Dance company fuses Arizona’s history and culture through choreography

Center Dance Ensemble has been performing at the Herberger Theater for about 24 years. This weekend the ensemble will perform a new show inspired by Arizona's history and culture. (Stephanie Snyder/DD)

A Native American tale weaves into Mexican folk lore, blending into a Western style dance. These three dances depict Arizona’s diverse history and culture as a late tribute to the state’s 100th birthday.

Center Dance Ensemble has been performing as the resident modern dance company for the Herberger Theater for about 24 years. Dancer, Alan Khoutakoun, said the production Dance AZ/100 has been a whirlwind, but thanks to the groups experience together the rehearsals have gone smoothly.

“We have learned each others’ little quirks and dance very well together,” Khoutakoun said.

They will perform three dances March 22, 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 25 at 2 p.m. at the Herberger Theater in Stage West.

Khoutakoun is featured in all three dances and has been dancing with the ensemble since fall 2010.

He began at Glendale Community College as a vocal performance major, but claimed he based his decisions to attend class or auditions on the choices of his friends. However, after Khoutakoun began taking dance classes six years ago to prepare him for a major change to musical theatre, he discovered a new passion.

“With dance, it’s different. I go to dance classes by myself to improve my own technique and become the best dancer I can be,” Khoutakoun said. “I’ve never felt like that with anything else in my life.”

Khoutakoun was thrown immediately into intermediate and advanced dance classes in school because they were the only ones that performed. Khoutakoun does admit he constantly feels like he’s catching up to other dancer’s because he doesn’t have years of experience.

Khoutakoun is featured all three dances - Western Footprints, Siyotonka and La Llorona. (Photo courtesy of Alan Khoutakoun)

“Now, there are certain things I am asked to do that I have never done before in rehearsal and it’s always a little frustrating when it is something that most dancers learn when they are 10 years old,” Khoutakoun added.

Despite his short history in dance, his directors and choreographers were quick to recognize his talent.

Founder of Center Dance Ensemble, Frances Cohen calls Khoutakoun an excellent teacher, choreographer and performer.

“Alan offers great strength and technique in his dancing. He works hard, is focused and gives depth and character to the roles he performs,” added Resident Choreographer Diane McNeal Hunt Hunt. “Alan is a great gift to any choreographer.”

Khoutakoun is looking forward to the performances and telling stories through his dances and movements through the choreography.

Khoutakoun’s favorite piece of the three being performed this weekend is the Western styled dance called Western Footprints because he is the dancer who dies in the end.

“Fran’s choreography always feels great for my body and she has really made the piece build and keep you on the edge of your seat,” Khoutakoun said. “I blink and the piece is over. Plus, I get to die, which is always fun.”

The other two dances are called Siyotonka and La Llorona. Siyotonka tells the tale of the first flute, highlighting three dancers portraying the characters featured in the story—the shaman, the woodpecker and the wind.

La Llorona tells the story of the Medea myth but with a Mexican flare. The tale is about a Mexican woman who marries a foreigner and starts a family with him, he then leaves her to return to his home only to remarry and start a new life. The woman’s rage over her abandonment drives her to kill their children.

Three dancers portray the woman as she moves through each phase of the story, from the bride, to the mother and finally the “wailing one.”

Special abridged performances for the Herberger’s Lunch Time Theater series are also available March 22 and 23, at 12:10 p.m. in Stage West. Box lunches will be available at these performances for $6.

Tickets for the Center Dance Ensemble’s performances are available by phone at 620-252-8497 or online Tickets cost $21.50 for adults, $17.50 for seniors and $9.50 for students, plus box office fees.

“Dance is always changing. It is always exciting even when it’s hard,” Khoutakoun said. “There’s always a different approach to movement. Sometimes it feels beautiful and sometimes not. There’s something very enthralling about it.”

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