by UMD student Topaz Cooks
Story by Lori C. Melton
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