University Dance Company thrives because its dancers can perform varied dance styles while maintaining the integrity of each piece, its director says.
When her mother first took her to ballet school at age 5, Kooi-Lan Tan discovered a new means of expression.
"I am not good at putting all of my expression into words, so dance is a better way of expression," said Tan, a Kansas University senior from Malaysia studying dance.
Tan will join more than 20 other dancers for the University Dance Company's spring concert Friday and Saturday nights at the Lied Center.
"This program is a special opportunity to see a variety of dances," said Joan Stone, director of KU's dance department. "It showcases the ability of dancers to change from ballet to jazz and still keep the integrity of the dance forms."
For Tan, the concert culminates three years of university dance study. She will perform "On the Way Home," which she choreographed as her senior project under the direction of KU dance instructor Patrick Suzeau to the "Prism for Marimba," by Keiko Abe. The piece is a fusion of ballet in the legs, modern dance in the torso and Malaysian and Chinese dance in the hands.
The performance, Tan said, combines dance techniques learned both at home in Malaysia and in the United States.
"The dance says how I will go home eventually and can take whatever I learn home with me," she said.
Malaysian dance instruction is modeled after Britain's Royal Academy of Ballet system, which requires exams as students progress through dance levels, she said.
The expensive classes are not strongly supported by the Malaysian government, Tan said. Her parents, Kim-Tow Tan and Sok-Hoon Law, owners of a tourist souvenir shop, financed her classes and encouraged her decision to study dance at KU, where she had friends.
"My mother liked dancing and couldn't get to dance when she was younger," Tan said. "So my parents were really supportive."
Shortly after arriving, Tan auditioned for the University Dance Company. The company mainly includes students in the dance department, although dancers from surrounding communities can audition.
Although Tan has performed ballet and modern dance in past concerts, she prefers modern techniques.
"At KU, I've learned to use my body, and modern dance is very flexible," she said. "I am now more grounded when I dance and have learned to use my breath."
Because full-time dance positions are scarce in Malaysia, Tan will remain in the United States after she graduates in May. She has been accepted into Williams/Henry Danse Theatre in Kansas City, Mo. Long-term goals include dancing and teaching back in Malaysia.
For now, Tan will share her love for dance with her colleagues and audiences.
"She is a very fine technician and a thoughtful dancer," Stone said. "I will be sorry to see her go."
The spring dance concert also features:
- The Latin-inspired modern dance piece "Tango/Alone," choreographed by guest artist Sunny Savoy to Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango," "Tango Suite" and "Fugata." Director of dance at the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico, Savoy spent a week at KU in February teaching dance and Mexican culture classes.
- "Canvas Sky," choreographed and danced by Christine Colby-Jacques, a former Rockette and Broadway dancer now living in Kansas City, Mo., and attending classes at KU.
- KU dance instructor Patrick Suzeau will perform "Winsome Wench Vanquishes Vile Villain," choreographed by guest artist Meli Kaye. Suzeau received a KU Faculty Development Grant to learn the work, which is a comic send-up of the silent film era.
- "Womansong," choreographed by Muriel Cohan, KU associate professor of dance, and Suzeau to music by Hedningarna, a contemporary Swedish vocal group.
- "Ondine's Realm," choreographed by Jerel Hilding, KU associated professor of dance, to Antonin Dvorak's "Romance in F Minor, Op. 11."
- "Conjurin'," choreographed by Willie Lenoir, KU lecturer in dance, set to music by the Empire Brass Quintet.
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