UNH Dance Company prepares for upcoming showcase

Bret Belden

The UNH Dance Company will be showcasing two performances from March 29 to April 2: “Cinderella” with some twists, and “Ooh, La Paree!,” an original piece written and choregraphed by UNH theatre and dance professors.

“Cinderella,” directed by assistant professor of theater and dance Assaf Benchetrit and choreographed by  Benchetrit and lecturer of theatre and dance Susan Endrizzi, will be the ballet portion of the concert. Jenn Brisebois, a junior marketing and dance major who plays the title character, said during a rehearsal on Tuesday night that “the show has two very distinct segments,” which will entertain all audience members. She also said that having such a “lighthearted, children’s fairytale show” balances out “Ooh, La Paree!,” which is set in a cabaret dance club in France.

There are many things about “Cinderella” that will stand out to audiences. One is the fact that Cinderella’s two stepsisters are played by male dancers, junior theatre majors Ryan Lemay and Liam Tanner. They both expressed that their freshman year dance instructors requested they try out roles that were traditionally female in that year’s performance, and it stuck with them. During Tuesday’s rehearsal, the two dancers didn’t have their full costumes yet, but they did have feathery white fans and white petticoats worn over their practice clothes.

Katherine Lesnyk/ Contributing
Members of the UNH Dance Company rehearse for “Cinderella.” The company will open its spring showcase next Wednesday, March 29, and run it through April 2.

The audience will also be surprised next week by the humor incorporated into the choreography by Benchetrit and Endrizzi, including at least one fight scene between the stepsisters and a football game played with a pointe shoe instead of a football.

Gay Nardone, the director of “Ooh La Paree!,” who is working with choreographer and lecturer of theatre and dance Mary Beth Marino, divulged the meaning behind her original work on Tuesday afternoon. The concept evolved over time, but it is, in essence, a “class war” in France, which is tied into the theme of bringing people of all social classes together. This concept is showcased with a quote Nardone found by the African-American social reformer and Civil War era abolitionist Frederick Douglass. There is more text in the show as well, including a quote in French that is featured at the beginning and isn’t translated until the end of the performance. There were political influences and musical influences from “Moulin Rouge” in addition to these quotes that Nardone found, but a very important aspect that changes the course of a show is the work of the students and their styles, which Marino discussed on Tuesday and Nardone later supported. Nardone said that the students, often dance majors, minors, or simply longtime dancers, work incredibly hard starting in September for this performance.

For the jazz, tap and aerial (JTA) performance, the audience can expect some new dancers—about 60 auditioned for this year’s lineup of the JTA company, and there are a little less than 30 in the show—as well as a new apparatus for the aerial portions: a cube, which Marino enthusiastically mentioned.

With everyone involved, whether it is in the ballet performance, JTA or both, one thing was certainly common: there is confidence that there is going to be something that interests everyone in the audience. The diversity in the two segments is vast. Nardone said that “everybody knows ‘Cinderella’…but you don’t know how that evening is going to play out…you don’t know how the set or the costumes will look,” but with “Ooh, La Paree!”, “you don’t know the story.” There will be awe and laughter and inspiration in the viewing of these performances, and the pride beaming from these incredible dancers will be palpable.

The UNH Dance Company concert premieres on March 29 at 7 p.m. in the Johnson Theatre. Tickets are available online and at the Paul Creative Arts Center box office.