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USC Kaufman class lays the ‘Groundwork’ for things to come

The students express gratitude to the school’s benefactor, who turns out for the last of four public performances

USC Kaufman dancers perform "LeCorsaire"
USC Kaufman freshmen Lenai Wilkerson and Brandon Carpio dance “LeCorsaire.” (Photo/Rose Eichenbaum)

USC Kaufman School of Dance students recently took center stage in their first public performances. And who was in the crowd for the last of those four appearances at Bing Theatre? None other than Glorya Kaufman, the school’s namesake.

Kaufman, who donated the gift that created the school in 2012, has since been engaged in its development, including the construction of the new Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center, which will be finished in the spring.

Vice Dean Jodie Gates spoke to the audience before each performance.

“This is quite an amazing and iconic moment for USC Kaufman,” she said.

The 33 members of the freshman class have been working together for only 13 weeks, laying a foundation for what will come, she said, which yielded the title of “Groundwork” for the performances.

On the bill

The show opened with an excerpt from Paul Taylor’s “Cloven Kingdom,” a piece Taylor created in 1976 to poke fun at the pomp and pretention of galas he’d attended. The piece was restaged for the performance by USC Kaufman faculty member Patrick Corbin — a 15-year veteran of the Taylor company. Four men in tuxedos and eight women in gowns swept across the stage to music by Arcangello Corelli, Henry Cowell and Malloy Miler.

Next came “Le Corsaire,” a classic ballet choreographed by Joseph Mazielier and Marius Petitpa about a daring pirate who falls desperately in love with a young maiden. Two dancers in shimmering blue costumes glided deftly through the pas de duex.

The first half of the program closed with a hip-hop piece choreographed to his own score by USC Kaufman faculty member d. Sabela Grimes. Donning T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, 20 dancers grooved through a partially improvised sequence of silky and staccato movements.

“Small Model,” the piece following intermission, was also partially improvised. A collaboration between the dancers and renowned faculty choreographer William Forsythe, the work was part theater and part dance. As one dancer told a joke, the others on stage collaborated in a movement sequence guided by verbal commands. The stark soundscape was a combination of music by James Blake and Lindsfarne 1.

Glorya Kaufman at USC dance performance

The USC Kaufman freshman class applauds philanthropist Glorya Kaufman. (Photo/Rose Eichenbaum)

“Lickety Split,” a piece by Hubbard Street’s choreographer in residence Alejandro Cerrudo, showcased the dancers in a series of intimate duets. Weaving through Cerrudo’s sinuous choreography, six dancers shone through dusky lighting designed by Michael Korsch.

Giving thanks

The show closed with nearly every dancer in the class performing an excerpt from Dwight Rhoden’s “RED/The Force,” a piece staged by faculty artist in residence Desmond Richardson of Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

And as Kaufman was invited on stage at the evening’s end, she was cheered by the dancers who offered gratitude for making their performance possible.

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USC Kaufman class lays the ‘Groundwork’ for things to come

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