Backstage Pass—Dance Class at A.C.T.

By Simon Hodgson 

“One, two, three, four,” calls out Corrine Nagata. “High parallel. Heel. Toe. High lateral!” A compact Japanese American in a sleeveless turquoise shirt and rubber-soled boots, Nagata pads around the rehearsal room, encouraging the dancers and watching calf muscles shake. Eleven students from A.C.T.’s Master of Fine Arts Program are approaching the end of their first year. Last Friday, in a dance class open to the whole A.C.T. company, they completed a series of exercises as well as a prepared ensemble piece they’d been working on for a few weeks.

“You’re stretching like a beautiful rubber band,” says Nagata as the students execute cross-lunges. By the wall, A.C.T. staff and other M.F.A. Program students clap and click their fingers in admiration. On the floor, the black-clad dancers are sweating. “Long dancer’s necks,” says Nagata, exhorting now. “I need to see a dancer’s diagonal. Both shoulders!” When the music—Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”—cuts out, there is only the noise of feet pivoting on wooden floorboards and the exhalations as the students strain to hold a challenging position. At the end of the exercise, the dancers slump, hands on knees. “Everybody, go get some water quickly,” says Nagata. “You’ve got 30 seconds.”

For the last nine months, these students have woken early for classes in acting, physical theater, dance, Alexander Technique, voice, theater history, improv, singing, and theater analysis. Now they are nearing the end of year one, but Nagata is pushing them until the end. They gather to prepare for the finale, whispering instructions to each other. Nagata approaches the group and asks if they want one more run-through. “We got this,” says one of the students. A few of the dancers grin. The audience leans forward.

Come and see these M.F.A. Program actors appearing in Cardenio, The Rocky Horror Show, and Black Orpheus. The Spring Rep season starts at A.C.T. tonight and runs till May 15.

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