The masterful touch of Vereen

By Robert O'Brien
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 3, 1996

Veteran stage and screen star Ben Vereen will be guest starring with the UA Dance Ensemble in this year's UA Faculty Dance Concert, accompanied by the University Studio Jazz Ensemble as well as Orchestra Nova.

Vereen is well known for his performances in the Broadway hits "Pippin," "Hair," and "Jesus Christ Superstar," winning acclaim as well in the role of Chicken George in the TV miniseries "Roots." On a lighter note, he played Uncle Phillip on the TV sitcom "Webster." He currently directs the Ben Vereen School for the Performing Arts at the Robert Mayes Performing Arts Center located on Chicago's south side.

Vereen will be accompanied by the students who comprise the UA Dance Ensemble, performing works by faculty members Amy Ernst, Nina Janik, Jory Hancock, Melissa Lowe, Susan Quinn, Michael Williams and John M. Wilson, with lighting design by theatre arts faculty member Julie Mack. The achievements of the Dance Ensemble include a performance at the Jazz Dance World Congress '95 in Nagoya, Japan. No other university dance ensemble has received this honor to date.

Among the pieces to be performed are Williams' "Scat" - an exploration of the percussive texture created by the use of scat syllables, as used by four artists (Mel Torme, Mark Bruglar, Ella Fitzgerald and Scatman John).

Nina Janik's "Emerald Emergence" evokes the optimism and energy of spring. Janik comments that the piece is "very female and is based on my impressions of Art Deco drawings and Egyptian base-reliefs." Moving a bit closer to home, "Texas Canyon," by Susan Quinn, is a lyrical jazz piece inspired by the balancing rock foundations found in the canyon south of Tucson.

Jory Hancock and Melissa Lowe collaborated on the choreography of the ballet "English Suite," with the music of C. Hubert Perry. This ballet takes its inspiration from the beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

This truly eclectic mix of styles, augmented by the masterful touch of Vereen and the accomplished UA ensemble, should prove to be an exceptional event indeed.