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MODERN MOVEMENT: Wilmington Dance Festival showcases 12 local choreographers and 30+ dancers on March 13

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(L. to r.) Becky Spivey, Susan Turner, Linda Ann Webb and Nicole Dalier of Forward Motion Dance Company. Photo by Christopher Warren




Making a difference in Wilmington’s artistic community is what The Dance Cooperative is all about. The nonprofit is committed to providing affordable classes, rehearsal spaces, and performance opportunities for all members of the community, especially those artistically and economically under served.

The cooperative was founded in May 2001 by six dance professionals: Nancy Podrasky Carson, Anne Firmender, Erika Meyerson, Suzanne Palmer, Harper Piver and Leslie Riley Searcy. It now holds a variety of classes for kids, teens and adults at the YMCA. The Dance Cooperative’s instructors teach ballet, jazz, contemporary and modern. Wilmingtonians might recognize the cooperative from Dance-a-lorus, a partnership the cooperative began with Cucalorus more than a decade ago, marrying dancers with filmmakers for a multimedia experience. They also host Dorothy Nesbit Community Dance Day, and over the last five years have put on the Wilmington Dance Festival.

The North Carolina Dance Festival once included Wilmington on its tour around the state. Due to funding requests the cooperative couldn’t financially support at the time, Wilmington had to part ways with the tour. Thus it opened a need for a local showcase of talent. The Dance Cooperative stepped in and partnered with UNCW Presents to host the Wilmington Dance Festival at Kenan Auditorium. The talent is localized, and a portion of the ticket sales go toward the cooperative’s mission of dance access for all.

The 6th annual Wilmington Dance Festival features 12 choreographers and more than 30 dancers. After Dance-a-lorus ends, the cooperative chooses local choreographers, who in turn choose their dancers from works-in-progress showcases, held once a month at Cameron Art Museum. Normally, the cooperative isn’t able to accept all entries, as dances have a maximum 10-minute performance time; however, since there are shorter pieces in 2020, they were able to accept everyone.

Board president Kate Muhlstein will provide the audience with a more modern, introspective dance. She will also perform for Oliver Dante’, who is making his choreography debut on Friday with “The Romance of Ying and Yang”. He is preparing an eastern-inspired duet that allows him to show off Mulstein’s fierceness and his kung fu and tai chi dance background.

“The dance shifts back and forth between harmonious partner balancing and dancing to spurts of combat, throws and lifts,” Dante’ informs. “This piece is intended to flow similarly to how life flows. Sometimes there is strife, sometimes it’s as though life is moving to your will alone, and of course times when you find yourself in between.”

Qaadir Hicks is a 29-year-old contemporary choreographer who has prepared dances for both Dance-a-lorus and Wilmington Dance Festival. The Dance Cooperative provided him with his first opportunity in its Emerging Choreographers Showcase when he was only 15. That experience led him to pursue a BFA in dance performance and choreography from East Carolina University. Hicks’ piece will feature dancers Amber Mitchell, Nicole Dalier, Emily Bannerman and Emily Susan Lawler in a contemporary piece inspired by John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”



“Years ago, I did a piece called ‘The Apple of My Impurity,’ which was homage of sorts to Milton. This piece is a kind of prequel to that,” Hicks says. “I like the idea of dark, fallen angels, striving to redeem themselves.”

Tracey Varga is the founder of Forward Motion Dance Company and teaches modern-jazz and tap at The Dance Element. An experienced choreographer, Varga has worked in dance in Wilmington for 24 years. She describes her piece, “Reaching Beyond” a “reaching outward to the universe, including the shooting stars, to settle all of life’s discourse.” It will feature Kara Abbott, Ashley Barnes, Melanie Koch and Becky Spivey. “‘Reaching Beyond’ is set to music by French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan,” Varga informs, “[My] inspiration was from the absolutely wonderful music and what it brought to creating movement to the composition.”

Sue Meier started choreographing while studying dance at Michigan State University. She has been heavily involved in creating pieces for The Dance Cooperative and has had a featured work at Arts Sensation. Meier also was the brains behind the flash mob for the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting last year. For the Wilmington Dance Festival she has challenged herself by organizing a piece with 20 dancers. Meier will be weaving aspects from classical ballet, musical theatre and jazz as well as incorporating modern style. Her dance will feature a special acro section—combining classical dance with acrobatics—from dancers Rachael Crawford Goolsby and Stephanie Nadeau. “Apocalypse WOW” will be an overview of the 1960s and ‘70s.

“I’ve often said, if I’d been born 10 years earlier, I would have made a great flower child!” Meier quips. “I guess this piece is letting me show a little of this! The Vietnam War was very serious and there are a lot of people still dealing with the aftermath. I didn’t set out to make a comparison to today’s world, but maybe there is.”

Wilmington Dance Festival’s executive director and Dance Cooperative cofounder Nancy Podrasky Carson will present her architectural piece on Friday. Three dancers will perform on three different levels of cylinders, adding even more variety to the festival.

“[Each dance] has a very unique look, there isn’t anything carrying over from one piece to another,” Carson describes, “There’s something for everyone to relate to or focus on, something that you will attach yourself to.”

Other choreographers at Wilmington Dance Festival include: Debra Berger, Rachel Taylor, Alison Dutka Jones (who will pay homage to the group of artists who perform in Kanye West’s Sunday Service choir through her piece “Sunday Service”), Linda Ann Web (who collaborates with Patrick Ogelvie from Flux Audio/Video to combine dance and film), Alyona Amato, and Audra Hebard (who will perform to music by Dave Matthews Band as a tribute to her fiancé and their relationship).

Wilmington Dance Festival serves the dual purpose of entertaining and educating its audience. Tickets start at $20, with sponsorship tickets priced at $30, which includes a $10 donation for a scholarship student at The Dance Cooperative.

Wilmington Dance Festival
March 13,  7:30 pm
UNCW Kenan Auditorium, 515 Wagoner Drive
Tickets: $5-30
910-962-3500 or 800-732-3643

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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