By VERONICA GRAY
Dancers of all kinds joined together on stage Thursday, Feb. 15, to put on the premiere of the 2018 Spring Dance Concert. This only began the production staff’s busy weekend, as they had three more shows on Friday and Saturday.
This Spring Dance Concert was the last to be directed by professor of speech, theater, and dance Susan Taylor-Lennon, making it an even more important event for the UT dance community. Not only was it Taylor-Lennon’s last show here at UT, it will also be her last semester before retirement, after a 42-year tenure.
Taylor-Lennon began dancing when she was just 10-years-old, which is when she first started taking ballet lessons. Before coming to UT, she earned her B.A. in english education at Florida State University. Despite choosing not to study it for her bachelor’s, her love for dance persisted and she continued to practice throughout her college career, going on to earn her master’s degree in dance in 1972, also at FSU.
After teaching at Winthrop College for a year, Taylor-Lennon moved back to Tampa, where she began working with the Tampa Ballet as a dancer and choreographer in 1973.
“The Tampa Ballet offered tremendous opportunities for artistic exploration and presented a wide variety of repertoire,” said Taylor-Lennon. “Falk Theatre became the official home for the Tampa Ballet.”
While with the Tampa Ballet, she also worked with the founder of the UT dance program, Anzia Arsenault, who was the artistic director for the ballet at the time. It was while she with the company that she began her tenure at UT in 1976, beginning as an adjunct dance professor in the spring.
“[Anzia] offered both private classes and classes for university credit in her studio, Tampa Ballet Arts, which was located where the Office of Graduate and Continuing Studies is now housed on campus.”
After finishing her time with the ballet in 1984, Taylor-Lennon decided to start her own dance company, Susan Taylor and Dancers, which she continued to direct through 1986.
“I wanted to continue to explore artistic pursuits with fellow dancers after the Tampa Ballet went into a new direction and eventually folded,” said Taylor-Lennon.
In 1991, the first formal Spring Dance Concert was held at UT. Taylor-Lennon has been involved since the very beginning. She feels the concert offers the perfect opportunity for UT dancers to broaden their performing experiences as well as a provide a service to the community.
“This year was my first year doing Spring Dance Concert and I absolutely loved it,” said sophomore nursing major, Sarah Wuerker. “Rehearsals were exhausting because they were 3-4 hours, but they were definitely worth it and it’s a great bonding experience as well.”
The Spring Dance Concert was a compilation of different types of dances. Though they were uniquely distinct through their styles, each dance was meant to tell a story. Some of the stories were quite familiar, such as the piece “Straight Outa Oz”, choreographed by Anthony Nicolo, and which, as the title suggests, told the story of Dorothy and her journey through Oz. Where “Straight Outa Oz” was upbeat and highly energetic, others were more slow and emotional, such as “Linear vs. Circularity”, choreographed by Ethan Barbee.
Another piece that really stood out from the others was “Human,” a routine that told the story of young women taking control of their lives by refusing to be pushed aside. Choreographed by Alex Jones, it had a much more serious theme, though it was one that was easily understood and that resonated.
In order to prepare for the dance concert, a lot of pre-planning has to take place. Before auditions are even held, they choose choreographers, which can be from the faculty here at UT or from local professionals in Tampa. They need enough to cover a program that will include about nine or 10 pieces. After that is done, auditions are held in November before Thanksgiving so that rehearsals can begin before winter break.
“We try to present a range of dance styles and choreographic approaches to give our students a broad palette of dance options,” said Taylor-Lennon. “For the past two years, we also have brought in a master choreographer with both national and international acclaim; this guest artist also teaches master classes and workshops while on campus for a week, during which time he also sets his choreographic work on our dancers.”
Taylor-Lennon went on to say how she always found the concert a joy to produce and direct. She appreciates the commitment of all who are involved and feels that the concert compares very well with her other works in dance.
“I didn’t know Professor Susan Taylor that well, but I was always in awe of her aura and light,” said Wuerker. She went on to talk about a pre-show ritual that they would always do where they stand in a circle, hold hands, and take deep breaths before Taylor-Lennon rushes into the circle to lead them all in a chant. “It’s such a great way to begin a show and to give us a sense of unity.”
As a final gift to her dancers, Taylor-Lennon choreographed the last piece of the concert, “Festival Finale” and at the end of Saturday’s 8 p.m. performance, she came out and her dancers bid her goodbye.
“‘Do it with love,’” recited Taylor-Lennon. “That is our mantra, which I first heard from my mentor at Florida State University, Dr. Nancy Smith Fichter. We say it before every performance.”
Veronica Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.