The Butler dance department presents: The Midwinter Dance Festival

Different styles, music and costumes can be brought together by one essential element: dance.

All these components will mesh and be put on display to encompass the tradition of the Midwinter Dance Festival at Butler University.

The middle of three major Butler dance department productions, the festival is a “mixed-bill production,” meaning there are a number of different pieces versus one large ballet performance.

“Midwinter allows us to produce original work by the faculty,” said Larry Attaway, Butler’s dance department chair and Butler Ballet’s executive director. “They are world premieres, although we don’t call them that. But that’s what they are.”

Five pieces will debut in this year’s festival.

The show will open with dance professor Stephan Laurent-Faesi bringing to life Mozart’s music in “Paris Symphony.”  Attaway said the piece has a welcoming emotional appeal, fitting for the festival’s first number.

The emotion is part of the inspiration  Laurent-Faesi used in creating the piece.

“Most of my inspiration comes from the music itself,” Laurent-Faesi said. “Mozart’s mother died very shortly after the premiere of the symphony, and sadly, my mother passed away as well right as I finished the piece. I dedicated the second movement to my mother.”

Dance professor Cynthia Pratt’s “First Light” is next on the bill. The piece relies heavily on group work that is thematically dark with a grounded earthy feel.

Collaboration between visiting assistant dance professor Michael Johnson and music professor James Mulholland brought about the next piece, “Fair Thee Well Love.” It is a lyrical, serene piece that features only female dancers.

Associate dance professor Derek Reid revisits his original work, “Rituals Inside the Lavender Mist,” next, with American composer Steve Reich’s music providing very rhythmic and fast dancing.

Junior dance major Christina Presti said the music in “Rituals” heavily consists of drums and doesn’t have a melody.

“We have to be counting the entire piece,” Presti said. “There are small changes in the music that you can go off of, but you have to know your counts, and from that you can create the flow of music.”

To open the second act, dance professor Marek Cholewa presents a section of his “Dance of the Amazons”—a representation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”—with Mendelssohn’s traditional music at the helm of the piece.

He will later take the full-length piece to Missouri to be performed by the St. Louis Ballet.

To close the festival, the Butler dance department will perform a guest piece that is the focus of the concert.

At each festival, a licensed work that is taught by a hired choreographer is always included, although it is not always performed at the festival’s conclusion.

This year, the ballet will be presenting Paul Taylor’s “Sacre du Printemps.” This year marks the 100th anniversary of the original “Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky.

In previous years, the ballet has featured works by George Balanchine and Antony Tudor.

The ballet is different from some of the festival’s previous guest pieces. It is a black comedy that is very tongue-in-cheek. Taylor’s take on “Rite of Spring” follows a storyline that has everything from a stolen baby to a ballet company in rehearsal to a detective.

“The idea to bring in the Paul Taylor version came from the upcoming first-ever Butler arts festival,” Attaway said. “The festival has a theme of revolution. It made great sense to me to put forth the ‘Rite of Spring’ in the revolutionary category.”

The Butler Ballet is able to present Taylor’s piece because it holds a secret weapon in associate dance professor Susan McGuire.

McGuire was Taylor’s assistant for a number of years, so she is able to effectively teach the challenging piece to the dancers.

One of those dancers, junior dance major Ashleigh Chuang, said participants learned the piece from a video and will recreate it for themselves.

“This piece will test audience members,” Chuang said. “Some people will hate it, and some people will like it. It will keep people intrigued, whether you’re into modern (dance) or not.”

The entire performance may test audiences in that it’s not a typical ballet performance. There are no ballet outfits, nor is there one large ballet performance. Many types of dance aside from ballet are also featured.

“It’s not classical,” Chuang said. “It’s funky.”

The Butler Ballet will present the Midwinter Dance Festival on Feb. 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. at Clowes Memorial Hall.

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