The Dance of Life

t was when she was six, maybe seven.

Andrea Burr is trying to remember when she first knew she wanted to be a dancer. It seems like a lifetime ago, even for a petite young blonde who turned 18 this year.

It had to have been around age six. That’s when Burr remembers sitting in the back of her mother Susan Vanderwood’s dance class at Island Dance. She’d just stare for hours. She couldn’t wait for her turn.

“I just loved it,” she said.

Year’s later, that young girl has grown into one of Whidbey Dance Theatre’s principal dancers. It is through dance that Andrea Burr, a senior at South Whidbey High School, can come alive.

“You can be so many characters,” she said.

After years of bringing to life on stage the visions of other dance choreographers, Burr and fellow principle dancer Kate Yates, have reached a pinnacle point in their young dance careers — they have a vision of their own.

Monday afternoon priority for 18-year-old Yates is a technical rehearsal of her slipper ballet piece “Recollections” that is set to take the stage Friday and Saturday as a part of the Whidbey Dance Theatre Choreographers Showcase.

“I’ve been more nervous for this than for any performance I’ve ever done,” Yates said.

Burr and Yates’ emerging choreography pieces “Birds of Paradise” and “Recollections” will be featured this weekend in the Choreographer’s Showcase, along side ballet, modern, jazz and lyrical pieces created by professional choreographers Susan Campbell Sandri, Susan Vanderwood, Jennifer Bondelid, Jamee Brown, LeAnn Cohen and Martha Graham.

The pieces will be performed by the eight-member Whidbey Dance Theatre senior company and eight-member junior company. Guest performers Ballet Bellevue will stage classical variations from “Sleeping Beauty,” “Swan Lake,” and “Paquita.”

Brought back to the local stage from last year’s showcase will be the Brown choreographed modern, hip-hop hybrid “Controlled ... Turmoil” that debuted in 2003.

“It’s ambitious work,” said Campbell-Sandri.

“Home Lowe Reevin” a Celtic inspired piece that has been a part of WDT’s repertoire since 2002 will also be performed.

The senior company will premiere the Campbell-Sandri choreographed “Sacred Feminine” that was inspired by the current best-selling novel “The da Vinci Code” and Vanderwood’s “Perspectives” that offers two ways to look at life through the movement of dance.

The junior company will be featured during a modern jazz piece with props choreographed by Bondelid.

Both young dancers choreographed, as well as designed the costumes and the lighting, for their pieces. Whidbey Dance Theatre artistic director Campbell-Sandri considers them both strong, ambitious works from these first-time choreographers.

“Birds of Paradise” by Burr is a ballet piece en pointe to Afro-Celt music and “Recollections” is a slipper ballet creation by Yates. Both were judged earlier this month by a Regional Dance America adjudicator, and received positive feedback according to Campbell Sandri.

“She was surprised these were their first works,” Campbell-Sandri said.

Burr’s piece was one of nine emerging choreography pieces selected to be performed at the Regional Dance America Pacific festival in May.

Having a choreographed piece to show is a satisfying accomplishment for Yates, who has been dancing since she was a 3-year-old living in Bothell.

“Whenever I’ve been in a piece it’s always looked so easy,” Burr said.

Both now know it’s not as easy as it looks.

All week the girls have been working with fellow company dancers to fine tune their pieces for the performance. Now is the time to catch problems with costumes, lighting and tricky choreography. Now is the time to also think about school. For both girls, school and dance consume them.

Yates is a 4.0 student who is yearbook editor, secretary of the Key Club, founder and co-president of the debate club. She plans to attend Eastern Washington University to study forensic science, and can’t miss an episode of “CSI.” When Burr isn’t in school she is in dance. When not dancing she’s studying. Recently she was busy with rehearsals for the South Whidbey high school production of “Bye, Bye Birdie.”

“School and dance are pretty much my life at this point,” she said.

Burr has been accepted to the prestigious Cornish College of the Arts but isn’t sure if she’ll head to the $30,000 per year school. She is also considering dancing at the Westlake Dance Center for a year before heading to Los Angeles to stake out the dance industry there.

“I have a lot still to do,” she said. “There’s so much you can do in the world of dance and I’ve only experienced a tiny bit.”

Burr and Yates both credit their accomplishments with their choreography pieces to their fellow company dancers.

“They’ve worked with me a lot,” Burr said. “We listened to each other to make it come together.”

Last year the company became a member of Regional Dance America, a national organization of ballet companies whose mission is to define and maintain high artistic dance standards in the United States. The company — which happens to be the only modern company in RDA Pacific — has performed around the Puget Sound, Salt Lake City, greater Los Angeles, and is preparing to travel to the RDA festival in Tucson this May, and look to travel to Europe summer 2005 for the Tanzsommer festival. A portion of the proceeds will go to assist the dancers with their expenses to travel to the Regional Dance America spring festival, Tanzsommer, as well as support the production costs of the annual holiday production of “The Nutcracker.”

Individually, the Whidbey Dance Theatre senior company members have also become accomplished. Oceana Sharp has received a full scholarship to attend boarding school in Connecticut and train with the Hartford Ballet. Of the girls continuing with Whidbey Dance Theatre, Katelyn Candelario and Alexis Daly have been accepted to an intensive summer program with American Ballet Theatre, Michela Mattens will study this summer with American Dance Theatre in New York, Chelsea Matthews will study with Ballet Bellevue.

Last month, Whidbey Dance Theatre gave a taste, a tiny snippet of their repertoire at WICA. Campbell-Sandri hopes people will come back for more.

“We had four hours in the space to set the floor, go through blocking, lighting, actually perform and then strike the stage. It was a marathon,” she said. “The showcase will be much more.”

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