VSAA celebrates dance program’s 20th anniversary

Alumni will join current students at Friday’s event

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



If You Go

What: Celebration of 20 years of dance.

Where: Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, 3101 Main St.

When: Friday. Alumni reception at 6 p.m.; dance concert at 7 p.m.

Who: Current student dancers and VSAA alumni.

How much: $10 for adults; $5 for students.

Éowyn Emerald Barrett’s school project combined history, dance and Parkinson’s disease.

Eric Nordstrom was in a physics class that unexpectedly turned into a dance performance.

Those blends of classroom studies and dance at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics helped shape their career paths.

Barrett and Nordstrom are among the alumni who will return Friday to celebrate 20 years of dance at Vancouver’s arts magnet school. Current student performers also will be featured in the 7 p.m. dance concert in the Royal Durst Theatre.

Past and present will team up when juniors Kayla Adams and Maria Mack perform a duet choreographed by one of VSAA’s most prominent graduates. Spenser Theberge, who went on to graduate from The Juilliard School in New York City, introduced VSAA dancers to the piece last school year.

Following auditions, he matched up Adams and Mack for the duet, even though they lean toward different dance disciplines. Adams has studied ballet for 10 years; Mack said she has more of an acrobatic background through the Portland Circus Project.

The dance event is part of a schoolwide project. VSAA selects an art form focus and theme each year, said Jackie Sacks, who teaches writing and dance. Dance is the art form focus this year. The theme is “Pushing the Limits: Discovering the Artist’s Work Ethic,” Sacks said.

There at the start

Barrett was in the sixth-grade class that helped open the school in 1995. VSAA is in the Main Street landmark that originally was built as Shumway Junior High School, and Barrett still remembers the sawdust and portable toilets that were part of the transformation.

Barrett (her first name is pronounced “A-O-en”) said that an interdisciplinary class project that combined science, history and dance was one of her formative experiences.

It was based on Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. For her art component, Barrett choreographed a dance piece around the preliminary indicators of the disease: “Tripping, stuttering, not being able to control your movements,” the 2003 VSAA graduate said.

She also produced her first full dance show as a VSAA student.

“I rented a building in Portland. Six people were in the cast, and we had a full house,” said Barrett, who went on to the University of North Carolina School of the Performing Arts. “I think about it now. Wow! I was 17.”

Barrett has her own company in Portland. Éowyn Emerald and Dancers has toured internationally, including performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. She is creative producer of Pacific Dance Makers and teaches at Columbia Dance, BodyVox and the Portland Ballet.

“VSAA gave me a lot of what I need now,” Barrett said.

‘Dance was OK’

Nordstrom is a 1999 VSAA grad who now is a dance instructor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland. In describing that path, Nordstrom looked back to when he wasn’t really focused on dance.

“I think I had the nerve to tell the dance teacher that dance was OK, but theater was tops,” he said.

Dance got a boost in — of all places — a high school physics class.

“That was one example of integrating arts and academics,” Nordstrom said.

The physics assignment involved charting force vectors. The physics teacher brought in a dance instructor, who translated the forces into movement so the students could graph it.

Now, as a dance professional, “I consider myself so fortunate,” Nordstrom said. “Every day asks me to intelligently engage with my body. With teaching, I get to help other people use their bodies through the language of dance.”

One of the courses Nordstrom teaches at Lewis & Clark combines dance and anatomy.

“It looks at anatomy through movement, with the understanding that anatomy is something that lives in your body. Students come from all different majors. If you’re playing soccer or jogging or doing yoga, you’re able to use your body more effectively in any capacity.”