Dance community gets in step at Morgan Festival: 18 local troupes and some visitors converge for two-day celebration of movement.

December 04, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With little fanfare, a long-running tribute to a pioneer Maryland dance educator celebrates its 21st birthday this weekend at Morgan State University.

Eighteen dance companies from the Baltimore region and several out-of-state guests will converge at Morgan State's Murphy Fine Arts Center for a two-day event that raises money for the Dorothy P. Stanley Scholarship Fund.

Sankofa Dance Theater is among the performers. The group is directed by the husband-wife team of Kauna Mujamal and Kibibi Ajanku, with assistance from their extended family.

Sankofa is a Ghanaian word that means "reaching back to move forward." The group presents dance-theater pieces based on rituals of many African peoples, as well as original dances about current issues.

Sankofa's company of 27 dancers and drummers will be doubly busy at Morgan State this weekend. On Friday's program, it will perform "Sunu," a wedding ceremonial dance from Senegal.

On Saturday, about 10 p.m., the company will perform several works as part of the university's annual Kwanzaa celebration at the McKeldin Center. The repertory will include "Awethu!" -- a piece about the South African miners' strike that helped lead to the abolition of apartheid.

Also performing is Morton Street Dance Center, which will offer a sampler of its activities, says center director Stephanie Powell.

The 6-year-old center, located on a side street behind the University of Baltimore complex, has about 100 students in its classes. They dance in two repertory companies, directed by Donna Jacobs and Magira Eue Ross.

Among the pieces they'll perform are "Village Song" ("a piece about little kids playing," says Powell) and a solo, "Give Them Rest/Requiem," set to the "Pie Jesu" from Gabriel Faure's "Requiem." It will be danced by Gwen Barnes, who learned it this week after Powell suffered a knee injury.

Fund offers step up

Named for the founder of Morgan State's dance education program, Dorothy Phelps Stanley, the scholarship fund pays tuition and expenses for its dance students to attend summer classes at two New York professional schools.

The university has been able to send from one to three students annually to study at the summer sessions of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center and Steps, a studio that offers a range of classes in modern dance, tap, ballet and jazz, says Iantha L. Tucker, director of Morgan State's dance program and organizer of the dance festival for 20 of its 21 years.

Among Morgan State's graduates are Renee Redding-Jones, who dances with the Ronald K. Brown Company, and Stanley Harrison, winner of the first summer scholarship in 1977, who has danced on Broadway. Another grad has reached a wider audience: "Well, actually," Tucker says, "she choreographs for the Chippendales," the Las Vegas male strippers.

Though dance majors at Morgan State are few, with just four students enrolled this year in the dance concentration curriculum within the health, physical education and recreation department, the dance company is 24 members strong and includes students, alumni and community dancers.

They meet from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. twice a week to rehearse, and their repertory includes work by noted guest choreographers. This year's has been Ronald K. Brown, whose company just performed at the Dance Place in Washington. The piece he created for Morgan State will be performed at the spring concert in May.

Who will appear?

The Morgan State company will perform both nights. Its invited guests will be divided between Friday and Saturday programs.

Besides Morgan State, Sankofa and Morton Street, the roster includes:

* Dance companies from Merganthaler and Western high schools, Baltimore; Meade High School, Anne Arundel County; Mount Hebron and Hammond high schools, Howard County; and Girlfriends for Christ, a church-affiliated teen group from Prince George's County.

* Aurora Dance Theater from Howard Community College and a company from Essex Community College.

* Dance companies from Towson University and Coppin State. Towson also will bring its versatile children's dance troupe, who will perform "Boogaboo" and "Fever" -- after having danced the second act of "The Nutcracker" ballet earlier that day on their own turf.

* Elifrey, a school of Caribbean dance, Baltimore; Dina Reyes Dance Company, Montgomery County; Kinetics, Howard County.

* Branch Morgan III from Eva Anderson Dancers of Howard County, in a duet with Theresa Ryce-Stills.

* Step Aside, the adult tap company from Washington's Knock on Wood Studio.

* Persona Zenobia, a modern-dance company from Pennsylvania.

Ranging from amateur to professional, from jazz to tap and African to classical, the festival is a chance for companies to find out what's going on outside their studios.

"They strike up friendships," Tucker says. "It's a nice opportunity for sharing."

Dance Festival

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Morgan State University, Hillen Avenue and Cold Spring Lane

Tickets: $10; $5 students

Call: 410-319-3463

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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