The late artist Prince will hold center stage in this year’s “Spring Collection” concert presented by the University of Arizona School of Dance.
“The Artist: Celebrating Prince,” choreographed by faculty member Michael Williams, is placed as the concert’s grand finale.
“Actually, the first performance will be on the same date Prince died a year ago,” said Williams. He began working on the choreography last summer.
“Prince’s first album came out the same year I graduated from college,” Williams said. “I’m a big fan. I have been for years and years. I have every one of his albums.
“His death is what propelled me to do this piece.”
Being chosen as the closing piece for “Spring Collection” also gave Williams the chance to add more of the Purple One’s music for the 28-dancer curtain call.
“We’ll play ‘1999’ while everyone on stage takes their bows, and then as people leave the theater we’ll follow with ‘Purple Rain.’”
For the serious choreography that makes up this 12-minute work, Williams has chosen three songs.
“I picked ones that had surprising musical elements,” he added.
Providing the lively opening is “Let’s Go Crazy,” with a more thoughtful and lesser known work, “The Dance,” coming in the middle.
“That one is more obscure. It isn’t on any of the greatest-hits albums,” he said.
For the energetic conclusion, he chose “It’s About That Walk.”
“I didn’t try to mimic any of Prince’s movements at all,” said Williams. “The choreography is representing his music. I wanted it to have that same texture, vitality and edginess.”
Williams also has a second piece on the program, “Step Back,” which was prepared in collaboration with Lauren Truby. “Step Back” is a seven-minute tap dance number for seven dancers, set to a recording by jazz singer Brenda Boykin.
“This is music that works for my kind of choreography,” he said. “It has a Big Band sound, but with more modern percussion.”
Boykin sings “Listen To The Beat,” which she does with a loosely swinging rhythm. Williams has modified the sound a bit, deliberately dampening the volume in places so the tap rhythms stand out.
“The dancers also come down close to the front of the stage, where the stage floor is over the orchestra pit,” he explained. “That also amplifies the sound quite a bit. The dancing is very vibrant.”
Another “Spring Collection” premiere is by special guest artist and former Tucsonan Miguel Perez, who studied with Williams in the 1990s before finding a place with River North Dance Chicago and then Hubbard Street 2 in Chicago, with Bodytraffic in Los Angeles and as the dance captain with Celine Dion’s World Tour.
“Right now he is working in Vegas, dancing in the show ‘Donnie and Marie,’” said Williams, who began working with Perez when he was still in high school.
The new piece by Perez is “Before Reality Sets In,” described as an autobiographical journey.
“It is contemporary modern dance, with 15 barefoot dancers,” said Williams. “The choreography is more abstract. He’s looking at life’s journey and all its challenges, with a positive resolve.”
Other faculty with choreography in the program are James Clouser, Tamara Dyke-Compton, Elizabeth George-Fesch, Barbea Williams, Amy Ernst and Sam Watson.