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Orange County High School of the Arts - Season Finale 2005

Industrial Strength

by Jeff Kuo

May 31, 2005 -- Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California

Celebrating its 18th year of educating ambitious artists, writers, and performers, the Orange County High School of the Arts completed its school year with a show featuring student performers from their many arts conservatories. Founded in 1987, the School has grown from its original Los Alamitos campus for a student body of 125 to its current, new campus in Santa Ana for more than 1,250 students and a budget of $11 million. Graduates have gone on to prestigious universities, fine arts colleges, and professional performing companies.

The OCHSA Orchestra led by Christopher Russell began the evening began with Glinka’s “Russlan and Ludmilla” Overture and were followed by students of the Opera Conservatory performing “Sing to Love” from Act II of Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus.” The whole entrée was quite tasty and full of gorgeous voices, but since my high school German has atrophied beyond all hope of repair, the only thing I could understand was that it involved some sort of praise of champagne. While I generally approve of that sort of thing, I hope I won’t seem hopelessly antiquarian if I point out that artistic license or not there is a kind of performative moral ambivalence implied by the spectacle of minors singing the merits of a commodity they shouldn’t yet (theoretically) be able to enjoy.

The dance conservatories were, of course, represented in the Season Finale which in form was in the tradition of the variety show. The first of four dance works spread throughout the evening was "Earthsong" choreographed by Cindy Peca and Jim Kolb, both faculty of the Commercial Dance Conservatory. A sprawling multi-media work, "Earthsong" places a barefoot, primarily feminine ensemble in pale flowing tops over black tights performing to the song of the same name by Michael Jackson. A projected video by junior film student Michael Sharp formed the backdrop.

"Earthsong" suggests strands drawn from such fashionable themes as the Green Movement, ecofeminism, and post-colonial theory. While the dancers were quite watchable in flowing and athletic movements, the video's image track seemed to threaten overpowering the choreography. It would take much to stand up to Sharp's montage of images of dismayed aborigines and some form of global cataclysm as depicted from space. As an example of practical, politically progressive pedagogy (what could be more "pc" than linking together eco-activism with the educational system?), "Earthsong" was effective dance theater. My only hesitation is that given recent news events associating Jackson, Neverland Valley Ranch, and pederasty, the selection of a Jackson score for a piece to be performed by minors might risk alternative interpretations straying far from the choreographers' doubtless innocent intent.

After segments devoted to the piano and the visual arts programs, excerpts from the "Le Jardin Anime" scene from "Le Corsaire" gave us the obligatory tutu, tiara, and pointe shoe piece of the evening. Staged by conservatory director, Muriel Joyce, the "Jardin Anime" presented a smart young ensemble of budding ballerinas. The featured soloist was Courtney Armstrong. Snippets from the all school musical, Kander and Ebb's "Cabaret" came next. If this section seemed like just another Fosse knockoff, who's complaining? Fine performances such Erik Altemus as a crafty Emcee and Tayler Deline as a spunky Sally Bowles sent the audience into intermission in a good mood  They and, of course, the not-to-be-lightly-dismissed sight of leggy and slinky Kit Kat Girls prowling and preening about the Segerstrom Hall stage.

After the intermission, folk dance was represented by two selections choreographed by Carlina Sarmiento for twelve students of the School's Ballet Folklorico Conservatory. Both prop dances, in the first, “La Bruja,” women in traditional dress swirled about the stage each balancing a glass of water on her head and at the dance's completion placing the glasses on the stage to show that no trickery was involved. “La Bamba,” the second dance, featured a novelty sequence for two dancers (Malia Simonini and Carlo Quintana) who used their feet to manipulate a long ribbon into a bow. Ballet adherents will recognize the resemblances between these and the Manu variation from “La Bayadere” and the Cats Cradle passage from Ashton's “La Fille Mal Gardee.”

Guest artist alumnus and former OCHSA Interim Artistic Director, Susan Egan, staged and starred in the "Forget About the Boy" and "Gimme Gimme" numbers from "Thoroughly Modern Millie." In a reversal of age based casting, Egan was Millie while senior student Kaitlyn Daley was Miss Flannery. Egan of course was a knockout and Daley made the most of her bit of tap dance business.

The final dance piece of the evening was "Believe" performed to a score by Fantasia Barino by students of the Commercial Dance Conservatory. As with the earlier piece, "Earthsong," faculty Cindy Peca’s choreography showed conservatory dancers to great advantage particularly in strutting their stuff in bobbin-like chaines or series of jetes along long Laura Dean diagonals. Ensemble phrases were relatively simple but capitalized on a sure sense of upbeat stylishness.  The overall effect had a satisfying super slick, professional gloss.

The dance conservatories are only a part of the School so the Season Finale also showcased voice, symphony, jazz, and the visual arts. During intermission, for instance, the Segerstrom Hall lobby was turned into a veritable Laguna Beach art gallery with paintings, watercolors, photographs, costumes, and more on display.  Given the profusion of Newport bluebloods eyeing the displays acquisitively, it seemed a shame for some of the art students' college funds that these treasures weren't for sale.  I myself was intrigued by a series of nostalgia boxes made up as pop art offerings.  Especially eye catching were the many exquisite jewelry pieces featuring examples of casting, fabrication, enameling, and lapidary.

Notable other mentions included violin student Sean Lee’s red hot rendition of Saint-Saens’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” accompanied by the OCHSA orchestra and several examples of the Film and Television Conservatory's commercial products including a video celebration of the School featuring narration by one of OCHSA’s leading patrons looking surprisingly stiff and uncomfortable.

Truly in the tradition of the variety show, the Season Finale included a novelty number which doubled as a patriotic number (an all piano rendition of "Stars and Stripes Forever"), a humorous number (a claymation piece which began the video introduction on the Visual Arts Conservatory), and carefully staged interludes devoted to that most essential ritual of the performing arts business, recognizing the benefactors. So well staged, paced, and plotted were the recitations of the school's achievements in aggregate or individually (often by the graduating seniors themselves), I don't wonder if the most impressive aspect of the evening was its overall staging of the School as kind of machine for success.

With bright young examples from their conservatories devoted to symphony, voice, commercial dance, ballet, and more, OCHSA’s Season Finale resembles your average high school recital no more than does a palmcorder resemble LucasFilm. That these aspiring young artists come together to be fed, fueled, and groomed for success is a testament to the logic of contemporary arts education. Here the arts are an industrial commodity fit for a contemporary world where the fine arts must fight for survival in a economy of increasingly competitive priorities.


Edited by Staff.

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