Spring dance show brings MAC back to performance life

The dance program was the first to lose its spring show in 2020, so it’s perhaps fitting that they are the first to ascend the indoor stage in 2021

LAST NIGHTS ON STAGE AS A KNIGHT: Appearing in five dances including his senior solo, senior Matthew Vargas made the most of his final McCallum dance performance. “The most special thing about the show was being able to dance with my friends one last time as a Knight,” he said. Given that mindset, it is little surprise that his favorite two numbers in the show were the ones in which he took the stage with the other pre-professional dance group seniors. This image captures Vargas at the height of his leap alongside his senior company mates Avery Miller, Dorothy Anne Smith and Abby Tobleman during the appropriately named number, “Solidarity.” The dance was choreographed by MAC dance student directors Miller and Isabelle Baird and was therefore performed earlier in the year at the student-directed dance show on the outdoor stage. The seniors performed it three more times in the MAC this past weekend. “This piece was special because we have been working on it for a long time,” Vargas said. “When we do it, it’s just all muscle memory, so we can all have fun.”

When the McCallum Youth Dance Company took to the McCallum Arts Center stage on opening night, it was the first time they had performed together on that stage in more than a year.

Why would a Fine Arts Academy program set foot on its performance stage for the first time on opening night before a paying audience.

I don’t think any of us realized how much we missed that stage and it was really cool to be able to return to our roots for our final show of the year.”

— senior dance major Georgia Dover on performing in the MAC for the first time since the pandemic

It’s complicated.

For starters, though, let’s start with this main reason.

“We were planning on having the show on the outdoor stage but at the last minute decided to switch indoors since most of us are vaccinated, and the MAC is big enough to social distance in,” senior dance major Georgia Dover said. “I don’t think any of us realized how much we missed that stage, and it was really cool to be able to return to our roots for our final show of the year.”

But returning to their roots meant an abrupt change in plans.

Leilah Ramos remembered the beginnings of the idea to move the dance show indoors.

“I remember me and my friend Leila [Vaughan] really talking about how we should do our show in the MAC since it would be a way better venue and because of all the rain,” Ramos said.

“I give all the credit to Leila Vaughan,” Ramos said. “She was the first to talk to [dance directors] Ms. Nat and Ms. Murray and then she even took it a step further to ask the principal what we could do to move the performance to the MAC.”

Especially [with] this being my last show as a company member, it was special to be dancing in the Mac where I watched the seniors before me say their goodbyes.”

— senior dance major Nelle Kanewske

From there, the students, directors and parents made the change in venue happen.

“Abby Tobleman’s dad [who happens to be a doctor] and other parents in the Dance Guild, including my mom, brought it up in the Guild meeting on either Monday or Tuesday and later in the day Abby’s dad emailed the assistant principals and the principal and all the parents worked together to make sure we had a good space with the marley down with lights and music.”

The week before the show was rendered useless for meaningful rehearsal because four of the five days were asynchronous due to STAAR testing.

“We started in person rehearsals on the 20th of April,” senior Nell Kanewske said.  “With all the testing happening at school, there were a lot of asynchronous days mixed in. The week prior to show we didn’t meet on Zoom once, so show week came along and we rehearsed and rehearsed and pulled it together!”

After doing initial choreography on Zoom, the company had a total of nine in-person rehearsals, but those had been in the black box and in the field house.

“We got into the Mac day of the Friday show because it needed to be cleaned up,” Kanewske said. “Friday’s show was us on that stage for the first time.”

“I was really impressed even by our first show on Friday, which was pretty much kind of a dress rehearsal for all of us since we had most of our rehearsals in the field house with mirrors and with more depth than the stage at the MAC,” Ramos said. “I watched some of the other performances and talked to some of my peers. and we all agreed it was so great just to be back on stage again. The dance we had in Act 2 was the most nerve racking for me because it was all about feeling each others timing and movement and we’ve only performed it in front of a mirror where we can see each other i was so happy and surprised on how well we did.”

I thought I was never going to be able to perform in the MAC ever again. I was so excited to be in that space with people for one last time.”

