The Arts Are Hot at Saint Mary's

Those who follow the performing arts know that Saint Mary’s dance and theatre programs deserve center stage. Recently, the performers in those disciplines got opportunities to take their bows.

Ashley Jackson was named a recipient of a Princess Grace Award for excellence in dance. She is enrolled in the Saint Mary’s College Liberal Education for Arts Professionals Program (LEAP) and is in her fourth year with the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Company.

Jackson is one of six dancers to receive the award in 2010 from the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, an arts organization committed to "identifying and assisting emerging talent in theater, dance, and film by awarding grants in the form of scholarships, apprenticeships and fellowships."

Antoine Hunter, another LEAP performer, was also in the news for receiving a 2011 CHIME grant, presented annually by the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. The CHIME program provides support for one year to pairs of professional choreographers — a mentor and mentee — to enhance and explore a working relationship that includes work in studio. Hunter, the founder/director of Urban Jazz Dance Company, was awarded his grant to work with his mentor, Kim Epifano, artistic/executive director of Epiphany Productions.

Just one reason Hunter’s award is noteworthy: He’s deaf. Physical challenges never stood in Hunter’s way, as he pursued ambitions from dance to poetry, acting to teaching. He has performed with numerous dance companies and traveled the world to share his art and a message: People with disabilities can and should follow their dreams.

Not to be outdone, the Saint Mary’s Theatre Department has made some news of its own. The school’s fall 2010 production of "Angels in America" has been honored as an "outstanding production" by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KC/ACTF). The Saint Mary’s presentation of Tony Kushner’s contemporary classic is one of just four college productions selected from a region covering nine states. The cast has been invited to perform the play at the regional Kennedy Center festival held February 14-18 at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif.

While "Angels" was a hit in the fall at Saint Mary’s, the spring production "Sera" was a standout as well. Written by SMC alumna Angela Santillo '05, the play is a national finalist for the KC/ACTF David Mark Cohen Award, which recognizes outstanding new scripts premiered by a university. The "Sera" cast will present a staged reading at the Kennedy Center festival in Humboldt. Six student actors from "Angels" and "Sera" were nominated for their outstanding performances and will compete in the Irene Ryan National Acting Scholarship competition.