Going Solo: The Guest Series

AMB dancer Kelanie Murphy films Bob Fosse’s Trumpet Solo from ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, Fosse created the solo on legendary performer Ann Reinking, who passed it down to Kelanie.

National-Caliber Choreographers Join the Going Solo dance film Series

Going Solo, American Midwest Ballet’s innovative series of original dance films, caught the interest of choreographers across the country – and as a result, five guest-created works premiered in Going Solo: The Guest Series.

“The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but it also has created opportunities,” said Erika Overturff, AMB’s founder and artistic director. “With many live performances cancelled, choreographers were excited to join us in creating new works. Because we had to work remotely anyway for safety reasons, it actually allowed us to work with an amazing roster of choreographers from all over the United States.”

Going Solo presented its first guest work in November 2020, when AMB dancer Anna Swenson and Spokane-based independent choreographer Seneca Montgomery collaborated on Order in the Chaos.

Anna Swenson and guest choreographer Seneca Montgomery collaborated for Order in the Chaos, the precursor to the guest series.

“The process went smoothly and the piece was beautiful,” Erika said. “It really highlighted the potential of bringing other voices to the program. As we lined up more guest choreographers, we decided to present them as a series within Going Solo, to heighten the impact of their creativity.

Choreographers featured on the Guest Series:

Frank Chaves, former artistic director of River North Dance Chicago, is familiar to AMB audiences through works including the colorful and powerful Habaneras, the Music of Cuba. For Going Solo, he worked with AMB dancers Isaac Sharratt and Jessica Lopes (a married couple who could rehearse together without social-distancing restrictions) to create If Only… – a piece inspired by the yearning for human contact.

Jessica Lopes and Isaac Sharratt in Frank Chaves’ If Only

When Erika contacted Robert Garland, resident choreographer and former principal dancer of Dance Theater of Harlem, for choreographer suggestions, he had a ready answer: Edgar L. Page, a past member of the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble and now director of his own Denver-based company. Page’s A Slow Drag, danced by AMB’s Claire Goodwillie, used filming in multiple locations as a metaphor for the strange way time seems to pass under lockdown.

[Photo: Sydney S. Noble]

Claire Goodwillie films Edgar L. Page’s A Slow Drag

Omaha-born and Omaha-trained ballerina Sandra Organ Solis was the Houston Ballet’s first African American dancer to attain the rank of soloist, and later founded her own company, Earthen Vessels. One of her dancers there was AMB’s Amaris Sharratt, whose uncanny resemblance to the model for Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl with a Pearl Earring inspired Solis’ work Pearl. The film depicts a young woman who seems to revel in the possession of a precious jewel.

[Photo: Andis Applewhite]

Amaris Sharratt in Sandra Organ Solis’ Pearl.

In a theater, the “ghost light” (a bare bulb mounted on a movable stand) is left burning whenever the stage is dark and unused. Pragmatically, it serves as a safety device – and by tradition, it is said to keep the ghosts who haunt old theaters from feeling lonely. Ray Mercer, resident choreographer at New York’s Ailey School and an artist-in-residence for Omaha Performing Arts, drew on this tradition in Ghost Light, his solo for AMB’s Katerina Schweitzer, evoking the restless spirits idled by theaters darkened during the pandemic.

Choreographer Ray Mercer (on screen) rehearses AMB dancer Katerina Schweitzer in his new work Ghost Light.

Bob Fosse’s brassy and exuberant Trumpet Solo from “Sing, Sing, Sing” capped the guest series. It was a joyous but poignant finale, Erika said, because of the role played by Broadway legend Ann Reinking, who died unexpectedly in December. Reinking worked with Dylis Croman (whose recent Broadway credits include Roxie Hart in Chicago) to stage the work for AMB’s Kelanie Murphy. “Annie was the most amazing and inspiring person,” Erika said. “We miss her dearly and will always treasure the time we had with her.”

Dylis Croman (main screen) and Ann Reinking (lower row) coach Kelanie Murphy for her performance.