Howard University dancers Paris Jones, front, and Sydnee Carroll perform “Keuchen,” which translates “to gasp,” at The Washington Ballet. (Photo by Sope Aluko, Howard University News Service)
WASHINGTON — Paris Jones was an energetic 4-year old who just wanted to be active and dance with her friends. Now at 22, the Howard University senior is still dancing, this time sharing the stage with other students and professionals from the distinguished Washington Ballet.
Jones was one 12 members from Howard University’s Dance Ensemble to perform two works at The Washington Ballet in their studio company performance titled, “theNEWmovement: Balachine and Beyond” Oct. 29 and 30 at the England Studio Theater in northwest Washington.
The performance examined how George Balachine, one of the most respected choreographers of the 20th century, influenced generations of other choreographers.
Jones, from Richmond, Va., said she was very excited to be on the stage with the Washington Ballet
“When I heard we were dancing with The Washington Ballet, I was surprised, thinking ‘We are dancing in the same show with these professionals,’” she said. “A lot times when we are in this institutional setting, we think we aren’t on the same level as them, but we are in the field just like they are.”
Tre’vis Lanier, 23, also a senior, was also excited about the performance. Lanier began dancing at the age of 15, which is usually a late start in the field. He said the experience is one that he will always remember.
Members of the Howard University Dance program perform “SHOOK” at The Washington Ballet. The dance is a combination of ballet, modern dance and a recorded voice narration by rapper Tupac Shakur. (Photo by Sope Aluko, Howard University News Service)
“I’m happy that Howard has prepared us to be able to come here and show others about our people, our culture, and show what we can do,” he said. “I want to inspire everyone around me to be passionate about dance. We need to put our hearts, bodies, everything into this.”
Jones and dancer Sydnee Carroll performed a duet titled “Keuchen.” The other students performed SHOOK,” a combination of ballet and modern dance that was voiced by a recording of rapper Tupac Shakur
Howard had performed the dances previously at the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
Howard’s performance was part of the ballet company’s newly launched effort to create more diversity in its program and to expose “rising stars.” The ballet company has launched a dance series to give more exposure to the young and culturally diverse group of aspiring dancers from the ballet as part of “Let’s Dance Together,” the company’s diversity initiative for the this season.
Royce Zackery, head coordinator for the Dance program at Howard University, chats with Septime Webre, Washington Ballet Company artist director, after the night’s performance. The two have agreed to present more dances together next year to promote more diversity. (Photo by Sope Aluko, Howard University News Service)
In April, for example, , the ballet company debuted Swan Lake with famous African-American dancer Misty Copeland, the principle dancer for American Ballet Theater, the nation’s premiere dance company. Performing opposite Copeland was Brooklyn Mack, also African American, a member of the Washington Ballet Company.
Royce Zackery, head coordinator of Dance Arts at Howard, and Tiffany Quinn, the dance program’s co-coordinator, said they were very eager to reach out to The Washington Ballet to participate in the series.
“I really want to dive into the diversity initiative on all spectrums of diversity,” said Zachery, a dancer for 20 years and the choreographer for his original piece, “Keuchen.”
He also said the exposure to broader arenas is an integral part of the Howard’s dance instruction.
“We want them to be more exposed and prepared for what is out there when they get to their professional career,” he said. “I’m just trying to get them to be proficient technicians. When they leave here, they will have who we are in their back pocket. Whether they stay in the U.S or go somewhere in Europe…their instrument is ready for the world.”
Howard’s weekend performance was the first of four collaborations with the Washington Ballet Company over the next three years, Zachery said. Howard will also perform with the company March and April of 2016.
Howard University Dance ensemble members and The Washington Ballet company dancers take their bows at the end of their first ever joint dance presentation. The two will combine for two more productions next year. (Photo by Arthur Espinoza Jr., Washington Ballet Company)
Mary Day, the co-founder of the Washington Ballet School in 1944 and the founder of the current company, said promoting diversity was a focus for her and Septime Webre, the company’s artistic directed. Since1999, the two have worked tirelessly to make sure that everyone is represented, she said.
“When I arrived in 1999, I knew that our organization needed to reflect more thoroughly the culture and complexion of our city,” said Webre, who is Cuban-American.
As part of his effort, in 2005 he created DanceDC, a seven-week program for 2nd and 3rd graders that combines learning ballet with required core subjects in the District of Columbia Public Schools’ curriculum.
Of the 700 students who attend each year, 66 percent are African American, 21 percent are Hispanic, 10 percent are Caucasian, with Asians and other racial groups making up the last 3 percent.
In 2005, the company opened another program that provides ballet lessons for 4- to18 year olds as well as adults. The program is located in Anacostia, one of the lowest income neighborhoods in the District,