Center Dance Ensemble

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Fran Cohen is the 85-year-old founder and artistic director of the Center Dance Ensemble. She’s been dancing since she was 3 years old and she’s still creating and choreographing. For their final performance of the season, Center Dance celebrates the poetic impact of movement and words through American Voices. We’ll talk to Cohen about why she keeps dancing, we’ll hear from her dancers about why they adore her so much and we’ll get a taste of their upcoming show.

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TED SIMONS: CENTER DANCE ENSEMBLE HAS BEEN PERFORMING IN THE VALLEY FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS. THE POWER BEHIND THAT LONG RUN IS THE GROUP'S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR. PRODUCER ALLYSA ADAMS AND PHOTOGRAPHER ROB MCJANNET INTRODUCE US TO FRANCIS SMIT COHEN WHO IS STILL DANCING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS.

ALLYSA ADAMS: AT CENTER DANCE ENSEMBLE, AN EXTENDED, ARM A LEG IN ARABESQUE, THE EMBRASE OF A LIFT, ARE MORE THAN JUST THE FLOURISHES OF GOOD DANCE TECHNIQUE. EACH STEP EACH MOVEMENT TELLS A STORY.

KATIE MCDOWELL: AND I THINK THAT'S WHAT OUR COMPANY DOES VERY WELL BECAUSE OF OUR ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, SHE IS A STORY TELLER. SO MUCH OF OUR SEASON IS COMPRISED OF THESE INCREDIBLE STORIES THAT ARE TOLD THROUGH MOVEMENT.

ALLYSA ADAMS: MODERN DANCE HERE IS WHAT ARTISTIC IT DIRECTOR FRANCIS SMITH COHEN CALLS ACCESSIBLE.

FRANCIS SMITH COHEN: IT'S A COMMUNICATION MODERN DANCE COMMUNICATES. THAT IS WHAT IT IS SUPPOSED TO DO. DANCE IS FOR ME TO SAY TO YOU LISTEN, I HAVE SOMETHING TO TELL YOU. I WANT TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING. I WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU.

ALLYSA ADAMS: COHEN'S QUEST TO SHARE STORIES THROUGH DANCE STARTED OVER 60 YEARS AGO WHEN SHE FIRST PULLED OFF HER POINT SHOES AND FELT THE FREEDOM OF MODERN DANCE.

FRANCIS SMITH COHEN: I NEVER LOST THE JOY OR THE INTRIGUE OF THE STORY AND TO TELL IT IN DANCE AND TO TELL IT IN MODERN DANCE IS PRETTY AWESOME.

ALLYSA ADAMS: AND IT CAN BE CHALLENGING FOR DANCERS WHO HAVE TO SHED THE RIGID CONFINES OF CLASSICAL TRAINING AND ASK MORE FROM THEMSELVES.

FRANCIS SMITH COHEN: I THINK YOU SHOULD TORT HER.

SCOTT BODILY: FRAN IS VERY GOOD AT TELLING STORIES. YOU HAVE TO PULL FROM YOUR ACTING AND YOUR TRAINING, PERSON LIFE EXPERIENCES, TO PULL INTO CHOREOGRAPHY BUT THEN PRODUCE WHAT SHE IS WARRANTING TO HAVE DEVELOPED ON STAGE.

ALLYSA ADAMS: FOR OVER 28 YEARS, THIS COMPANY HAS CREATED MORE THAN 80 ORIGINAL WORKS. MANY DEVELOPING FROM THE RECESSES OF COHEN'S MIND AND BODY.

FRANCIS SMITH COHEN: I START WITH A TITLE. I FIND WORDS AND FOR THE FALL I AM GOING TO BE DOING A GHOST AND GOBLINS AND WITCHES OH MY. NOW, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THIS MEANS AT ALL EXCEPT IT IS FROM DORTHY. BUT IT HAS GIVEN ME A BEGINNING TO PUT TOGETHER A WHOLE SHOW.

ALLYSA ADAMS: AND CLEARLY THE MEMBERS OF CENTER DANCE ENSEMBLE WANT TO FIND WHERE THAT BEGINNING TAKES THEM. SO MANY OF THE STAFF AND DANCERS COME BACK TO THESE REHERAL STUDIOS YEAR AFTER YEAR. THIS IS KATE MCDOWEL'S SEVENTH SEASON.

KATIE MCDOWELL: IT FEELS LIKE HOME DANCING IN HERE. I WALK IN THE DOOR EVERY DAY AND SAY I AM HOME.

ALLYSA ADAMS: AND WHILE IT IS COMFORTABLE, DANCERS SAY DON'T LET COHEN'S MOTHERLY MANNER FOOL YOU. SHE PUSHES THEM HARD.

FRANCIS SMITH COHEN: WATCH THE SHOULDERS, KEEP THE SHOULDERS DOWN A LITTLE BIT AND THERE YOU GO.

SCOTT BODILY: SHE IS ALSO A VERY HONEST AND PASSIONATE ABOUT DANCE AND WANTS YOU TO GROW REGARDLESS OF YOUR LEVEL AS DANCER. THERE ARE DIFFERENT LEVELS IN THE COMPANY OBVIOUSLY BUT SHE CHALLENGES YOU AND I LOVE THAT. I AM ALWAYS LEARNING SOMETHING.

DIANNE MCNEAL HUNT: AND BREATH

ALLYSA ADAMS: DIANNE MCNEAL HUNT STARTED ON THE STAGE WITH CENTER DANCE ENSEMBLE. NOW SHE IS THE ASSISTANT ARTISTIC DIRECTOR CHOREOGRAPHING PIECES THAT SHE SAYS COMPLIMENT COHEN'S WORK AND CHALLENGE HER DANCERS.

DIANNE MCNEAL HUNT: I LOVE COACHING AND JUST TRYING TO GET THEM TO INVESTIGATE HOW TO EXPRESS AND COMMUNICATE AN IDEA THROUGH THE MOVEMENT AND NOT NECESSARY IMPOSING AN EMOTIONAL PHASE OR STANDARD GESTURE BUT JUST REALLY DIGGING DEEP AND I LIKE TO DO THAT.

ALLYSA ADAMS: COHEN HAS CHOREOGRAPHED OVER 1500 DANCES AND WHILE THE JOURNEY TO THE STAGE IS EXHILARATING IT IS AFTER THE MOVEMENT STOPS THAT SHE ANTICIPATES.

FRANCIS SMITH COHEN: THE LIGHTS GO DOWN AND THERE NOT SOUND AND ALL YOU CAN HEAR IS SOMEBODY IN THE AUDIENCE CRYING. NOW, THAT'S A MOMENT. THOSE ARE THE MOMENTS I LONG FOR AND I WORK FOR.

ALLYSA ADAMS: MOMENTS SET IN MOTION BY MOVEMENT WHERE AN ARABESQUE CAN TELL A POWERFUL STORY.

TED SIMONS: CENTER DANCE WILL CLOSE THE 2017 SEASON THIS WEEKEND AFTER HERBERGER WITH AMERICAN VOICES, A SHOW CHOREOGRAPHED ENTIRELY BY COMPANY MEMBERS.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU. SUBMIT YOUR QUESTIONS COMMENTS AND CONCERNS VIA EMAIL AT [email protected].

Fran Cohen: Founder and artistic director of the Center Dance Ensemble

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