ECU dance professor John Dixon will see his work performed in June at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Dance professor’s choreography work to grace Kennedy Center stage

June 6, 2014

By Grace Haskin
ECU News Services

The choreographic work of East Carolina University dance professor John Dixon will take the national stage in Washington, D.C. on June 7.

His is one of 11 works that will be featured this weekend at the American College Dance Festival Association’s National College Dance Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Dancers perform "Consumption," choreographed by ECU professor John Dixon. (Contributed photo by Jenni Farrow)
Dixon’s piece, titled “Consumption,” was recognized at the AFDFA regional conference in March and chosen from the mid-Atlantic region to be part of the adjudicated gala performance.

Ryann Lievens, one of nine ECU dancers who will be performing Dixon’s piece, said that learning they were performing the closing dance at the gala was “extremely exciting and completely unexpected.” ECU has not been selected to perform in an ACDFA gala in a “number of years,” she said.

Lievens found out as she was driving home from the regional conference with three other dancers, who were continually checking their phones for the festival results.

“We were the first to see the update that said that we made it to nationals,” said Lievens. She called Dixon immediately and put him on speaker phone to share the news.

“We were all screaming,” she said. “(Dixon) could not believe it. He dropped his food on the ground and he went and danced around in the parking lot.”

Dixon said that being recognized at the regional conference and performing at nationals is a statement about the dance program at ECU. “This is a really strong program. It’s not necessarily a program that is well-known at this point, but it helped us be seen and situate ourselves relative to the larger, more well-known schools,” he said.

Dixon’s piece represents many different definitions of the word consumption. “It starts with consumption as a description of tuberculosis and how the body decays and consumes itself as the disease progresses,” Lievens said. “There are a lot of moments where we’re falling over on stage and we’re coughing or convulsing.”

The piece continues to describe consumption in terms of buying and materialism. “I wanted to look at the nature of consumerism in our culture and the repercussions of consumption,” said Dixon. There is a third layer to the piece which Dixon described as “a consumption of spirit.” Visually, Dixon said, that the piece is “dark” and “intense.”

Dixon has been impressed with the heart and skill of his dance students at ECU. “We received a lot of compliments about our dancers, both on their artistry and technique. They are great students,” said Dixon. “(They are) willing to do anything at any time to make the art happen.”

ECU dance students who are performing Dixon’s piece are Kirsten Genovese, Danielle Johnson, Sarah Kleinke, Ryann Lievens, Terry Mathis, Lauren Pittman, Katy Quick, James Raney and Megan Rhodes.

Lievens is a recent ECU graduate who transferred from Chapel Hill in 2011 so that she could study dance. She said that studying under Dixon has been “amazing” and she is looking forward to dancing for him one last time at nationals.

A dance choreographed by ECU professor John Dixon will be performed on a national stage. (Contributed photo by Jenni Farrow)
Dixon’s interest in dance began later in life compared to ECU’s dance students, most of whom have been dancing since they were toddlers. “I started late, which is not too uncommon for guys,” said Dixon. “At community college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was looking at all the different things that I thought were the core parts of being alive.”

He began taking classes in psychology, philosophy, theology and physics. “Then I took a dance class and was like, ‘Oh.’ I had this idea that it was all in there somehow, and that’s proven to be true.”

Dixon has been teaching at ECU for five years, but has been explored dance improvisation, choreography and performance since 1985. Dixon explained that moving from Seattle to Greenville was “a bit of a culture shock.” While he had to get used to the different pulse of a smaller city, he has found his place at ECU. “You learn to trust the pathways in your life, and it’s worked out beautifully,” he said.

Dixon’s choreography has been performed throughout the Pacific Northwest as well as in Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and D.C. Dixon also directs dance films and his work has been screened throughout North America, Europe and Japan. Currently, Dixon teaches choreography, improvisation, modern technique, anatomy for dancers and introduction to dance at ECU.

The 16th National College Dance Festival is scheduled at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on June 5, 6 and 7.

For more information about upcoming performances by the School of Theatre and Dance at ECU, visit www.ecu.edu/theatredance.