Ten teen-agers from a Columbia dance company are exporting their uniquely American style of contemporary modern dance to Spain this week, serving as Maryland cultural ambassadors for a performance in Columbia's sister city.
The teens will perform eight dances that express feelings and ideas about social issues during a program Saturday in Tres Cantos, Spain, the city that participates with Columbia in an annual student exchange coordinated through the Columbia Association. This is the first time a cultural group from Columbia has traveled to the sister city.
The group from Dance Dimension, a resident dance company based in Slayton House in Wilde Lake village, left for Spain Saturday and will spend this week rehearsing for a performance in a new theater in Tres Cantos.
The troupe, which includes award-winning dancers and scholars, will perform dances intended to make social statements, elicit feelings from the audience and educate about American culture.
"The performance is entertaining, but it also makes you think," said Jill Harris, 18, an Oakland Mills High School graduate who will attend the University of Utah on a full scholarship. "You can't go to a modern dance performance without thinking about what it's trying to say, the meaning behind the dance."
For instance, "Tom O'Bedlam" relates the release of beggars from insane asylums in 13th- and 14th-century England to the plight of the homeless today. Each dancer developed an interpretation of insanity.
In "Rain Forest," the dancers attempt to show the interdependence of life forms in the environment and man's co-existence. The dance includes a metamorphosis -- dancers writhing to shed a cheesecloth cocoon -- and the intertwining of dancers' bodies to show interdependence.
"Temptations" depicts the classic struggle between good and evil. "Oh, Mary" portrays an American gospel choir, and "Mississippi" illustrates a hot and sultry Southern night.
"We always like our dances to make a statement, create a feeling and inspire the audience," said Rebecca Mikkelsen, 17, a Wilde Lake High School graduate who will attend Virginia Tech.
Jane Jerardi, 17, a Wilde Lake High graduate, says she hopes to show the Spanish audience "what American teen-agers are really like. That they're more sophisticated, sharing and artistic instead of materialistic and self-centered."
In addition to Jill Harris, Rebecca Mikkelsen and Jane Jerardi, the troupe includes Wilde Lake High students Brenda Shafer, 17, and Jane Wettstein, 17; former Wilde Lake High student Mandy Kirschner, 15, who is transferring to the Baltimore School for the Arts; Howard High student Tara McNeeley, 15; Mount Hebron High graduate Andrea Chastant, 18, and student Stacy Pfeifer, 16; and Sandy Springs Friends School student Bill Dufford, 16.
Brenda won the Maryland Distinguished Scholar Award this year for dance and academics, earning a $3,000 scholarship per year to a Maryland state university; Andrea and Jill won the award previously; and Jane Jerardi was a semifinalist this year. Jill also has won a National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts scholarship.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer bestowed "ambassador" status upon the troupe through the state economic development agency's international trade division.
Dance Dimension is directed by Marilyn Byers. She will be assisted on the trip by Jenn Lawson, 24, a 1987 Mount Hebron High graduate who plans to pursue a professional dance career in Pittsburgh.
Ms. Byers says she has a "twofold" vision for her performing arts company -- to educate and to develop students' artistic abilities.
"I mine for gold in each of them," she says. "The medium of dance helps them discover themselves."
The Columbia Association helped arrange the trip, which will be financed by the students, through its contacts in Tres Cantos. Dance Dimension previously has performed in Bulgaria and at the Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap and Greenwich Village in New York. The group performs annually at the Columbia City Fair and semiannually at Slayton House.