Saturday, June 14, 2008

Christen Edwards: The PopSmart Interview

Posted By on Sat, Jun 14, 2008 at 9:00 AM

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CityDance’s Earthly Paradise production at 7 p.m. tonight (Saturday), June 14, represents a sweet doubleheader for Christen Edwards. The dancer, an instructor with Studio Dionne, School of Dance and Music, not only performs but also will premiere her very first choreographed piece, “Graduation Ball.” The production also features the jazz-influenced piece, “The Lady Sings.”

Tickets to the performance at Pace Academy Fine Arts Center (966 West Paces Ferry Road) are $20 in advance, $25 at the door; call 404-877-0005 or visit the website.

Edwards (pictured) took some time to discuss the upcoming production.

What makes you most excited about the upcoming production? Which numbers will you be dancing, and what will your role be?

I am very excited about this upcoming production because I’ve choreographed my first full-length ballet, “Graduation Ball.” Even though it’s considered at “short ballet” at under a half hour, I still feel like it’s a personal accomplishment for me as an emerging choreographer! Also, I will be dancing in Pamela Dionne’s “The Lady Sings.”

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Explain the theme “Earthly Paradise,” and how the music was chosen for it. What’s been the most fun part of preparing for this production?

“Earthly Paradise” is a children’s ballet danced to the music of Johann Strauss II. Pamela and I wanted to connect both the children’s ballet “Earthly Paradise” and the adult’s ballet, “Graduation Ball.” So, we chose one of Strauss’ beautiful waltzes to create a garden scene before the beginning of “Graduation Ball.”

“Earthly Paradise” will feature two young lovers later dancing in “Graduation Ball” who are surrounded by an enchanted garden of children dancing as butterflies, bees, birds, bunnies, and a fairy. It’s been a lot of fun working with the children who, for some of them, will be performing for the first time on stage. It’s fulfilling to see the amount of improvement and confidence these kids have attained since the beginning of the school year.

With “The Lady Swings” (pictured, above), talk about the connection between classic jazz tunes by folks like Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald, and what the allure is to interpreting such music.

As a dancer in “The Lady Swings,” I thoroughly enjoy the connection the ballet has to real life. Many people, at some point in their lives, experience the trails and tribulations of love. That’s what this ballet is about. In the beginning, I dance the solo role of a woman questioning love to the music “What is Love?” by Andrea Marcovicci. I feel like I’ve been in this woman’s place before, so I can honestly put my emotion into the pedestrian-influenced choreography. Further into the ballet, I find what I think is everlasting love when I dance a pas de deux to the song “Our Love is Here to Stay.” However, many times love is not here to stay. Our hearts are often broken.

The other soloist, Jane King, dances my other half to the song “You’ve Changed” by Billie Holiday. She is now broken-hearted and consumed with loss. Nevertheless, we as humans long for love, find love, lose love, and eventually recover from it as shown in the final group dance to “Ooh Child” by Nina Simone.

Let's go back to your big debut. Talk a little more about your work, particularly the choreography, on “Graduation Ball,” and that use of Strauss’ music.

“Graduation Ball” is a one-act ballet musically arranged by Antal Dorati and set to selected works of Johann Strauss II. It’s a light-hearted, comic ballet that follows the happenings of a graduation ball in a Viennese young ladies college to which cadets from a military college are invited. In the first scene, the ladies bustle about trying to get ready for the ball. Three of the school’s youngest ladies are indecisive about their attire and find humor in a dancing race avoiding to get dressed.

The ball begins in the second scene with a mazurka danced by the evening’s guests. At first, the young ladies and cadets are timid but soon begin to dance with each other. A series of divertissements and waltzes ensue. Amidst all of the dancing, a young lady of the school and one of the cadets discover romance. The two dance a pas de deux slowly bringing the night to an end. Everyone dances a final waltz, which is soon interrupted by the sight of another romance between the headmistress and the military commander. They bashfully come forward as everyone finishes the exciting night of dancing. The young ladies and cadets reluctantly bid one another goodnight and the stage quiets.

Just before the lights fade, the young lady who found romance with her handsome cadet dreamily dances back into the room. As she’s dancing, her cadet sneaks back into the room to bid her one last farewell. However, the headmistress finds the two and sends the cadet quickly on his way!

Since I started working with the dancers several months ago, they’ve come a long way in terms of interpreting the comic nuances and technical detail. I really enjoy watching the dancers’ personalities come out when they’re rehearsing and I truly look forward to seeing the finished product on stage.

(Photos by Dean Hesse)

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