Dance West show gets an extra kick

by: ©2007 DONNA ZWEIG, The 29 members of Dance West master a spectrum of dance styles, and their performance this week calls on multiple art forms in addition to dance, including music, visual art and creative writing.

With a very special guest set to join them, members of the high school troupe Dance West will give movement aficionados a look at some of the area's finest young artists later this week.

The company, pre-professional students at the Beaverton Arts and Communication Magnet Academy, will back Broadway star Shoshana Bean in one of the highlights of its annual spring program at the Newmark Theatre.

Bean came to Portland last September with the road show of 'Wicked,' the musical that put her on the New York theater map.

A Beaverton High School product and the daughter of Dance West instructor Felice Moskowitz, Bean will debut two songs from an upcoming pop album.

Moskowitz says members of Dance West, a sort of west-side version of the famed Jefferson Dancers, got to see 'Wicked' and work with Bean and other cast members last fall. It was an eye-opener.

'Many of the kids who weren't thinking about careers in dance changed their direction,' she says. And they clamored to have Bean back.

Wish granted.

Bean left the 'Wicked' tour last winter to finish her first CD, which she describes as pop with 'a soulful tinge.' She'll sing two songs, one of them set to dance by former Jefferson Dancer T.J. Yale.

'It's less about me and my music and more about being able to give back to where I came from,' Bean says.

Moskowitz says Dance West prepares itself for the annual spring event by first mounting the production on the road, in places ranging from Hermiston to the San Juan Islands. In February, the troupe performed in Corvallis.

'It's a great experience for the kids,' she says. 'It's about seeing where you are and what needs refinement. We've made a lot of changes since the Corvallis show. When they get to the Newmark, they're ready to go.'

As has become its custom, the 29-member company will offer a spectrum of dance, a reflection of Artistic Director Julane Stites' mandate to produce artists with a broad base.

'I believe in a strong ballet background with strong tap, ethnic and modern,' Stites says. 'That is for the dancers. They don't know which door is going to open for them.'

The show will also call upon multiple disciplines - music, visual art, creative writing - from a range of contributors within the school and beyond.

Dance West will by backed by its school's jazz and classical orchestras and joined by the local ensemble Tall Jazz, Moskowitz says.

Moreover, each Dance West instructor has a piece in the show, and another was produced by Erin Johnson, a senior at Arts and Communication.

Moskowitz says Dance West's latest batch of artists is ready to start leaving its own mark.

'I don't sense that they're nervous right now,' she says. 'They actually can't wait to get to the theater. They're tired of rehearsal. This is their big reward, to dance on Broadway.'

Stites, who spent 17 years at Jefferson High School in North Portland, six as director of the Jefferson Dancers, says Arts and Communication has come a long way since she arrived nearly a decade ago.

'There were like six students in a tap class,' she says. Now, 220 of the 560 kids at the by-application public school are involved in dance.

'That's a wonderful thank you,' she says.

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Dance West 2007

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 19-20

Where: Portland Center for the Performing Arts, Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, 503-248-4335

Cost: $17.50-$24.50; available through Tickemaster (503-224-4400), subject to service charges