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Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre showcases diverse talent

Caroline Japal

Caroline Japal

Elizabeth Thiel

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By Elizabeth Thiel | Assistant Culture Editor

The dancers of the Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre have been working toward this week all semester. After over a month of rehearsals, ARDT will open its 25th season on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

The show presents modern, original works and stagings of classical pieces. Though acts for ARDT are traditionally choreographed by UA faculty, this show’s choreographers include guest artists and even a student dancer. For dancers of ARDT, adaptation is key.

Professor Cornelius Carter, artistic director of ARDT, said the program is intended to expose students to a wide range of styles. 

“Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre was a pre-professional company that I started when I started working here as the director of the dance program,” he said. “It was a program that was designed to prepare students for the professional world.”

That vision is realized as graduates find success in the competitive world of performance. Carter shared that several former students of the program now work in the hit musical “Hamilton,” in the Radio City Rockettes and on cruise lines.

Sarah Barry, an associate professor of dance, is staging a modern piece inspired by Alabama jazz artist Sun Ra. For her, improvisation skills and mental flexibility are essential to training prepared dancers. 

“We really promote being a well-rounded dancer, so we like for our students to be able to do the classical ballet and do improvisation in the modern piece, or go from the Afro-jazz contemporary ballet,” Barry said. “But we also look for students who are just open to working in a variety of ways, because all of the choreographers really do work in very different ways.”

Barry hopes audiences appreciate the hard work demanded of faculty and students, especially given the program’s limited time frame. Auditions took place the first day of classes, and dancers have balanced tight schedules to learn multiple, diverse pieces. 

Kendall Niblett, a junior majoring in dance, is featured in four pieces in this semester’s ARDT alone, all of them in varying styles. Years of competitions and quick turn-arounds make the switch second nature to him.

Featured styles range from African dance to classical ballet, modern and jazz. Versatility extends to the show’s visual designs as well with elaborate costumes and technical aspects. One piece even features pyrotechnic special effects. 

“It’s appealing to more than just dancers and artistic beings this time,” Niblett said. “It’s more relatable to people to don’t watch dance consistently.”

Madison Fendley, a senior dance and political science major, will have her original choreography showcased as well as perform in the faculty’s pieces. Fendley spent her summer in New York getting exposure to the professional world. Her piece, “The Ascension,” was originally presented at the Broadway Dance Center’s professional semester showcase. 

The piece tracks a girl’s path through life, death and the afterlife. 

“For me, it’s a very spiritual piece and about what will hopefully happen to me one day,” Fendley said. “We spent a lot of time in the rehearsal process, in New York and also here, talking about the story and figuring out … little things that could help every person in the piece connect to it, one way or the other.”

The addition of student choreography isn’t the only change. ARDT features guest choreographers Kavin Grant and James Atkinson, Jr., assistant professors of dance at Alabama State University. The two programs are participating in a collaborative project, with UA faculty like Barry also teaching their work at Alabama State. 

“Their pieces were a lot different from the normal ARDT process,” Fendley said of the guest choreographers. “We had to learn all of the choreography vocabulary from one person and then rehearse it with another.” 

Instead of being overwhelmed, she found the change of pace a valuable learning experience.  

A rich learning experience extends past the performers. As opposed to a more formal concert environment or abstract approach, this production promises an uplifting and informative evening for spectators. Both Fendley and Niblett describe the show as a diverse, entertaining outreach to audience members of all backgrounds. 

“If you’re not familiar with dance, or if you are, it covers everything, and you get a night of everything dance you could ever want,” Fendley said. 

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Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre showcases diverse talent