TURNING POINTS

Danscompany celebrates 30 years and features ‘The Wiz'


Danscompany of Gainesville's 30th anniversary performance at the Phillips Center on Saturday includes “The Wiz,” which features Emilee Bell, left, and Taylor Laffey dancing the lead role of Dorothy respectively at 7 and 1:30 p.m. (Courtesy of Danscompany of Gainesville)

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 12:59 p.m.

Saturday marks a milestone for Danscompany of Gainesville, as it celebrates 30 years with this weekend's annual Spring Concert.

The production opens with “Dancing Thru the Decades,” an assortment of eight ensemble works. The program then features its hugely popular dance rendition of “The Wiz.”

Performances begin at 1:30 and 7 p.m. at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $12 and are available through Cameron Dancenter, the Phillips Center box office and Ticketmaster.

Co-starring in “The Wiz” this year are Gainesville High School seniors Emilee Bell and Taylor Laffey.

Emilee, who performs Dorothy in the 7 p.m. show, is student body vice president at GHS, where she is in the Cambridge program. She's trained at Cameron Dancenter for 13 years, studying ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop. Her past Danscompany roles include Summer Fairy and Woodsprite Queen in the full-length ballet “Cinderella.”

Taylor dances the role of Dorothy in the 1:30 p.m. performance. She also dual-enrolls at Santa Fe College. A dancer since age 3, she has won many competition awards and has performed with Danscompany for six years in roles like Autumn Fairy.

“We've revamped ‘The Wiz' this year,” says Danscompany founding director Nina Cameron. “A lot of the choreography is all-new.”

When Cameron describes the message behind “The Wiz,” she could very well be describing Danscompany, and this year's 30th anniversary:

“Nothing compares to home. We all go through our trials and tribulations, we go out into the world, but there's no place like home. It's where all the love is.”

This year's Spring Concert includes an alumni dance — about 25 to 40 past Danscompany members from around the U.S. and as far away as Amsterdam will perform a Bollywood-inspired number.

“They've been learning it from a video online,” says Cameron. “We first performed this about 3 to 4 years ago. We'll have one rehearsal Friday, and then I know it will be great.”

Alumni include Danscompany's very first “Cinderella,” Tamara Worley.

Continuing with the idea of “home,” this year's production includes another special guest. “Most exciting for me is that my son is coming home to do two of his original songs for the dancers to perform to,” says Cameron.

She's referring to Britton Cameron, now an established singer/songwriter in Nashville.

“He grew up here, performing in town since he was 14,” Cameron says. “One of his bands was signed with RCA for a few years. A couple of years ago, the band Steel Magnolia recorded one of his songs and it hit about No. 15 on the country charts.”

Working in Nashville, most of Britton's music is country, Cameron says, though she adds that “his new CD has gone back to his adult contemporary roots.”

One of Britton's songs included in Saturday's show is called “Put a Face on Me.” “It's a tribute to the military, and mostly to those who have died,” says Cameron. “He's going to play and sing it onstage while the dancers perform.”

“Of course, our other co-stars are the Chance to Dance students from Duval and Rawlings,” says Cameron. Chance to Dance is a community program in which dancers and dance teachers go into local elementary schools and provide free dance instruction to the children.

Cameron was the initial force behind Chance to Dance, and Danscompany even allows about 35 Rawlings and Duval participants to perform each year in “The Wiz.”

In this, Danscompany provides an significant opportunity to these children to be part of a professionally produced, large-scale concert dance performance in a world-class venue. The elementary schoolers, alongside the over 200 Danscompany members, perform to nearly sell-out crowds.

“The focus from Danscompany from the beginning was to give back to the community,” Cameron says. “Danscompany still has that same vision, because it seems to me that everyone else who got involved had that same vision, too. The dancers who give back probably get more from it than they give, because it's so special for them to understand at their young age the value of helping others.

“The second focus from the start was to give dancers the chance to perform on a professional level,” Cameron adds. “We started with just two of us on staff, and we were open only two months when the company was already performing.”

“It's grown into one really well-oiled machine,” she says. “Everybody still feels like a family, even though it's large, because we all work together to get the job done. The choreographers of course are amazing, but I have the best boards of parents. Everybody is dedicated and disciplined — you have to be to move 150 people around onstage”

Sarah Maze can be reached at sarahi@ufl.edu.

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