— senior dance major Terrel Hall

While the change in venue had been frenetic and added stress to the days leading up to the show, Ramos said it made the show more meaningful.

“It was the first show with lights and fancy makeup,” Ramos said. “I was honestly a little nervous, but I was more excited to show off our dances for a real audience sitting in the MAC.”

Kanewske agreed.

“This show was very special to me, as this year it is a rare occasion for everyone to come together. For the past couple months, we went from learning the choreography on Zoom to being all together on stage, and we pulled it off! Especially this being my last show as a company member, it was special to be dancing in the Mac where I watched the seniors before me say their goodbyes.”

Tobleman put it succinctly: “It was sort of a way to show that pandemic didn’t break us.”

We are pleased to dedicate this week’s Tuesday Top 10 to the McCallum Youth Dance Company’s triumphant return to the MAC, which marked the first performance there since before COVID-19 came to town.

“It’s kind of funny,” junior dance major Annabel Winter said. “We were the first show to get canceled [in 2020], and we were the first show to get back specifically in the MAC [in 2021].”

YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR VENUE: Choreographer Erick Yanez left it up to juniors Leilah Ramos and Leila Vaughan and senior Matthew Vargas to determine a cool way to kick off the spring dance show’s opening number, “They Don’t Know about Us.”  Ramos said the music of the number began with a man’s voice sounding like a boxing announcer so the trio of dancers decided that Vargas would hold up a “Round 1” sign while Ramos and Vaughan pretended to be boxers. “I really liked that I got to do a hip hop dance because in my three years dancing at Mac I was waiting for the opportunity to do a fun hip hop dance,” Ramos said. “My favorite part of the dance for sure was that beginning section.” Ramos said that it was appropriate that Vaughan introduce the first number because she was instrumental in moving the show from its original venue, the outdoor stage, to the MAC. Friday night’s show became the first fine arts performance for a public audience in the Mac since the pandemic. Ramos said it was Vaughan who originally proposed the idea first to the dance directors and then to Principal Nicole Griffith. From there  Mac dance parents joined the effort and a plan to make a COVID-safe performance in the MAC emerged. For Ramos, performing in the MAC made all the difference in the world. “The spring show was way different than the student-directed show because it felt more real,” she said. “In the student-directed show, we were outside with natural lighting so we don’t have to wear that much makeup as when we’re under big stage lights indoors. I was really happy we got to perform at the MAC, so we could have a close to normal show with our soon to be graduating seniors. Even through COVID I still got to grow even closer to the seniors leaving this year.” Photo by Anna McClellan.

BACK IN THE MAC Juniors Elise Crouse, Charli Cevallos and Jess Holtz and seniors Avery Miller and Corin Vandenberg perform in the opening number “They Don’t Know About Us” during Friday’s show. With poor weather affecting the ability to use the outdoor stage, Dance directors Rachel Murray and Natalie Uehara were able to ask the district and get the green light to perform indoors. “We were hoping that the outdoor stage would be able to be used,” Crouse said. “But we had known that bad weather was going to be happening this week, and during rehearsals we were kind of all over the place. The first day we were outside, and then for in-class rehearsal we had to move to the field house.” The show, A Space Odyssey, take 2, became the first event to be performed indoors in the MAC in over a year. “They didn’t tell us that [we would be performing in the MAC] until Wednesday,” Crouse said. “Two days before the show happened, and we just had to go with it and do what we could to get it done. I remember my first Spring Show in the MAC and it just gave me so much nostalgia to be able to be back in the theater.” Photo and reporting by Anna McClellan.

MAKING “HISTORY”: In the jazz dance number, “History Repeating,” Parker Mitchell, Wynter Winston, Maddie Hello and Samantha Bogle dance with the mindset that they are spies hunting their next target and looking for who might be targeting them. Winston said she was excited to perform this dance, choreographed by the B. Iden Payne Award-winning Sara Burke, because it was one she had learned the year before and was scheduled to perform it at the 2020 spring dance show. “We had to put it on hold due to COVID,” Winston said. She said she didn’t really have a favorite number in last weekend’s show but rather enjoyed the whole experience. ”My favorite moment from this weekend overall was just being in the MAC again with all my dance friends. It was back to familiarity.” Photo by Kennedy Weatherby.

