This March, I traveled with the Joffrey Ballet Concert Group from NYC to Norfolk, Virginia where we were guest artists for the 11th Regional High School Dance Festival. It was an unexpected and incredible experience I wish I had been aware of during my high school days.
For four days, over 1,000 high school students and their dance teachers attend guest performances, workshops, lectures and auditions. College and university dance departments from all over the country send recruiters to take part in an informational college fair and audition students for their programs as well as available scholarship opportunities. I cannot imagine a better way for dancers to get a hands-on look at the amazing opportunities available to them after high school.
My company was privileged to open the festival on March 5th, 2015. We performed an exiting and diverse program that included George Balanchine’s “Serenade, Davis Robertson’s “Eclecticism, and Stacy Caddell’s “Twin Souls.” It was undoubtedly the most fun I have ever had performing on stage…an audience of over 1,000 dancers supporting you with their infectious energy simply cannot be surpassed! Each time we ran off stage into the wings we had huge smiles plastered on our faces and could not wait to get back out there to experience the incredible high again.
We closed the show with our company favorite, Gerald Arpino’s “Light Rain,” a sensuous and seductive work set to New Age American belly dancing music, performed in nude full-body unitards. “Light Rain” has been a signature Joffrey piece since its premiere in 1981. I can only imagine how shocking it was then! As the curtain rose to reveal our quintessential opening “tree,” the audience erupted into screams. As soon as the curtain rose for us to take our bow, the entire audience jumped to its feet, giving us the most exhilarating standing ovation I have ever experienced.
Even more rewarding than that final standing ovation, however, was the community outreach the festival had us perform while in Virginia. For three days prior to our big show, we traveled to local high schools to give them a taste of our current repertoire. At Kemps Landing/Old Donation Middle School we performed in a small studio for the Gifted Dance program, a program designed for students grades three through eight who learn better kinesthetically. One of the pieces we performed was Robert Battle’s “Battlefield.” It is an aggressive and extremely physical work danced barefoot to African Drum music. In it, we survive on adrenaline as we stomp, fall and run for 20 minutes straight. In the final movement, we scream not because we’re supposed too but because we have too! It is not uncommon for some of the dancers to get sick after finishing.
Looking out at the 50-student audience sitting on the floor in front of us and seeing the young girls stare in awe and try to imitate our dance moves pushed exhaustion to the back of our minds. We were no longer performing just to make it through. This time we were performing for them and with them. At the end, we were smothered by a huge group hug and during the question and answer session afterwards, one of the little girls raised her hand and asked, “Where has this been all my life?” There is nothing more rewarding than knowing that you have touched and potentially changed someone’s life.