Centenary Dancers at the Kennedy Center

For college dancers, it doesn’t get any better than an invitation to perform at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It’s the equivalent of basketball’s Sweet 16 except that there’s no competition at the pinnacle performance. Just a showcasing of the best of the best.

Every dancer—and everyone who helps them get there—knows that these are the crème de la crème among the nation’s colleges this year. For Centenary students and dance faculty, the spotlight comes on a crisp May evening before a sold-out crowd in the nation’s capital.

Final exams are just barely completed when seven Centenary dancers, accompanied by three faculty members and numerous friends and admirers, make their way toward the biggest venue of all for college dancers: the stage and lights of Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center.

Varying assaults of butterflies attack the waiting performers—four young women and two young men—as they stand in the wings and peek out at the sold-out audience beyond the floodlights. Strange thoughts cross their minds: “Will the music and video images work right?” “Will I forget a critical part?” “What am I doing here?” “We’ve worked so hard, now’s the time to shine.”

Sitting in the darkness on the other side of the lights are their families, their professors and their College president alongside top representatives of the world of dance. The stage goes dark and Centenary dancers glide to their positions. As the lights come up, the Woody Guthrie tunes emerge and intentionally-grainy video images perform their own dance on the wall behind the troupe, the dancers present an emotional and passionate piece.

Its title, “Swept Under,” refers to the cliché of sweeping problems under a rug. The dancers wear tea-dyed linen costumes that support their representation of the unspoken issues of an impoverished family in the Dust Bowl era. Props—all in similar washed-out hues—adorn a sparsely appointed space and include a baby’s high chair, a broom, a straw laundry basket and a couple of chairs.

Less than 10 minutes later, the piece is complete and the Kennedy Center resounds with appreciative applause. These Centenary dancers have represented their college, their city and their state with distinction at the American College Dance Festival’s National Conference and, in the process, have earned a spot in Centenary College history.

Ginger D. Folmer ’64, professor and coordinator of the dance program at Centenary since 1983, speaks with pride about the dancers’ efforts that led them to the Kennedy Center. She notes that the National College Dance Conference showcases dance performances selected by adjudicators from regional conferences who make selections based on outstanding artistic excellence and merit. The primary objective of the National Conference is to highlight, on the national level, the outstanding quality of choreography and performance that is being created on college and university campuses.

Folmer works diligently throughout the spring to highlight the “Swept Under” selection, and its choreographer, Centenary dance alumna and adjunct faculty member Renée Smith-Cheveallier ’91, who also designed and constructed
the costumes, and the dancers (at right): Amanda Adams of Richardson, Texas; Nic Gadpaille of Shreveport, La.
(not pictured); Anna Maris of Little Rock, Ark.; Andrew Nieman of Natchitoches, La.; Renée Nolen of Many, La.; and Courtney Rhodes of Vidor, Texas. Jessica Gorbaty of Houma, La., also attends as understudy. Another alumna, Angela Jones Rosenkrans ’96, also adjunct dance faculty member, collaborates on the lighting design.

Says Smith-Cheveallier about her award-winning piece: “This multimedia, layered composition comments on the unspoken emotions of a family impoverished by the Dust Bowl—yet the images produced are timeless. This piece is performed in the modern dance/theatre style with a score of Woody Guthrie’s ‘Do Re Me’ recorded by the contemporary artist Ani DiFranco. In addition, this piece is also accompanied by a spoken narrative of Woody Guthrie’s ‘…Till We Outnumber ‘Em’ and a video projection of home movies by Alabama artist Pinky MM Bass.”

Folmer is pleased also about the attention focused on the quality of the Centenary dance program and its considerable history, which includes four selections previously honored at the regional level. “It’s all about the students,” she says. “That’s what we’re here for.”

- by Lynn Stewart, Editor, Centenary Magazine