STRIKE A POSE: Senior Terrell Hall stands with Avery Miller and Dorothy Ann Smith in his final position during the senior major dance choreographed piece by Avery Miller and Isabelle Baird. Hall found that the development of learning that number made it significant for him. “I would say the whole process of learning it on zoom to performing it on stage was what made it stick out to me.” As for the whole spring show, Hall was glad to have a last moment on stage with the other seniors. “My favorite moment of the show was performing with the other seniors,” he said. “It was so fun to lay it all on the stage one last time before we go.” The last-minute decision to move the dance show from the outdoor stage to the MAC shocked Hall. “I thought I was never going to be able to perform in the MAC ever again,” said Hall. “I was so excited to be in that space with people for one last time.” Reporting by Lucy Marco. Photo by Anna McClellan.

LAST NIGHTS ON STAGE AS A KNIGHT: Appearing in five dances including his senior solo, senior Matthew Vargas made the most of his final McCallum dance performance. “The most special thing about the show was being able to dance with my friends one last time as a Knight,” he said. Given that mindset, it is little surprise that his favorite two numbers in the show were the ones in which he took the stage with the other pre-professional dance group seniors. This image captures Vargas at the height of his leap alongside his senior company mates Avery Miller, Dorothy Anne Smith and Abby Tobleman during the appropriately named number, “Solidarity.” The dance was choreographed by MAC dance student directors Miller and Isabelle Baird and was therefore performed earlier in the year at the student-directed dance show on the outdoor stage. The seniors performed it three more times in the MAC this past weekend. “This piece was special because we have been working on it for a long time,” Vargas said. “When we do it, it’s just all muscle memory, so we can all have fun.” Photo by Kennedy Weatherby.

FANS UP: Freshman Sophie Leung-Lieu along with the emerging dance company, or first year dance majors, perform a flamenco dance piece. It is a tradition for rising company dancers to learn and perform a flamenco dance. “We were taught by our flamenco teacher Ms. Olivia Chacon and we wore long skirts and flamenco shoes,” said Leung-Lieu. “This year we danced with fans to a piece called Guajiras…to live music played by a guitarist and percussionist.” Leung-Lieu thought that the dance being moved inside the MAC was an exciting opportunity. “We haven’t gotten to perform on a stage with an actual sound system and actual stage lighting in over a year and it was a great ending to this long year.” Reporting by Lucy Marco. Photo by Dave Winter.

A PERFECT ENDING: Nelle Kanewske, center, didn’t hesitate when asked to identify a favorite moment in a weekend filled with three spring dance show performances and a year-end banquet. The highlight, she said, was the final performance of the senior finale, “to life with,” at the 6 p.m. Saturday show in the MAC, the final show in the three-show run of “2021: A Space Odyssey, Take Two.” While the first two performances of the dance were really good, Kanewske said the seniors saved their best effort for the Saturday evening finale. “As we all gathered on stage for our first formation, I think it hit me this was the last time all together and we had to make it good,” she said. “I was sad, although I love performing with them, they are like a family to me. During the last performance, it was a reflection of what we had accomplished together.” Kanewskie described Millie Heckler’s choreography as wacky and said that the performance had very little to do with technique. “What makes a dance good is the energy behind it,” she said. “Our energy was strong and as a whole we felt that as we performed. By that point, we were used to the space. Our energy was high backstage, as everyone was cheering each other on.” The moment brought a crazy week of preparation and an even crazier year of pandemic upheaval to a celebratory crescendo. “This show was very special to me, as this year it is a rare occasion for everyone to come together,” Kanewske said. “For the past couple months, we went from learning the choreography on Zoom to being all together on stage, and we pulled it off! Especially this being my last show as a company member, it was special to be dancing in the Mac where I watched the seniors before me say their goodbyes.” Photo by Dave Winter.

