Friday, April 30, 2010

From the Denton Record Chronicle

Movement afoot
‘Blessed’ be the upcoming faculty dance recital
11:04 AM CDT on Thursday, April 29, 2010

The music for Bebe Miller’s “Blessed” is unabashed, a cappella gospel, with praise to God belted out toward the heavens. But dance professor Sarah Gamblin said the moves fired up by the music are spiritual food for Everyman.

Photo courtesy the UNT Department of Dance and Theatre
Dancers perform a portion of “Migration,” by UNT dance teacher Ellie Leonhardt, at the faculty dance concert in 2009.

The piece for eight dancers is one of four works in “Closer to the Earth and Sky,” the faculty dance concert opening at 8 p.m. today and running this weekend at the University of North Texas.

“The music is beautiful,” said Gamblin, an associate professor of dance at Texas Woman’s University and an alumna of the Bebe Miller Company. “It makes you want to sing. It makes you want to move.”

Miller, an Ohio-based dancer, choreographer and dance evangelist, set the piece to songs by the Cafe of the Gate of Salvation, an Australian a cappella gospel choir. For Miller, the chorus was a soundtrack to put bodies in flight. For Gamblin, the music is but an ingredient of the piece that asks dancers and audience to let go of restriction and restraint — both spiritual and physical — and reach for the stratosphere.

UNT lecturer Ellie Leonhardt invited Gamblin to teach UNT dancers “Blessed.” Gamblin danced the piece herself with Miller’s company, where she was a member from 1993 to 2000. Miller visited Denton for two days to join Gamblin in setting the dance on the students, rebuilding the dance from two videos.

“The movement flows from the chest, and the arms, moving from the heart — not just the chest, necessarily, but from the heart. Bebe choreographs dance by asking where the dance comes from, and in this piece, it’s the heart — to above. That’s what the whole concert is trying to do, explore the connection we have to the ground to what’s above,” Gamblin said.

Miller’s choreography is informed by contact improvisation, a dance form that demands each performer connect with another’s body — be it hand to hand, torso to leg or hand to foot — and follow where the body wants to go. It’s a playful form of choreography and lends itself to visual fireworks, with dancers colliding or propelling one another.

Gamblin said Miller’s piece affects a universal appeal.

“It is gospel music, but this isn’t a religious piece at all. It is spiritual, though. At least I think so,” she said. “There’s a lot of warmth and care. Its lush and sensuous.”

The concert also features: the premiere of “The Eclipse Project Part 2” by UNT professor Mary Lyn Babcock; “Not Withstanding” Part 1 and the premiere of Part 2 by Leonhardt; and “Choking the Earth? Just Take Off Those Clothes and Join the Water, in D-Flat” a revision of the 2009 premiere by UNT professor Shelley Cushman.

Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the University Theatre in the Radio, Television, Film and Performing Arts Building, located at the corner of Welch and Chestnut streets. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $7.50 for students, UNT faculty/staff and seniors. Call 940-565-2428.

—Lucinda Breeding