Link to Florida Times-Union (Sun Community)
Creative duo Dewitt Cooper III and Savery Morgan
blessed Jacksonville with a phenomenal, ensemble dance performance on Sunday, June 19, 2011 at one of downtown’s new, eclectic venues at 111 E. Bay Street. The second story conclave of brick walls complemented by visual art from local artists was transformed into a riveting temple of lyricism and power before a packed house that confirmed the First Coast has both a genuine thirst for performing arts and a talent base that delivers.
At The Gates celebrated expressive and limitless human form from lines and balance to aerial awe that defied gravity. Through eight original works, 20th century concert dance progressively traveled with triumph and strength as a multicultural ensemble modeled the freedom and fluidity made famous by Martha Graham to the West Indian influences of Katherine Dunham’s polyrhythmic fusion of continual movement. Also present were the techniques of Lester Horton, Jose Limon, and Merce Cunningham.
Grounded in groove and contemporary in approach, Gates was inspired by the positive transition Cooper and company members are currently experiencing.
“We wanted to set a piece that represented moving through life and being at the threshold of change, “ offered Cooper. The monumental work marks the fifth season the energetic pair has offered a mainstage concert in conjunction with their summer dance intensive held at The Performers Academy (Beach Blvd) under the direction of Kezia Hendrix-Rolle. Forty students – ages 8 to 23 – were placed into two, separate levels and trained from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. over three weeks in the rudiments of French and Russian ballet, modern and repertory classes in preparation for a July 1st performance at LaVilla School of the Arts (Admission: $5.00).
Twelve year-old Kaila Justice is a summer scholarship student who has a promising modeling career, but continued to hone her dance technique at the intensive. “I really feel that Mr. Savery challenges me during ballet class and it makes me want to be better and work harder, “ said Justice.
The precocious beauty looks forward to her upcoming performance, but admittedly hates stretching and conditioning class and defers on the turkey sandwiches they occasionally served for lunch. Preferred by Justice are chicken nuggets accompanied by milk and fruit, plus an afternoon snack.
“Kaila is one of those kids who proved me wrong,” said Morgan. “She has grown by leaps and bounds this summer and is by the far our most improved student.”
Most summer intensive students were present when Gates opened with Thank you Mr. Fagan, a choreographic tribute to Cooper’s mentor Garth Fagan (Lion King). Set to music by Portico Quartet, long, linear limbs merged with playful palms, fists, and the fun flexing of feet, as diverse duos emphasized how art and relationship coexist: often lateral, quickly moving and leaping, but never standing still.
Alvarez featured Morgan bare-chest and denim jeans clad paired with recent Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (DASOTA) graduate Hillary Bodin in a sensual Pas De Deux performed en Pointe. The duet’s performance challenged the rigid constraints of classical ballet and served as a calm segue to guest choreographer Kavin Grant’s impressive Testimony. The spirited work served as its own testament to how six men in black, neck ties, and two women give volume and voice to innovative staging, spatiality, and angles.
New World Miami graduate Julie Williams choreographed a moving rendition thematic of Ragtime the Musical. Pride featured Cooper in a interpretive, theatrical solo followed by LASOTA Dance Chair, Michelle Ottley-Fisher’s emotive Pedersi set to new music by R&B legend, Prince. Fisher’s three couples included former Jaguars “Roar” cheerleader, Dawn Schlosser partnered with talented newcomer Samuel Hills who journeyed a complex story of how love and not so love figuratively rises above highs and low and dominance and yield. The parallelism was aptly portrayed with passion, agility, and intense floor work.
Prior to a 10-minute intermission, honors were bestowed upon Kezia S. Rolle for the support she consistently provides her former students. “What a stimulating performance! Cooper Morgan supplies Jacksonville with a home for professional level dancers. We have needed a company of this caliber of a long time. It’s about time,” said Rolle.
“I am proud to watch the JCA influence and remember training 80% of the company as beginners. It’s so interesting to watch the dancers perform and showcase their technique and level of expertise. I am truly a proud momma and wish the company longevity and success,” she added.
Also honored for artistic mentoring was JCA instructor and former Martha Graham Company Member Suzanne Saltmarsh who offered, “I believe that dance transcends cultural, economic, and religious beliefs and has the power to communicate on an international level. It can reach students of all ages, and all backgrounds to create a more informed and aware community that strives to benefit from one another.”
JM Family Enterprise was recognized for serving as the sole, Gold level sponsor; however, several contributors helped the production on a Platinum level including Carol Alexander, Executive Director of the Ritz Theatre and LaVilla Museum, Barlow Orthodontics, Libby Smith, Debra Smith (Atlanta, Ga.), Dale Turner (Los Angeles, California), and the philanthropic generosity of Charles and Luis Schlosser. Bronze level contributors included Dontecia Seymoure Genny Lis Padilla (New York, NY) and Paul and Tracie Parsons.
Following Tribute, a female quartet by Julie Williams, Gabriel’s Army took stage and was the evening’s most fully-realized work as a collaborative effort of Morgan and DASOTA alumnae David Freeland, both of whom also performed.
Gabriel earned an audience ovation for the weightless calisthenics of eight, war-ready men dressed in silhouettes of sheer white pants and leotards. With command, Wesley McIntryre (University of North Carolina School of the Arts) and Joshua Abbott (Jacksonville University) captivated the stage with larger than life extended leaps, flashing infra-red lighting, and storied precision, while Freeland’s vigor, strength, and keen sense of musicality proved why he was sought by the SUNY Purchase dance department and is destined for professional success.
The evening closed with the dynamic, signature finale At The Gates which was performed in six movements and set to original music by Ohio composer Alex Cooke. Thematic to CooperMorgan’s goal to unravel the conflict that transition brings, the stark contrast of night and day was conveyed through absolute costuming in black or white. The measured contributions of featured luminaries Kelsey Dickerson (Jacksonville University) and Michael Supado Brown helped temper and pace the anchoring movements: Prologue and Redemption. Dressed in white, the two earlier partnered in Ottley-Fisher’s Perdersi.
Julie Williams performed breathlessly in the fourth movement, At The Gates: for better, for worse. Dunham technique was prevalent as West African dance influences helped simulate artistic battle to define conflict versus resolution and the constricted movement that precedes transition’s emotional escape. DASOTA students Carmen Cage and Ashlee Williams more than held their own as the company’s youngest performers along with the refreshing breakout performances by Tyveze Littlejohn and Akeem Edwards, both of whom are new to CooperMorgan.
New heights are inevitable for CooperMorgan as they each transition to new artistic ventures. Cooper will soon perform on Norweigian Cruise Lines following the April close of his run on Broadway’s national tour of In The Heights. Currently, he performs in Walt Disney World’s Finding Nemo, and is a trailblazer who is the first African American male to graduate from the Musical Theatre Program at Florida State University and also the first male of his race to earn a MFA in Contemporary Dance from Case Western Reserve University. Morgan’s path includes training and performing with Florida Ballet, Dance Theatre Harlem, Greensboro Ballet, and Atlanta Ballet, and he is enjoying his sixth season as a company member of Atlanta’s Ballethnic. Each are a symbol of artistic pride, both have impressive performance resumes, and collectively they are examples of how focus and discipline keep CooperMorgan Dance Theatre on the threshold of success.
Savery Morgan – Mr. King
Kaila Justice – Blue Francois (Blue Franswa FotograFia)
Suzanne Saltmarsh – Doug Eng
All performance photos: Mike Erdeyli
Penny Dickerson 2011