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East St. Louis promotes culture with holiday performance

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Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2011 1:00 pm

SIUE East St. Louis Performing Arts and SIUE Charter High School will unwrap a Christmas performance in East St. Louis this Friday.

According to SIUE’s public relations director of University Marketing and Communications, Patricia Merritt, the SIUE and Charter high school collaborative program tries to promote the arts for several reasons.

“[The arts] helps students expand their education, become more well rounded, and learn self-discipline because it takes discipline to perfect your craft,” Merritt said.

Merritt said not only does the program promote art, but it also reaches out to the community.

“It really promotes culture and for people to expand outside East St. Louis. A lot of people from our program have gone on to go to Broadway, have toured worldwide, and taught workshops,” Merritt said.

One of these former successful students is an SIUE alumni, East St. Louis Performing Arts staff member, and one of the three showcase choreographers, Andrea Smythe. Smythe has danced with renowned dancer and St. Louis native, Katherine Dunham’s company, danced at Carnegie Hall, and has been on a PBS special.

Dunham technique is one of the dance styles that will be at the Holiday Showcase.

“We will do lyrical jazz, West African, some ballet, and then there will be a music concert as well,” Smythe said.

Smythe said that the style of dance that she taught was Dunham technique.

“I’m a student of Dunham; it is the technique taught at the university. Her technique is primitive rhythm based and moves farther away from ballet based, unlike [the famous contemporary dancer and choreographer]  [Martha] Graham’s technique,” Smythe said.

Smthye said that the Holiday Showcase will be different from last year because the students started classes late this year.

“I’m not sure why we started late, but we usually start before labor day, not October. Last year we decided to do our own take on the Nutcracker, but given the time, we decided not to tackle something that big this year. Instead we are doing a collage of [dance] pieces,” Smythe said.

Smythe said that the dance classes are divided up among herself, East St. Louis Performing Arts staff member, Jack Willams, and Charter high school staff member, Jamilia Ajanaku.

“There are 27 students in the program. We practice every day, Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Given the time frame, it was a crash course, but even the students with no dance experience are doing very well.” Smythe said.

Smythe said that the dance classes are a free after-school program for kids in the surrounding area; St. Louis, East St. Louis, Belleville, Cahokia, etc.

“Dance is not cheap. This way we can expose kids to dance. A lot of kids don’t get the chance to go to the theater, plays, and dance concerts. With this program, it gives them a taste of it,” Smythe said.

A few songs that will be performed at the showcase include Whitney Houston’s “Joy to the World” from Preacher’s Wife, Kirk Franklin’s “There’s No Christmas without You,” Vickie Winan’s “Mary Did You Know,” and Joan Javits’ “Santa Baby.”

According to East St. Louis Performing Arts program director Theodore Jamison, the Holiday Showcase is an annual event that has been going on for over 25 years.

“[The audience] can expect a class act performance from new students to seasoned students and an eclectic mix of dance, music, and drama,” Merritt said.

The Holiday Showcase will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16.in the Multi-Purpose Theater in Building D at the East St. Louis Higher Education Campus, 601 James R. Thompson Blvd.

Ticket costs are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children 12 and under.

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