Montclair State Dancers Climb Every Mountain!

Noted New York-based choreographer, Doug Elkins, has been working with students from Montclair State University’s dance program throughout the academic year. In the fall, Elkins choreographed a new work specifically for dance students at Montclair State: “She could never remember which was better…safe…or sorry…” The choreography, which included music by Björk and The Cornelius Brothers, featured a rollicking sense of humor and “fresh” social dance moves. A video excerpt is available to view on Peak Performances’ blogazine, Insite. Students performed “She could never remember...” at the dance program’s annual showcase, Works-a-Foot, last December.

This week, Elkins returns with his company, Doug Elkins and Friends, for Fräulein Maria March 25th -28th at the Alexander Kasser Theater. Fräulein Maria riffs off of the character of Maria from The Sound of Music and themes of identity and cultural exchange explored in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic— via cavorting nuns, “vogueing” boys, and the odd reference to George Balanchine, Martha Graham, and José Limón. The production debuted at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater as part of the Dancemopolitan series in 2006 and has developed a fun-loving, cult following with every subsequent incarnation. (Further attested by critical acclaim like this, from The New York Times: "a mini-masterpiece... encompassing everything that is brilliant about Mr. Elkins' choreography")

After working with students from the dance program at Montclair State last fall, Elkins chose five dancers to perform a specific part of the upcoming Fräulein Maria, with his company: “The Lonely Goatherd Dance.” The students—Talia Pelle, Gregory Osborne, Kristin VanDeventer, Sharrod Williams, and Elaine Gutierrez— workshopped Elkins’ choreography in two, three-hour long rehearsals this week with the company’s rehearsal instructors Krista Racho Jansen and Gui Greene.

This isn’t the first time that professional choreographers have worked with MSU students as part of the Peak Performances @Montclair series. Recently, students from the dance program at MSU performed with Lula Washington Dance Theatre, for the world premiere of “WWW.CONNECTIONS.2010.” David Gordon’s fall production of UNCIVIL WARS: MOVING W/BRECHT & EISLER also included students from the dance and theater studies programs, alongside members of the Montclair community.

“Working with Doug Elkins and his assistant Krista has been a very enlightening experience," Sharrod Williams, a third-year student dancing onstage in Fräulein Maria said. "Mr. Elkins’ process is very different and unique in that he utilizes all resources, from the dancers' ability and creativity, to create work that is so interesting to watch! In addition, his youthful spirit makes rehearsals so much fun! It is one of the most inspiring experiences to work with the company members now on Fräulein Maria. I am very excited to perform with the company.”

In addition to the students’ efforts onstage, Kristen Hariton, a theatre studies major, had the opportunity to work closely with Amy Cassello, the General Manager for Fräulein Maria. Hariton, who is also a third-year student at Montclair State, has assisted with the scheduling of  the students in Fräulein Maria rehearsals and worked on merchandising for the company's concession— in addition to helping the company’s New York-based cast navigate campus. “Having Kristen around gives me a rare chance to delegate. The show looks good because there’s a team behind the scenes, tending to details,” Cassello explained.

For students, this is a unique opportunity to work on and offstage as part of a professional, critically acclaimed company and to gain experience with a successful arts organization off campus. Aside from choreographers brought to campus by Peak Performances– like Lula Washington, David Gordon, and Doug Elkins—the Department of Theatre and Dance has invited choreographers such as Robert Battle and Donald McKayle to teach and set choreography with dance students. (Some of which will be featured in the upcoming Danceworks 2010: April 7th through the 11th at the Alexander Kasser Theater.)

“These students looked particularly wonderful in the work he set on MSU dance majors this past fall," Lori Katterhenry, director of the dance program at Montclair State said. "They all are great at improvisation and pick up movement quickly. Doug was drawn to their artistic maturity and their ability to make his quirky, eclectic movements their own.”

For Doug Elkins, the production's choreographer: “The biggest challenge for me in using the dancers from the Montclair State program was narrowing it down to only five!”

Fräulein Maria opens Thursday, March 25th at 7:30 and continues through the weekend. Tickets and further information about the production are available at: www.peakperfs.org or via telephone at 973.655.5112. No charge for Montclair State University undergraduates with valid ID: tickets available for pick up at the Alexander Kasser Theater Box Office.