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Spotlight to shine on WOU dance program

MONMOUTH -- Months of planning will culminate this weekend for eight dance students.

Maya Zakhour, Laura Guillen, Mike Johnston and Logan Espiritu, from left, rehearse guest choreographer Paula Weber's ballet piece "Blue" Monday at Rice Auditorium.

Photo by Pete Strong

Maya Zakhour, Laura Guillen, Mike Johnston and Logan Espiritu, from left, rehearse guest choreographer Paula Weber's ballet piece "Blue" Monday at Rice Auditorium.

May 07, 2013

MONMOUTH -- Months of planning will culminate this weekend for eight dance students.

Since October, they have relentlessly rehearsed a routine they will perform in front of a hometown crowd for the first time at the 37th annual Spring Dance Concert.

The group has performed the routine in front of an audience only once before at the American College Dance Festival in March.

The students first saw the routine when guest choreographer Paula Weber came to Western Oregon University in the fall to rehearse with them. Weber, dance chair at the University of Missouri Kansas City, spent a week with the students and then left.

"This is the way it is in the professional dance world, you learn the dance in a few days or a week," Head of Theatre and Dance Sharon Oberst said. "Then the choreographer leaves."

A new artist is brought in every year to choreograph a routine specifically for the concert. Weber's piece will be the first ballet performed at the concert in 15 years.

It's up to the artist to choose which students make it into the performance every year.

"When the guest artists come in we don't say 'Pick the seniors,'" Oberst said. "They all know it's going to be intense."

WOU dance faculty perform pieces of their own every year, and professor Darryl Thomas' pieces are highly anticipated for their striking visuals.

"Last year they were dancing in a bubble," Oberst said. "It was pretty amazing."

Along with the guest piece, five seniors are presenting their senior projects that they have choreographed themselves.

"I can see it every year, a huge feeling of accomplishment," Professor Deborah Jones said. "They dance with their minds, their bodies and their hearts."

Seniors began work on their projects in January and went through two board-approved previews to ensure the quality and safety of their pieces.

"Anything that goes on that stage is not going to go up that has not gone through the process," Oberst said. "It has to be the best those students can do at this stage in their development."

Community involvement has grown with every year since its inception in 1976 and has helped the program grow. Many attendees have been to every performance.

Families and alumni from across the U.S. come every year to support the program.

Oberst thinks the variety and quality of dances is what keeps people coming back every year.

"We've just been really fortunate that it's popular and people come," Oberst said.

Check It Out

What: Western Oregon University's Spring Dance Concert.

When: Thursday through Saturday. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Rice Auditorium, Western Oregon University, 345 N. Monmouth Ave., Monmouth.

Admission: General, $12; seniors, $10; students, $7.

For tickets and more information: WOU Box Office, 503-838-8462.

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