A new face is featured in the University of Arizona Dance Ensemble’s Nov. 15-18 Premium Blend concert: visiting assistant professor Autumn Eckman.
The concert will spotlight a trio of Eckman’s pieces selected from her 20 years as a professional dancer/choreographer — much of it with leading Chicago companies Hubbard Street Dance, Giordano Dance Chicago and Luna Negra Dance Theatre.
Just as the UA dance school has built its national reputation on teaching the triple-track curriculum of ballet, modern and jazz dance disciplines, Eckman has also been drawn to a similar approach for herself.
“Early on I always knew I wanted to be doing something different in dance,” Eckman said. “After all, I started out as that little Georgia kid doing mountain clogging.”
Last year Eckman received her Master’s degree in choreography from the University of Iowa.
“I learned that I enjoy teaching multiple techniques,” Eckman continued. “The more time I spend teaching, the more I understand about dance. That’s very exciting for me.”
Within the Chicago dance community, the UA school has a strong presence, Eckman reports. A part of that reputation comes from longtime UA faculty members Michael Williams and Sam Watson, who came here from the Giordano company.
“The UA reputation is just something in the air up there,” Eckman continued. “I’ve known about the UA a long time. So as I was finishing up grad school I applied for the position here, then just waited and hoped.”
Now the new instructor has her own showcase moment on stage, presenting two of her earlier works and dancing a third one. Appropriately enough for someone named Autumn, the collection is called “Eckman Seasons,” with the pieces designated Spring, Summer and Fall.
“Since Tucson has no winter, we are just having three seasons,” added the former Chicagoan happily.
Opening as Spring is “Supermoon,” a more traditional ballet-based piece described as illuminating “the relationship between music and the body,” inspired by the polyphonic and polyrhythmic music of Afro-pop artist Zap Mama.
Summer brings a more contemporary dance in the male duet “Chicken Scratch,” that explores the give-and-take of friendship in a childhood setting.
“It is definitely summer,” she adds.
Fall will be a solo danced by Eckman. The choreography was inspired by Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Less Traveled,” expressing how life-shaping opportunities are represented by choice.
The Premium Blend program also includes “Bolero,” “Meta 4” and “Tonadas.”
To present Ravel’s “Bolero,” UA’s dancers will take on the choreography of Alexei Ratmansky, former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, a MacArthur Fellow, and now the resident choreographer for the American Ballet Theatre.
The four-movement “Meta 4,” set on a quartet of dancers, was created by modern dance icon Bela Lewitzky, and includes a commissioned score by American composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez. Former rehearsal director of the Lewitzky Dance Company, Walter Kennedy, set this piece on the UA dancers.
“Tonadas” was created by the UA dance faculty’s own Jory Hancock and Melissa Lowe and is in a Spanish neo-classical style, set to a piano composition by Mompou and Nin-Culmel, performed on stage by Suzanne Knosp and Anton Faynberg.