Dancers Kick off Season of ‘Happiness’

The Mercyhurst University Institute for Arts & Culture announces that Mercyhurst Dance performances this year will focus on happiness, the university’s 2013-14 academic theme.

Happiness [hap-ee-nes] noun, 1. the mental state of well being characterized by positive emotion from contentment to intense joy. 2. good fortune; pleasure

The Mercyhurst Dancers kick off their Happiness Season with “Happiness is Dance,” a program of six short classical and contemporary dances presented on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 10, at 2 p.m. at the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center.

Guest choreographer Ursula Payne was in residence during September to work with 10 dancers in a boundary-pushing new work. “On Nature’s Wing” was commissioned especially for The Mercyhurst Dancers to music by Taylor Deupree and Kenneth Kirschner.

“The title was a phrase used in one dancer’s memories,” says Payne. “I asked the dancers to identify two memories from their childhood and adult years to write about. The memories had to be connected to nature or a weather event. This piece explores how a person’s experience of changes in nature or weather can influence one’s mood or sense of happiness.”

Payne, who chairs the Department of Dance at Slippery Rock University, has been commissioned to create choreography at many institutions of higher education and has been awarded four prestigious Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Choreographic Fellowships. Her creative research has resulted in more than 150 performances produced in recognized professional public and academic theaters and festivals, such as the 2009 American Dance Guild Performance Series and New York City’s Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors. Her dance career has taken her to five continents, 14 countries and 19 states.

For choreographer Melissa Bobick, the theme of happiness evokes the image of children savoring the last bit of sunlight on a crisp autumn afternoon. She drew inspiration from classic illustrations of children at play for the premiere of her contemporary ballet work “By the Fading Light” to the music of J.S. Bach.

Artistic Director Tauna Hunter also shares her version of happiness from a child’s perspective in “Danse d’Enfants” to the music of Gabriel Fauré. “I choreographed the first movement of this dance in 1990 right before my daughter was born,” says Hunter. “It was inspired by the music, the three young dancers I was working with at that time and the joy of children playing on a spring day. The dancers I am working with now have inspired me to add another movement to the piece for this performance.”

C. Noelle Partusch reprises “Frizzante” – Italian for “sparkling water” – a virtuoso dance to three musical movements by Karl Jenkins that she choreographed in 2008. Partusch challenges an ensemble of 12 women as she explores various aspects of carbonated water through an energetic contemporary movement vocabulary.

Intrigued by the dream state of consciousness and captivated by Jack Dangers music remix of Terry Riley’s ground breaking “In C,” long-time collaborators Mark and Solveig Santillano join forces on a premiere work “Rem.”

Tickets for performances are $15.50 for adults and $12.50 for seniors and students. Mercyhurst students will be admitted for $3.50. A preview performance will also be offered on Friday, Nov. 8, at 4:30 p.m. with all tickets selling for $5 (balcony seating only). Tickets can be purchased by calling 824-3000.

Mark your calendars now for the remaining performances of the Happiness Season:

  • “Happiness is ’Tis the Season with Santa’s Toy Shop” Dec. 6-7. The Mercyhurst Dancers and Liturgical Dance Ensemble present a one-hour narrated family program featuring Babes in Toyland,” “Santa’s Toy Shop” and a spiritually based work. Pre-performance holiday music will welcome you and dancers will greet audience members of all ages in the lobby after each performance. On Dec. 7 at 11 a.m., a special price of $5 per person will be offered to Erie families.
  • “Happiness is Beyond Words III” Feb. 28-Mar. 2. An Evening with Mercyhurst Ballet Theatre & SoMar Dance Works includes choreography of the legendary George Balanchine, as well as Lesley Bories-Scalise, James Clouser, Tauna Hunter and Mark and Solveig Santillano. The Saturday evening performance will benefit SafeNet, Erie’s domestic violence safety network, and the Dance Department’s Jenni-Lyn Memorial Scholarship Fund.
  • “Happiness is Raw Edges: A Celebration of Twenty/Forty Years” May 2-4. The Mercyhurst Dancers and returning alumni celebrate 40 years of dance at Mercyhurst University and honor Artistic Director Tauna Hunter and Production Manager/Resident Designer Michael Gleason for their passionate commitment to dance. The dancers will present a 20-year collection of choreography by both Hunter and Gleason.