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Fresh as spring shoots at winter's end, the youthful dancers from three of Forsyth County's high schools popped up all over the lower galleries of Winston-Salem's Sawtooth Center during their performances in dance troupe alban elved's arts-in-education showcase on March 9. (The program opened on March 8 and ran through March 11.) alban elved, led by dancer and choreographer Karola Lüttringhaus, is easily the most inventive modern dance company currently working in North Carolina, and the company's daring and sophistication were not wasted on the girls from Mt. Tabor High School, with whom Lüttringhaus and her colleagues worked this year, or on those from East Forsyth and Glenn high schools, with whom they had worked in the two previous years, thanks to grants from the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.
Ordinarily, I am skeptical about "arts in education." All too often, such programs tempt artists away from their work with the bait of grant money that will allow them to survive... but not to thrive. And too often, the education projects are too small, too short, too scantily funded and too tightly shoehorned into the school day to be very important to the students. But being deeply interested in alban elved's work, I went to "Wingspan" anyway — and was rewarded. Clearly, the schools in Forsyth take dance education seriously. Teachers Susannah Eichman, Dawn Webster (who sometimes dances with alban elved), and Layla Guffey prepared their students to take advantage of the opportunity to work with professional dancers, and the process seems to have been rewarding for Lüttringhaus and her assistants as well. Everyone had a good time.
Beginning with Lüttringhaus' pre-show announcements – for which she strapped on her harness and ratcheted herself up a rope suspended from one of the Sawtooth's large beams, treating us to a little aerial swing – to the playful "Railing" dance – in which the Mt. Tabor students swung their legs up and over the half-wall above the gallery – to the funny finale, "Just Can't Stop," by the Glenn students, the program was full of surprises. One was the control exhibited by the dancers: no one even bumped any of the sculptures in the gallery. Their aplomb was quite remarkable as they moved through the odd and rather constricted spaces with audience members above, below, and all around them.
But perhaps the happiest surprise was how naturally the girls had taken to the free, bold, powerful, smart movements that are Lüttringhaus' hallmarks. It was wonderful to see all these pretty girls, dressed in white, burst into unfettered motion or take strong stances and lift and spin their partners. They did a great job using the physical to express the metaphysical. Whether any of these students will become professional dancers remains to be seen, but they have all certainly learned to dance from their hearts and their heads, and they have acquired the understanding they need to be lifelong lovers of modern dance. This is one arts-in-education program that has been a complete success.
Interspersed with the student works were brief performances by the teachers. Particularly notable was Alayna Stroud's intense performance of Lüttringhaus' "Quadruped," an aerial solo. Lüttringhaus danced two sections (one with E.E. Crofton) from "ROOMS," which the alban elved company has been developing since last year and which will be performed in its entirety at Wake Forest May 25-28.
Triangle dance lovers will want to mark their calendars now for the premiere of "Hydra," an outdoor performance to take place June 21-24 at the North Carolina Museum of Art, where Lüttringhaus and alban elved will continue offering their wisdom about bodies in space to anyone who cares to learn.