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Howard Community College festival draws top dancers from near and far

"Singularity," choreographed by Howard Community College instructor Alex J. Krebs, features Jes Powell, center, with Lenay Barnhardt, Isha Brockenberry, Sara Ciniero, Jasmine Glaze and Talia Hamiel. The dance will be part of the school's Student Showcase in March.
"Singularity," choreographed by Howard Community College instructor Alex J. Krebs, features Jes Powell, center, with Lenay Barnhardt, Isha Brockenberry, Sara Ciniero, Jasmine Glaze and Talia Hamiel. The dance will be part of the school's Student Showcase in March. (HANDOUT)

Darion Smith is a man-about-town, a term described by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a worldly and socially active man." Smith is currently working on four projects with Howard Community College, the University of Maryland, a dozen county dance studios and the Misako Ballet Company performing the world premiere of his “En Bach” on Feb. 16 at the Jim Rouse Theatre.

No wonder it’s hard to catch up with this tall, lanky dancer/choreographer who joined the HCC family a few semesters ago as assistant professor of dance. A California native, Smith earned his master’s degree in Oregon and soon took off to New York City for a place in the world famous Dance Theatre of Harlem.

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Smith spent last year planning this weekend’s 12th annual Community Dance Festival with adjunct instructor Alex Krebs and Elizabeth Higgins, coordinator of dance at the college. This showcase for professional and student dancers is a welcoming place to brush up on dance technique and to discover youthful talents who relish the opportunity to show what they have learned to their families and friends.

“The festival line up includes a mix of master classes and performance opportunities, plus a new photography session that allows dancers to create some beautiful images with a professional photographer and then keep the digital file to build their portfolio,” Smith said recently after teaching a dance class at the college.

“This celebration has become an important event in the dance community in Howard County,” said Valerie Lash, dean of Art and Humanities. “It has become a sharing and learning opportunity for area dancers as they showcase their work and experience the work of others.”

So what should you expect at this year’s festival? Dozens of young dancers will take classes all day Saturday from teachers representing Central Maryland Youth Ballet, Ballet with Cindee Velle, Kinetics Dance and Project C. New this time around will be Ballet Conservatoire XIV, based in Ellicott City and directed by Donna Pidel, this year’s Howie Award winner for Arts Education; and Design in Motion, a popular place to dance in Gambrills.

The Saturday evening concert features professional dance companies from up and down the East Coast. DC’s popular KanKouran West African Dance will chase away those seasonal doldrums. Ari Mayzick, a soloist with New York City-based Buglisi Dance Theatre, performs Donlin Foran’s moving “Prelude,” another special moment in the concert. Traveling from Rhode Island is the Island Moving Company, and local fans should appreciate Full Circle Dance, a contemporary troupe with a focus on social issues and the latest dance technique.

Representing the HCC Dance Program, Alex J. Krebs Is bringing back her “Singularity” work that received accolades at last year’s festival. Performed by HCC dancers, this dance explores the question, “How far can technology go before we lose what truly makes us human?”

The HCC Community Dance Festal Gala Performance featuring professional dance companies, will take place at Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m.

“If you are on the fence about coming out to see the Howard County Community Dance Festival Gala Concert, don’t be,” Smith said. “It’s an incredible value to see stunning dance from beyond the beltways as well as dance artists from right here in our own community. Thankfully, with support from Howard County Arts Council, we can offer $10 tickets to the general public. Bring family and friends, a date, or just yourself.”

In addition to Smith’s burgeoning schedule, he created a new work called ”Enclosure” for the HCC Dance Showcase in mid-March.

“This season, we’re faced with the challenge of creating dances seen from four sides [or in the round] and in a more intimate space. It does pose some challenging questions as to how and why you make certain decisions in the creative process. In your mental sandbox, you have to include the spectators sitting on all sides.”

The Student Showcase will take place in the Horowitz Center Studio Theatre, Thursday through Sunday, March 19-22. Elizabeth Higgins, Alex J. Krebs, Darion Smith, Ariel Grossman (Ariel Rivka Dance), Adrienne Clancy (ClancyWorks) and Ama and Chris Law (Project ChArma) have set works on HCC students who were selected through open audition.

For students who will be moving on from the college, the annual dance showcase is bittersweet. Jasmine Glaze and Teneille Gordon will soon be leaving Columbia for a four-year college to further their careers in dance. A few of the HCC dance students will take part in the American College Dance Association Conference in the Mid-Atlantic North Region at the University of Maryland in March.

Misako Ballet adds Bach

On a chilly Sunday morning at Misako Ballet Company’s dance studio in the Harper’s Choice Village Center, Smith was promoting his modern dance piece and adding some finishing touches for its world premiere Feb. 16 on the Jim Rouse Theater stage.

“Last year, Misako reached out to me with an invitation to create contemporary choreography for the winter program, said Smith during a break in the rehearsal. “I’ve titled the work ‘En Bach’ where the dance moves in a decisively elastic relationship to the music, while never escaping the gravity of the music.”

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Five dancers, dressed in stretchy grey tunics and wool socks, zipped across the studio, leaping and falling to Bach’s up-tempo harpsichord concertos. It’s an enjoyable piece to watch and presumably perform; there were lots of smiles at the rehearsal.

Front and center in the work, Jessica Markiewitz, a principal with the Misako Ballet Company, shows off her modern technique with passion and unrelenting vigor. All five ballerinas excel in the contemporary movement, but my eyes kept following Melissa Lineburg, who tends to hold a position with such ease then takes off in a flying leap.

Smith is serious about his art and he chooses words carefully.

“As an artist, I am fascinated about what the person/dancer/performer is experiencing in each moment, mentally, emotionally, and physically," he said "I’m always trying to create a new way to experience and to question what inspires me through dance. It’s as if dance were my antenna if I were an insect.”

Other highlights in the program include a new Japanese one-act ballet, “The Moon Princess," choreographed by Artistic Director Misako Aoki. A legend of separation, belonging and love, and one of Japan’s oldest folk tales, it tells the story of a newborn princess from the Moon who is sent to Earth and grows into a young woman who experiences love of family and friends, though she knows she must one day return.

Look for adorable Ryan Le (who charmed us in “Momotaro” on stage with his mother, Jessica McElvaney. Hot green teas, apple cider and select Japanese snacks will be available for purchase before the show. For more information, call 410-884-9690 or go to misakodance.com.

The Misako Ballet Company presents “The Moon Princess,” “En Bach” and several selections from classical ballets on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. James Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets are $20, $15 seniors and $12 students/children. Go to misakoballet2020.bpt.me.

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