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Dancer adds a Spanish accent to his Roanoke school outreach program
Courtesy of Roanoke City Public Schools
Fourth-grader Kielil Cook takes part in Pedro Szalay’s “Dance Espanol” program at Morningside Elementary School.
Courtesy of Samantha West
Jeremy Denk performs in Blacksburg on March 24.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Pedro Szalay’s good news could have meant bad news for Roanoke City Public Schools.
For six years, Szalay worked part time as artistic director for Southwest Virginia Ballet in Salem. For four years, he also taught “Minds in Motion,” a Richmond Ballet outreach program, to fourth-graders in Roanoke’s elementary schools.
Last year, Southwest Virginia Ballet hired Szalay full time. That meant he no longer would be able to represent the Richmond Ballet.
He proposed an alternate program, “Dance Espanol,” that would pick up where “Minds in Motion” left off, and Superintendent Rita Bishop approved — thereby preserving his role in teaching city students.
“Pedro is a true believer in our children,” Bishop said in a statement. “He really cares about all of our students and I can’t thank him enough for all of his hard work, teaching both Spanish and dance. He is the definition of a true community partner and our students absolutely adore him.”
“Minds in Motion” incorporated movement into lessons about topics students need to know for the Virginia Standards of Learning tests. “Dance Espanol,” funded by the school system for $35,000, does the same, and Szalay, a Venezuela native, also works in lessons in basic Spanish. “We don’t write, but we say it,” Szalay said.
“Dance Espanol” is an official Southwest Virginia Ballet program, and the ballet’s staff assists Szalay with the 45-minute sessions. The programs are held at Wasena, Lincoln Terrace, Morningside and Highland Park elementary schools, the same ones where Szalay taught “Minds in Motion.”
“Dancing is a silent art form,” Szalay said. The classes always include piano accompaniment, and learning the rhythms helps teach math skills. The classes also teach discipline, teamwork and especially self-esteem, which Szalay called the most important part.
The first year of “Dance Espanol” will conclude with a free performance at 7 p.m. Thursday at the William Fleming High School auditorium.
Szalay said that he has worked with the History Museum of Western Virginia to create a show that ties into the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War. The complexity of the topic was challenging, but “the kids love it,” Szalay said.
The individual numbers deal with topics such as Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, the separation of North and South, the South’s economy, the significance of slavery, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and the efforts of the abolitionists, Szalay said.
The grand finale shows “how we can commemorate together with equality, unity and respect each other,” he said.
A Franklin County High School senior, Derek Shorter , composed the music for the opening number and the finale. Shorter has previously composed music for the Miss Virginia Pageant, for which Szalay does choreography.
Two fourth-grade students, Abeer Haroun of Morningside and Ben Anderson of Highland Park, won a contest to create the design for the T-shirts all the students will wear during the performance.
Szalay also taught “Minds in Motion” for six years in Martinsville. That program continues under the auspices of the Richmond Ballet, he said.
The Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech continues its 2012-13 season with a performance by classical pianist Jeremy Denk at The Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. The performance happens 8 p.m. March 24 and will include compositions by Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms.
As well as one-man concerts, Denk has performed with chamber music ensembles and as a soloist with orchestras from Los Angeles to London.
His playing racks up rave reviews in The New York Times the way LeBron James racks up slam dunks during a Miami Heat pre-game. (Full disclosure: my thanks to Sports Editor Steve Hemphill for his assistance in the construction of this metaphor.)
Denk’s profile has been raised further by his popular blog, Think Denk (jeremydenk.net/blog/), on which he shares thoughts about music, life and the music life.
Here’s a sample of how a New York Times critic painted him in 2010: “There is nothing generic about this adventurous musician. His vivacious intellect is manifest both in his playing and on his blog, Think Denk, an outlet for astute musical observations and witty musings, whether a lament about inedible meatballs or a spoof interview with Sarah Palin.”
In 2009, when I attended the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera in New York, I had the opportunity to hear Denk perform some of American composer Charles Ives’ incredibly difficult piano compositions during a broadcast by New York Public Radio station WXQR.
Not having a background in music, I lack the vocabulary to articulately describe Denk’s playing other than to say it was an amazing experience. He also had a great rapport with his audience, explaining the pieces to us and helping us to pick out motifs.
Admission is $30 , senior citizens and Virginia Tech faculty and staff $24, and for students and youth 18 and under $10. For more information, call 951-4771 or visit www.thelyric.com/.
Attic Productions in Fincastle will hold auditions 2 p.m. March 24 and 6 p.m. March 25 for “Too Soon for Daisies,” a caper comedy about three elderly, lively women who slip away from their retirement home, only to suddenly have a dead body on their hands.
Director Phil Boyd is looking for four women and four men ranging in ages from 20 to 70. The comedy will be performed May 9-18. For more information on auditions, call Boyd at 397-4010. For more information on Attic, visit www.atticproductions.info/.
The Foundation for Roanoke Valley is accepting applications for its new “Educate. Inspire. Create” grant program.
The program awards $180,000 in grants, $60,000 per year over three years, to arts organizations to support educational outreach. The grants can be used to fund in-school artist-in-residence or artist master class programs, purchase innovative technology to enhance teaching, or fund in-school performances related to education programs or SOL tests.
Arts and cultural organizations in Roanoke, Salem and the counties of Botetourt, Craig, Salem and Roanoke are eligible. April 5 is the deadline to apply. For more information, visit foundationforroanokevalley.org.
Roanoke artist Amanda Agricola has organized “Cycles~,”a performance art and video exhibition that focuses on “cyclical occurrences in femininity.”
“I had a couple of women come to me with ideas for performances and I had also been thinking about planning an event in conjunction with Women’s History Month, so I decided that it would be a good occasion to have a performance exhibition,” she wrote in a Facebook message.
Participating artists include Matt Ames, Erica Buechner, Warren Fry, Cherisse Gray, Sarah Ingel, HeJin Jan, Susan Jamison, Olchar Lindsann, Tif Robinette and Annie Waldrop, with music by Mateo Marquez Marquez. Admission is free. Performances contain adult subject matter.
Agricola and Marquez previously organized “Exclamations!” a cutting-edge series of exhibitions that debuted at the Roanoke Marginal Arts Festival last year and received a Perry F. Kendig Award from the now-defunct Arts Council of the Blue Ridge.
“Cycles~” takes place 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday in the former Pamela Jean Gallery at 115 Salem Ave S.E. in Roanoke. For more information, visit http://c-y-c-l-e-s.net/ or the “Cycles~” event page on Facebook.
On the Arts blog
Some new floats are in progress for the upcoming Marginal Arts Festival Parade in Roanoke, and float-sculptor Ralph Eaton could use some volunteer help. To contact Eaton, visit the “Marginal Arts Festival, Roanoke” page on Facebook. To see photos of the floats in progress, check out the Arts & Extras blog at blogs.roanoke.com/arts.
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