Recent grad and dancer, Melissa Anduiza, selected for national performance at Kennedy Center.
By Mary Beth Erskine
USF.edu News Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (May 20, 2010) – A ballet dancer since the age of four, Melissa Anduiza has performed countless grand jetés – the elegant and seemingly effortless leaps where dancers, with legs outstretched, appear to glide on air.
None of those previous jumps, however, can compare to the one Anduiza is about to make – a perfect grand jeté originating in the dance studios at USF, gliding gracefully through the air of one of the nation’s premier performing arts centers, and landing in a coveted position with a professional dance company.
Representing the best of college dance nationwide, Anduiza follows her recent graduation from USF with a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in ballet performance with a major appearance on May 29th at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. She will be performing in the National Dance Festival, sponsored by the American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA). The biennial event showcases dances selected for their outstanding artistic excellence and merit by nationally recognized adjudicators.
And then later in the summer, Anduiza begins her professional career as one of the primary dancers with the North Carolina Dance Theatre in Charlotte.
With avid USF support in the audience – USF President Judy Genshaft, Director of USF’s School of Theater and Dance Marc Powers, and Associate Professor of Dance Sandra Robinson will be attending – Anduiza will perform a piece at the National Dance Festival she choreographed herself titled, Stained Glass. (See video.)
“This is the highest honor a dancer/choreographer at the collegiate level can achieve on a national level,” said USF Associate Professor of Dance Michael Foley. “The long and prestigious history of the American College Dance Festival Association is one that serves as the very pinnacle of collegiate excellence in the dance field.”
Anduiza was selected for the honor at the annual Mid-Atlantic Regional American College Dance Festival at Virginia Commonwealth University last March. Every year, the ACDFA holds 10 regional festivals each featuring about 50 dances performed by students from some 30 colleges and universities. In total, approximately 500 dances around the country are auditioned and critiqued by dance professionals. Ten dances are then selected for presentation at each regional closing gala, and from those 10, only two or three move up to the National Gala.
“The adjudicators at the Mid-Atlantic ACDF Festival were from the Alvin Ailey School, the Julliard School and Ohio State University,” said Robinson. “They praised Melissa for her excellent performance skills, her superlative technique in both ballet and modern and the exceptional training she had received at USF.”
In addition to the fact that Anduiza choreographed the dance herself, another factor that made her success particularly remarkable is that while ballet is her forté, the piece follows a modern tradition.
“I was trained in classical ballet, but I wanted to do something different with this piece,” said Anduiza. “This was definitely ‘out of the box’ for me.”
“A lot of the dances that make it to the national festival are choreographed by faculty or even by well-known guest artists,” said Foley. “Melissa choreographed the solo herself, and she performs it, too. It’s like a ‘double coup’ – a very big honor in a very deep field of great dances.”
Set to Ernest Bloch’s Poem Mystique for violin, Anduiza says that Stained Glass is both autobiographical in nature reflecting her Catholic faith and universal. “The piece is very dear to my heart because it is about me,” said Anduiza. “As humans, we all have failings, or sin. It’s part of who we are. Like glass, we are all ‘stained,’ but at the same time, still beautiful. I embrace my failings because they are part of me. Through my dance, I use my body as a clean slate. I strike poses that can be seen as ugly and grotesque and use my body to make them beautiful.”
“Melissa is unique in that she is technically excellent and adaptable whether performing ballet, modern, contemporary, or hip-hop,” said Robinson. “Many dancers are able to perform steps, but Melissa illuminates the stage with her remarkable strength, sensitivity, artistry and musicality. She has a sophisticated and unique choreographic voice seldom found in an undergraduate."
Most surprisingly, Anduiza temporarily placed that ‘unique voice’ second to a potential career in nursing. After years of intense study and practice, when it came time to begin college, she entered Florida International University at the age of 17 as a nursing student. Her thinking, at the time, was that dance would become something she did “just for fun.” A dance instructor at the university who was a USF alumna, however, convinced her otherwise, and she transferred to USF.
Working with acclaimed choreographer and director Bill T. Jones and travelling abroad with USF Professor Jeanne Travers to perform in Tunisia were unique and significant growth opportunities for Anduiza. “I came to USF as a ballet dancer, and have left as a well-rounded dancer. Thanks to the guidance from my teachers and the school’s strong program, I have grown so much.”
All of those experiences, combined with the same drive and determination she continually exhibits on stage, enabled Anduiza to land a contract with a professional dance company even before receiving her diploma.
“My goal was to join a professional dance company upon graduation,” she said. “So I carefully devised a plan and listed all the companies where I wanted to audition. Then from January through May, which is the audition season for professional companies, I flew around the country from one audition to the next.”
While travelling to auditions on weekends and attending classes during the week made her last semester at USF an intense one, the payoff was significant when the director of the North Carolina Dance Theatre invited her back for a second audition over spring break – and then offered her a position.
“While the offer was with the second company, it was a really good offer and I accepted,” she said. “It’s really hard to find a job just starting out in the dance world.”
The day of her commencement was all the more sweet when the director called her again with a change in the offer – an opportunity to dance with the first and primary company.
“I am very impressed by Melissa’s training and talent,” said Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director with North Carolina Dance Theater. “She is an amazing dancer and artist. I haven’t seen a dancer with so much talent and potential in a long time. I am so looking forward to working with her and seeing her interpret the works of our choreographers.
“I feel fortunate to have her in our company.”
Mary Beth Erskine can be reached at 813-974-6993.