Donna Blatt Ervin stands a few rows back from the Majestic Theatre stage, encouraging and coaching her advanced performance group in a work she has choreographed called “Passages.”
“Good, go for height,” she says, smiling.
The dancers continue.
“Lean, lean, lean,” Blatt Ervin instructs.
“Stay there, Ari.”
“Freeze. A big old lean.”
“Passages” comes to an end, and the dancers take a break. It’s the fifth time they have rehearsed the number on June 1 in preparation for their annual Spring Celebration of Dance 10 days later.
Dance practice is normally held a few doors down Second Street and upstairs at the Odd Fellows Hall, home to Blatt Ervin’s Modern Dance Technique since September 1991.
The dance celebration, scheduled for Friday through Sunday, June 10-12, marks a milestone for Blatt Ervin, whose students range in age from 4½ to 21. It’s the 20th annual show. The first performance was held in June 1992 at the Majestic.
Some students who grew up in the program are now instructors themselves. One of them, Liana Riley, is now the director of the Sherwood Dance Academy. She has choreographed “The Powers That Be,” one of of the selections in the dance celebration. Riley will join another MDT alumna and current instructor, Kayleigh Stark, in “Sorrow Becomes Her,” a haunting depiction of grief choreographed by Blatt Ervin. Stark also dances in her own choreography, “Deviation,” to music by Tori Amos.
Thirty-eight of the 50 Modern Dance Technique dancers will perform in the weekend celebration.
Instructor Amy McDonnell has choreographed “Cabaret Hoover” for the advanced group and “Walking Song” for the he pre advanced group.
Senior Faye Jones has choreographed “Water for the Tribe.” Two other alumnae, Molly Gard and Emily Simmons, also plan to perform.
The concert will close with the dramatic “Bacchae” choreographed by Blatt Ervin for the advanced dancers.
The spring performance is the culmination of months of work at the Odd Fellows Hall.
“These kids come to the studio for five or six times a week for several hours at a time,” Blatt Ervin says. “They trust me to keep them healthy, be strong and give them sound training.”
The advanced performance group — high school students Kayleigh Stark, Maja Birdwell, Audrey Ewing, Ariana Whitty, Claire Lindsay, Liza Yeager and Faye Jones— are at the studio from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
“Dancers at the higher level forego a lot of other activities to concentrate on their dancing,” Blatt Ervin says. “The dancers are very organized, committed and talented. They’re healthy and they excel in school.”
And most of them continue dancing after they graduate from high school.
“They’re sought after as college-level dancers,” Blatt Ervin says. “They make up a good portion of the performance company at UO this year.” One of those dancers, Linnea Birdwell, who received a dance scholarship to the university, returns each summer to teach at Modern Dance Technique.
Blatt Ervin has been around dancing for nearly 40 years.
She did some ballet but found her niche in modern dance while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Nearby Manhattan was a hotbed for modern dance, so Blatt Ervin says it was like “being a kid in a candy shop.”
She praises her early teachers, including Milton Meyer, who introduced her to the Lester Horton technique of modern dance, and Dorene Richardson and Liz Thompson, who taught her the Martha Graham techniques.
Now as an instructor, Blatt Ervin remains in good shape herself, thanks, she says, to Pilates classes and working out with her students.
And her enthusiasm is undiminished.
Just one question, though. How does she resist the urge to blurt out coaching tips while her dancers are performing for an audiences at the Majestic?
It’s not easy, she acknowledges.
“I’m back stage and everyone will hear me,” she says. “At some point you have to let it go. It’s in their bodies and it’s their performance, and they are speaking for me.”
Graham Kislingbury can be reached at 541-758-9517 or email@example.com