Winter Dance Concert at the Savannah Arts Academy

Last night I attended the 2011 Winter Dance Concert at the Savannah Arts Academy.

I imagine many hear “Savannah Arts Academy” and assume that it’s a private school. It’s obviously not. The arts magnet high school is one of the headline achievements of the Savannah Chatham Public School System, which often faces daunting odds in terms of demographics (a large number of students from impoverished families), budget problems, and competition from private and parochial schools.

Anyway, last night’s concert (the same program will be repeated tonight, Friday, Jan.7) was in the school’s gorgeous auditorium, which has the wide, historical graciousness that it had when the building served as the original Savannah High School.

I was soon struck by the professionalism of the entire production — kudos to dance department head Christina Powell. The program was well-designed; the costumes and lighting were gorgeous; the sound was good (if a tad too loud at times); the production’s pace was perfect. The show started on time and ran exactly two hours, including a ten-minute intermission. There were a couple of small technical glitches, but those were easy to overlook in a concert that featured 17 different pieces and literally dozens of students.

The concert was a sometimes unwieldy mix of dance styles, but the quick turnover prevented boredom, that’s for sure.

A word about a few specific numbers that stood out.

The opening number, “Apres Minuit,” choreographed by Aimee Long to music by Verdi, proved a great vehicle to give the evening an energetic start and to showcase the considerable balletic skills of the entire company.

Closer to intermission, “Coming Back” — choreographed by Karen Burns to “The Fifth Season” by Karl Jenkins — was an emotional, meditative duet with Matt Agudelo and Kieran Rose. It was a gorgeous piece, one of the more polished of the night.

After intermission, choreographer Christine Shawl’s “Quasi Una Fantasia” with music by Beethoven had some lovely complexities, as did Powell’s “Bravissma,” which was a particularly beautifully staged piece using music from Minkus’s Don Quixote.

The final number of the night, “Timeline” choreographed by Betsy Ward-Hutchinson, made for a powerful conclusion. According to the program, the choreographer “worked with our senior dance majors to create movement using adjectives describing how dance teachers have inspired them in their lives.” The result could have been corny and overly sentimental — and maybe the words themselves were. “Timeline,” however, was energetic and stirring.

There are any number of SAA graduates now active in creative fields as professionals or as students at universities around the country. I don’t know how many of the kids performing this week will end up pursuing dance in the future, but their current passion for it is evident.

UPDATE: I should also have added that the passion was particularly evident in the three short, intense solos by SAA seniors Chantel Britton, Monica Panta, and Angela Novelli.