Curtains Up!

Students take the stage for exciting music, theatre and dance performances

Photo: Mike Peters

Even as the semester winds down, the curtain is going up on a packed schedule of concerts, dance and theatrical performances by talented Montclair State students.

“We have so many terrific opportunities right here on campus for our student performers – whether they are appearing on stage as musicians, dancers or actors,” says College of the Arts Dean Daniel Gurskis. “Because we are so close to New York City, our students can learn from the celebrated performers and artists who regularly visit our programs.”

Hitting the high notes
A case in point: a nearly weeklong visit by leading American composer Morten Lauridsen. The National Medal of Arts recipient and University composer-in-residence is working extensively with John J. Cali School of Music students in the week before the choral ensembles’ winter concert on Saturday, November 23.

“We have him working with individual student composers and interacting with our four major ensembles – Chorale, University Singers, Wind Symphony and Symphonic Band,” says music professor and Director of Choral Activities Heather Buchanan.

The Vocal Accord choral group, as well as five student finalists in the inaugural Cali Choral Composition Competition, also are scheduled for time with the National Endowment of the Arts “American Choral Master.”

In addition to the winter concert, a concert of Lauridsen’s solo and chamber music was presented on November 20. “During the course of his visit, Lauridsen will be in contact with the vast majority of Cali School faculty and students,” Buchanan notes.

C.J. Harden, a countertenor who is pursuing a master’s degree in Performance: Voice will be singing with both the Montclair State University Chorale and Montclair State University Singers at the winter concert. “Dr. Lauridsen has written some of the greatest choral works I have had the pleasure of performing,” he says. “I’m excited to perform Dr. Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna and Nocturnes at the winter concert with him in the audience!”

“I never could have imagined that I would one day get to meet Dr. Lauridsen and work with him so intimately,” says senior Christina McCall. “To get to work with the composer and feel his intention is an experience beyond words. And we get to do that here at Montclair State!”

Performance opportunities for Cali School students are almost limitless. This semester alone, Harden has performed in seven concerts as a member of the Chorale, Singers and Vocal Accord. “I’ve also enjoyed the opportunities we’ve had to perform outside of the University. Most recently, we were invited to sing selections of music from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda video games at the Theater at Madison Square Garden,” Harden says.

McCall agrees. “At the Cali School, I am amazed that every year there are countless new opportunities,” she says. “Last year alone, I toured Europe with the Vocal Accord group and it was by far the best experience of my life.”

Harden relishes the opportunities available to him as a solo performer. “In December, I’ll perform the roll of Ariodante from Handel’s opera Ariodante in a program of opera scenes directed by Professor Jeffrey Gall.” On Saturday, December 7, the Opera Workshop will present “Opera’s Dysfunctional Families,” a program of staged opera scenes featuring families in strained relationships.

An invitation to the dance
For more than 20 years, University dancers have performed in Works-A-Foot programs. Running from December 4-8, Works-A-Foot will showcase dance works by such choreographers as Andrea Miller, Claire Porter and faculty Earl Mosley, Kathleen Kelley, Tyler Gilstrap, Maxine Steinman and Jessica DiMauro.

“This year, we have all 100 plus dance majors performing in the show. We double cast a lot of the dances so more students can have an opportunity to work with these wonderful choreographers,” explains Professor Lori Katterhenry, who is the director of dance for the University’s Division of Dance as well as the artistic director for the Montclair State University Repertory Dance Company.

“As a dancer in today’s world, where performance opportunities can be few and far between, having the opportunity to perform works by world-renowned choreographers in concerts like Works-A-Foot is truly a blessing,” says senior Tracy Dunbar. “Dancers learn most about themselves while onstage in performance. Having these opportunities lets us grow exponentially as artists.”

For Dunbar, the opportunity to work with leading choreographers like Bill T. Jones, who most recently visited campus on November 9 to coach students who will be performing his Spent Days Out Yonder in an April Danceworks concert, is what stands out most about his college career. “They have given me tools that I will take with me wherever I go and that will help me build a successful career in any field of my choosing,” he says.

Julie Cullen, who hopes to pursue a career as a concert modern dancer after graduation, agrees: “The choreographers and company members that come to Montclair State create a professional environment for the dancers, which teaches us the value of a mental and physical commitment to the movement and art form.”

This year’s Works-A-Foot concert will be Dunbar’s last performance as a dance major. “I look forward to performing with all of my fellow dancers one last time and hope to end my time here on a high note,” he says.

There’s no business like show business
December 6 is opening night at the L. Howard Fox Theatre for Falsettos, which will run through December 11. Falsettos is an award-winning, through-sung musical by William Finn, author of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

“Students benefit from Falsettos in two ways,” says Musical Theatre Professor Joe Joyce, who is the show’s director. “Finn’s music is incredibly detailed and complex, requiring that all student cast members be at the top of their game musically and vocally.”

Students have also learned about HIV and AIDS, because Falsettos is about the early years of the epidemic. “My cast and our student designers and crew have been inspired to take direct responsibility for their own well-being and that of their family, friends and community,” Joyce adds. A section of the famous AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display at the University’s Memorial Auditorium beginning December 5.

Between 60 and 70 students are working on the production. “We have six students in the cast, four in the orchestra, 10 student designers, two student stage managers and 10-15 in the running crew. Almost 40 students have worked on the scene painting of the set design by student, Tim DiGregorio” Joyce says.

According to Joyce, DiGregorio’s design pays homage to the artist Keith Haring, who died in 1990 of AIDS-related complications. “Tim was able to get a wealth of information and inspiration about Haring from his good friend, Bill T. Jones.”

Theatre students have ample exposure to working professionals. Montclair State alumnus Rob McClure, who received a Tony nod for his performance in Broadway’s Chaplin, recently gave a master class on campus for musical theatre and acting majors.

Joyce fully expects all six of the Montclair State student cast members in Falsettos to pursue careers in musical theatre. “Our seventh cast member, twelve-year-old Jacob Tall is an excellent young actor who is already interested in majoring in musical theatre at Montclair State. I believe he, too, will pursue a professional career.”

Montclair State is clearly preparing tomorrow’s stars today. “At Montclair State, we truly get to do it all,” concludes McCall. “The way I get to experience it all here is a tremendous honor that I plan on making the most of.”

For a full schedule of upcoming music, dance and theater performances, visit Arts Calendar.