Danscompany presents ‘The Wiz,’ Spring Concert


Danscompany of Gainesville’s annual production of “The Wiz” and Spring Concert at the Phillips Center features Alexis Clay, left, as Dororthy at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and Karen Lopez, right, as Dorothy at 7 p.m. Saturday. Appearing as the Scarecrow in both performances is Mark Hinnebusch, center.

Courtesy of Danscompany of Gainesville
Published: Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 6:38 p.m.

Danscompany of Gainesville presents its annual Spring Concert, featuring new repertory as well as its annual dance adaptation of “The Wiz.”

Performances begin at 1:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Phillips Center. Tickets are $15 through the Phillips Center box office, in advance or at the door.

Artistic Director Nina Cameron founded Danscompany in 1981. The non-profit dance company, with almost 200 performing members, is best known locally for annual performances of “Cinderella,” “Thriller” and “The Wiz.”

“The Wiz” was originally a 1975 Broadway musical that featured an all-black cast and won seven Tony Awards. The subsequent 1975 film version starred Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.

Danscompany, which performs to the film recording, presents the story exclusively through dance.

This year, the role of Dorothy is double-cast between high school seniors Alexis Clay and Karen Lopez.

Alexis, a Gainesville High School student, stars in the 1:30 p.m. matinee.

Karen, a Santa Fe High School student who is dual-enrolled full time at Santa Fe College, takes the stage at 7 p.m.

“We’ve been best friends for 13 years,” says Alexis. “To do the part, but to do it with my best friend, is really exciting. When the cast list came up at the studio in October, we hugged for like 10 minutes.”

“It was a good feeling to know that all the hard work paid off,” says Karen. Trainied in both ballet and jazz, Karen says she particularly appreciates “The Wiz” because she says “jazz is by far my favorite — it feels more free.”

Cameron notes that Dorothy’s solo material is newly choreographed this year by Danscompany member Katie Feather. Fellow dancer Tori Bryan also contributed new choreography to the ensemble showstopper “New Day,” which Cameron says features more than 45 dancers.

“Every year we’re tweaking and updating the show,” Cameron adds, “so that it’s a different experience for the audience.”

“It’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ story,” explains Alexis, “but it’s more modern, and it’s all danced. It’s very upbeat and so fun, to where I want to say it’s almost audience interactive. Because there’s a joy that transmits into the audience. And it’s a relatable story — everyone’s felt lost at some point.”

The production will be interpreted in American Sign Language.

Danscompany created a “Chance to Dance” outreach program, which began more than 25 years ago at Duval Elementary and has recently expanded to include Rawlings.

Through “Chance to Dance,” Danscompany members not only teach free dance classes at the elementary schools, they also rehearse the dancers to perform in the main stage production at the Phillips Center.

Rawlings participants perform at 1:30 p.m. and Duval performers take the stage at 7 p.m.

“The Duval and Rawlings kids are always such a thrill,” says Cameron. “To watch them perform for their first time on that stage, doing something they probably might not otherwise get to do, is something we are very proud of.”

“I think our own dancers may get even more out of the experience,” she notes. “‘Chance to Dance’ started with our adult faculty going out to the elementary schools. But now the kids have completely taken over, which is wonderful to see.”

In addition to the popular “Wiz,” the Spring Concert includes about a dozen shorter works.

Cameron says these include a New Orleans-themed jazz piece by Peggy Nolan-Lamb, an “Avatar”-inspired dance by Linda Thomas and Erin Murphy, and a hip-hop work by guest choreographer Herman Ramos.

Danscompany often stands out locally due to its strong, proficient male demographic.

Dean Muggeo has created a men’s ensemble piece for the Concert.

“It’s fast and furious,” Cameron explains, “and Dean tells me he’s hoping to make people laugh.”

Cameron herself created a new ensemble work, which she says reflects the Spanish and Italian music selections it includes.

Danscompany’s repertoire is typically excellent in showcasing the esprit-de-corps strengths of the large dance troupe, and in engaging the audience with truly unique and entertaining choreography.

Sarah Ingley be reached at sarahi@ufl.edu.

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