From Studio to Stage

College of the Arts dance alumni find success as professional artists

Photo: Mike Peters

Dance alumnus Mark Willis ’14 performing his own work, “Save Me,” at the Kasser Theater in February 2014.

Taking the leap from dance student to working artist can be daunting, but Montclair State University Dance alumni have proven that with the right combination of determination, hard work, and making your alma mater a source of inspiration, your career can take flight.

Department of Theatre and Dance alumni have been making strides as professional dancers, from performing on stage with venerated companies like Pilobolus Dance Theater to Paul Taylor 2, touring the nation and globe, to giving back to their communities by teaching and inspiring students of dance.

Recent graduate Mark Willis ’14 joined the José Limón Dance Company in 2015 and has been busy performing at Lincoln Center and in Lima, Peru. “I owe much of my success within the past year to the exceptional faculty at Montclair State University. I honestly would not have the opportunities I have today without their guidance and support.”

As a student, Mark worked with guest artists Bill T. Jones and Richard Alston and performed at the American College Dance Festival, the Kennedy Center, and the 92nd Street Y. Mark, who is also a choreographer, has demonstrated his diverse talents by “putting a high value on personal expression whether in the classroom or on the Kennedy Center stage,” says Dance Professor Lorraine Katterhenry of Mark’s abilities.

The Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company recently named their newest member, and it is alumnus Johnny Vorsteg ’12, who described his first year at Montclair State as “a huge ingredient to my Paul Taylor journey.” Johnny learned Taylor’s work, Company B, during his first semester at Montclair State, and after graduation he became a dedicated student and scholarship recipient at the Paul Taylor School. In June 2015, he was hand-selected to join the renowned group and is set to give his first performance with the company in July.

Johnny had initially thought to pursue a career in musical theatre and had transferred from the dance conservatory at New York University. “The dance faculty at Montclair State as a whole really understood me as an artist, and it was just what I needed at the time,” shared Johnny. “I was exposed to a vast array of styles, and worked with notable choreographers such as Larry Keigwin and Chase Brock.” That is proof that his years of study, training and hard work have paid off. Johnny’s words of wisdom to pass onto students are: “There is a world of opportunity after graduation, and when it comes to performance, how you prepare is how you perform.” For more information about Johnny’s first performance with Paul Taylor 2 at The Yard on Martha’s Vineyard, visit The Yard.

“If it weren't for the connections and opportunities given to me while I was a student, I wouldn't have had that life-changing chance,” says Donna Scro ’91, alumna and artistic director of her own dance company, Freespace Dance. Her life-altering opportunity came during the final weeks as a student at Montclair State when she became a member of the Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Company and began performing in Italy just six weeks after graduation. Within her 20-year-long career as an internationally touring dancer, educator and choreographer, Donna also returned to teach dance at Montclair State for over 10 years.

Alumnus Gaspard Louis ’92, who initially came to campus to study business, took his first ever dance class in Life Hall, and it changed his life. “Being very shy, my professors Lori Katterhenry and Geri Beaumont encouraged me to do my best and helped me along the way,” says Gaspard, who danced with the innovative Pilobolus Dance Theatre for 10 years. He is currently a teacher with the year-round outreach program at the American Dance Festival, and the artistic director and choreographer of his own dance company, Gaspard and Dancers. His company will present a world premiere at Pace University in September 2015. The dance celebrates the spirit and resilience of the people of Gaspard’s native country, Haiti, after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

“My professor, Maxine Steinman, encouraged me to audition for the Isadora Duncan Dance Company six years ago and I have been with them ever since,” explained alumna Kim D'Agnese ’08. The company, directed by Lori Belilove, is the resident performing company of the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation.

“The versatility and the encouragement for exploration at Montclair State pushed me to do many things after graduation,” says Kim. As a member of the company, Kim tours as a teacher and performer, bringing the Duncan technique to university dance programs across the nation.

“Go and pursue your dreams,” is her advice, and with her dance education, experience, commitment and love of her craft, she and her fellow alumni are doing just that.