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Future Broadway stars: Gustafson Dance Program produces an evening of Broadway numbers

Students from the Gustafson Dance Two-Week Junior Intensive program perform Broadway numbers during the 2014 show. Photo courtesy John Conroy Image

Students from the Gustafson Dance Two-Week Junior Intensive program perform Broadway numbers during the 2014 show.
Photo courtesy John Conroy Image

There’s a chance to see the fruits of an intensive summer workshop of dance this weekend, and no, it has nothing to do with Fiesta. Instead, Gustafson Dance’s Two-Week Junior Intensive program brings an evening of Broadway hits to the Lobero. And while many a parent and family member will be there, the event is open to the public.

Gustafson Dance is the official school of State Street Ballet. Allison Gustafson is director of the dance school and Rodney Gustafson is artistic director of State Street Ballet.

Designed for dancers ages 7-14, the dance school program features 17 numbers – between 2 to 4 minutes each – that reflect the variety of dance styles taught in the workshops, from ballet and jazz to pre-pointe, pointe, character, and musical theater. A total of 63 dancers have to learn all these and be performance ready by the end of nine days. There will also be a contemporary work choreographed by Brooke Melton designed for the older students. Hence the word “Intensive.”

“The older range of students, the 13-15 year olds, are definitely on that professional track,” says Nicole Comella, assistant director of the workshop and Allison Gustafson”s right hand person. “It does give them a taste of what it’s like to dance all day and learn new things and styles . . . They go from class to class to class. But it’s so much fun.”

The evening features Broadway numbers interpreted in different styles, not just a replication of the official version. “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” for example, has been reinterpreted as a ballet piece with instrumental piano accompaniment.

The dancers are very knowledgeable and savvy about the world of Broadway, especially from the last few decades of productions. Ms. Comella has heard the jazz dance class singing along to their number from “The Lion King.” They know all the words and they’re having the best time, she says.

Ms. Gustafson is really good at “listening to the desires of the students and the parents,” says Ms. Comella. “And knowing what’s good for them. We started Junior Intensive . . . because we wanted something like our professional company’s four-week long intensive, but for those who weren’t ready for something so long, with that same sense of training and working hard.”

In fact Gustafson Dance has some older students who just finished their four-week professional intensive, took a week off, and have joined the junior intensive.

Ms. Comella is aware that the Lobero show happens at the same time as Fiesta’s Las Noches de Ronda, and for a few years Gustafson Dance sent some students to perform at Mercado del Norte, while State Street Ballet has performed at the courthouse. But this year students will miss the parade, and that’s just the kind of commitment the workshop teaches.

The benefits also extend to muscle memory, flexibility and general dance skills. Healthy competition and camaraderie also helps.

“They push each other,” she says. “They really love being around each other, they’re all so into dance that they share everything with each other. The inspiration from each other and their teachers is one of the great benefits.”

So yes, it’s a hard business, dance.

“But if you love it,” Ms. Comella says. “You just don”t want to do anything else.”

“Summer Celebration of Dance”
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.
Cost: $14-$24
Information: (805) 963-0761, www.lobero.com

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