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE, EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE: In their final performance together as McCallum Youth Dance Company members, the seniors in the pre-profession class perform the last moments of “to live with,” a senior piece choreographed and set virtually by Millie Heckler. Senior Georgia Dover, front and center in this photo described Heckler as “a super talented dancer who has taught classes for us in the past.” The dance is choreographed so the dancers appear connected to each other and moving as one unit, and Dover said that’s exactly what happened during the performances this weekend … especially the final performance at the 6 p.m. show on Saturday. “This photo captured a moment where we were feeding off of each other’s energy and dancing together one last time,” Dover said. “It was bittersweet, but we were all grateful to be able to perform together and have such a special piece for our last run.” Dover credited Heckler for designing a dance that allowed a special closure moment for the senior class. “The music we were dancing to was actually edited so there was a part that was completely silent. We had to breathe together and focus on each other in order to continue to move as one. After the silence there was a part where the music reached a crescendo and we were all dancing as full out as possible and just laughing and getting into the movement together. It was a really cool experience.” She added the experience was even more special because it occurred in the McCallum Arts Center. “ I don’t think any of us realized how much we missed that stage, and it was really cool to be able to return to our roots for our final show of the year.” Photo by Dave Winter.

SINGULAR SENIORS: At the year-end banquet held in the fine arts courtyard Saturday night, junior Annabel Winter explains the annual banquet tradition of awarding superlatives to each graduating senior in the program. After explaining that each junior pre-professional dancer was going to award a superlative, Winter presented the award “Most Likely to Start Her Own Dance Studio” to Isabelle Baird. “We got to pick who we wanted to give our superlative to,” Winter said. “I wanted to give mine to Isabelle because she is so welcoming and sweet, and I have gotten really close to her in my years in pre-pro.” Winter said that her favorite superlative was the one given to senior Alanah Brown: Most Likely to Choreography for a K-Pop Band. “Hers was one that we customized. … When someone came up with that, we were all like … yes!” The banquet marked the end of a very busy weekend for the dance program: three shows over two days. Winter said the show was special because it was the first fine arts performance for the public in the McCallum Arts Center since before the pandemic. “It was really great being great on the stage,” Winter said. “It’s kind of funny because we were the first show to get canceled, and we were the first show to get back specifically in the MAC.” Photo by Dave Winter.

ROOTING FOR ROSS: Senior Abby Tobleman, sitting along with her fellow dancers, cheers on her dad Ross as he is recognized for his years of service to the McCallum Youth Dance Company. “He’s always been a dance dad,” Tobleman said. “He always helps with concessions and setting up the floor we use, and it was just natural that he used his medical expertise to make sure the show was as safe as possible.” After dance students raised the possibility of moving the spring dance show from the outdoor stage indoors to the MAC, Tobleman, a doctor, made sure the venue adopted COVID protocols so the show could be staged safely. Abby was glad her dad “was getting the recognition he deserves” because of how special her last show was. “Every show is always special, but what made this one particular cool is not only the fact that it was the seniors’ last show together, but it was sort of a way to show that pandemic didn’t break us.” Reporting by Lucy Marco. Photo by Dave Winter.

THE FAB FIVE: These winners of McCallum Dance Guild Scholarships, Abby Tobleman, Avery Miller, Nelle Kanewski, Emma Wallace and Terrel Hall, pose for a photograph just after the directors announced that they had received the scholarship. Every year the dance program holds a fundraiser to raise money for senior scholarships, and this year the scholarships were funded through a Hike-A-Thon along the Turkey Creek Trail at Emma Long Metro Park. The five winners had to describe themselves as dancers and explain what dance means to them. Kanewski (center) said that for as long as she could remember, the dance studio has been her sanctuary. “When school was tough or even stuff at home, the dance studio was a place of creative thinking that allowed for me to just dance,” Kanewske said. “Dance to me has always been my safe space, growing up being in a dance studio made me instantly happier. Dance is how I channel my emotions, how I express them.” Kaneswke spent her earliest days as dance at several Austin studios, including Slavin Nadal and Austin School of Classical Ballet. “I grew up doing mostly ballet, which included a large amount of structure. At the time structure was something I was seeking for, and dance gave that to me.” Photo by Dave Winter.