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Dirty Dancing 

The Vassar Repertory Dance Theater performs on March 3 and 4 in Poughkeepsie.
  • The Vassar Repertory Dance Theater performs on March 3 and 4 in Poughkeepsie.
It’s not often that a performer encourages someone to yell the French equivalent of the s-word at them, but, according to Jeanne Periolat Czula, a senior dance professor at Vassar College, it’s the correct way to wish dancers good luck before they go on stage. The traditional theatrical blessing, “Break a leg,” obviously has a negative connotation for those with the ability to move gracefully around scenery. So, if you wish to encourage the numerous artists before they take to the stage at Vassar’s 25th Annual Gala at the Bardavon this coming March, simply wave and wish them a heartfelt “Merde!”

Since last fall, the members of the Vassar Repertory Dance Theater have had the opportunity to pursue their muses in the school’s newly renovated dance department facility. The multi-million-dollar project created three new dance studios and the stunning Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater, named for the college’s recently retired president. Despite its present incarnation as a state-of-the-art performance space, it’s a site which some Vassar alumni may fondly recall as Kenyon Hall’s former swimming pool.

Dance is a nonmajor elective program at Vassar, and most of these dancers might be equally comfortable discussing anthropology or the intricacies of Rumi as they are at executing a perfect entrechat quatre. Two full-time and three part-time faculty members teach modern, classical ballet, and jazz techniques. This year’s concert promises more than two hours of varied styles that reflect the diversity of their training. The company’s repertoire ranges from modern dance reconstructions and classical ballet divertissements to original student choreography and all pas de deux en pointes in between.

The icing on this cake is a performance of Donald McKayle’s celebrated four-part exploration of black culture, “Songs of the Disinherited.” The legendary dancer, choreographer, and five-time Tony Award nominee also visited the campus last December to lead the students in a master class and put them through their paces.

The repertory’s artistic director, Paul D. Mosley, is clearly enthusiastic about both McKayle’s visit and the opportunity for the ensemble to perform excerpts from the master’s classic 1972 piece. “It is a tribute to the quality of our dancers that, each year, we are able to present a signature work of a major choreographer,” Mosley says. “I have seen very few theatrical events in my life that portray hope and courage in the face of desperation as this dance does.”

Professor Czula proffers a piece of advice to those who don’t know their Laban from their elbow: “Come to the concert, enjoy, and see [how] you feel.”

Vassar Repertory Dance Theater’s 25th Annual Gala takes place on March 3 at 8pm and March 4 at 3pm. (845) 473-2072; www.bardavon.org.

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