Dance Company Brings Unique Perspective to Story of Helen Keller

Thodos Dance Chicago to perform Oct. 18 at Ford Center, also sets community outreach programs

Thodos Dance Chicago will bring its spirited and contemporary modern dance style to the Ford Center with a performance on Sun. Oct 18th.

Thodos Dance Chicago will bring its spirited and contemporary modern dance style to the Ford Center for a Sunday (Oct. 18) afternoon performance.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Thodos Dance Chicago company will bring its acclaimed contemporary and modern dance style to the University of Mississippi for a performance Sunday (Oct. 18) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

General admission tickets to the 3 p.m. show are $20 and can be purchased at or at the UM Box office inside the Student Union.

The members of the dance troupe also plan to involve the community in several special outreach programs.

“We are excited to welcome such a wonderful dance company to the Ford Center for the Performing Arts,” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “They are a little different than other companies in what they bring to performances.”

The company, founded in 1992 by Melissa Thodos, is described as having an athletic and beautiful style. It has been called “an inventive troupe in the modern dance scene,” with all its members holding degrees in dance education, and they have the ability to teach at various education levels.

At its performance in Oxford, the troupe’s first piece will feature the acted-out story-ballet, “A Light in the Dark: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.” Thodos Dance Chicago’s second act will focus on original performances.

The performance is expected to be sublime in its portrayal of the Keller story, Meacham said. While many people are aware of the story of Keller and Sullivan through the popular play and movie, “The Miracle Worker,” audiences will be able to see the remarkable relationship between the teacher, Sullivan, and her special pupil, Helen Keller, in a refreshingly new perspective through dance.

“The audience has a chance to see the subject matter in a different way,” Meacham said. “The performance is able to extend past theme and emotion that is sometimes lost in words.”

The Dance Touring Initiative program, funded by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, allows the Ford Center to bring companies such as Thodos to Oxford for extended residencies. For this weekend tour, Thodos will help educate students through modern dance and also work with vision- and hearing-disabled groups.

“Before the company’s performance on Sunday, they will have a ‘touch tour’ at 1:30 p.m., in which individuals with vision and hearing disabilities, as well as any other disabilities, will be able to go onstage and take a tour of the set with the cast,” Meacham said. “We urge any group in the area that deals with special needs individuals to contact us if they would be interested in this tour.”

All members of the ensemble learned American Sign Language so they can engage with hearing-disabled patrons, Meacham said.

During this extended residence, company members will visit Lafayette Elementary School on Friday morning (Oct. 16), followed by an extended lecture and demonstration on the UM campus for communications science students.

That afternoon, members of the troupe will travel to Tupelo to conduct a workshop at the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center.

The next day, Thodos will offer a master class and beginner class at the Ford Center studio for dance students. These classes allow dancers, whether novices or experts, to go through a workshop where they can learn the choreography and concepts of modern dance from the company’s professionals.

“Thodos Dance Chicago will provide a unique experience to the Ford Center audience and the university campus,” Meacham said. “The Ford Center is trying to remove the boundaries general audiences have when it comes to accessing arts. We are trying to educate and engage the audience with a group and performance they might not regularly be exposed to.”

Anyone interested in participating in the touch tour should call Meacham at 662-915-6502.

PRIZM Ensemble Coming to Ford Center

Oct. 13 show to also feature music department faculty members

PRIZM Ensamble

The PRIZM Ensemble performs Oct. 13 at the Ford Center.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Memphis-based PRIZM Ensemble and members of the University of Mississippi Department of Music will perform together Tuesday (Oct. 13) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The performance is set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students, available at the Ole Miss Box Office in the Student or online here. Students enrolled in Music 103 can get a free ticket as part of their concert attendance project.

The program pieces have been influenced by contemporary popular music and feature some of today’s most prominent composers, including Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Double Sextet” and Grammy-winning artist Michael Daugherty’s bassoon concerto, “Dead Elvis.”

“If you think classical music is dry and dusty, we think this performance is going to change your mind,” said Michael Rowlett, UM associate professor of music. “We hope that the music presented will please classical music fans and at the same time attract students who may be new to the world of art music.”

In the performance of Terry Riley’s landmark work, “In C,” students will perform side-by-side with the professionals.

“Since this piece is for any combination of instruments, it allows a chance to actually build a diverse community onstage, right before the audience’s eyes,” Rowlett said.

The PRIZM Ensemble was formed in 2009 and consists of classically trained Memphis musicians who specialize in chamber music. The musicians are committed to promoting and developing local talent in the Memphis area through educational and performance opportunities.

“PRIZM’s mission is to build a diverse community through chamber music education, youth development, and performance,” Rowlett said. “Apart from the musical value, we also believe there is a social value in the concert we have put together.”

Each summer, the PRIZM Ensemble hosts an annual PRIZM International Chamber Music Festival. For more information about the ensemble, call 901-596-9105 or visit

Nairobi Chamber Chorus to Perform at Ford Center

Free Oct. 12 show part of Southeastern U.S. tour for group

Nairobi Chamber Chorus to perform at the Ford Center in Oxford, Miss. on October 12.

Nairobi Chamber Chorus to perform Oct. 12 at the Ford Center.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Nairobi Chamber Chorus will perform a free concert featuring traditional Kenyan folk songs Monday (Oct. 12) at the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

No tickets are required for the 7:30 p.m. show.

Founded in October 2005 by director Ken Wakia, the Nairobi Chamber Chorus performs around the world. Wakia, who studied choral conducting at the University of Miami as a Fulbright scholar, also serves as the cultural and educational affairs specialist for the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

“They are the leading choral group in Kenya today and have performed with some of the world’s top musical ensembles,” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “We are happy to be able to assist in bringing this group to the Ford Center and offering it at no charge to the community.”

The group’s visit was arranged with help from the UM Office of Global Engagement.

Last year, the Festival Singers of Florida went to Kenya to perform with the choir. That led the Festival Singers of Florida to help coordinate a tour for the Nairobi Chamber Chorus across the Southeastern United States. In addition to performing in Mississippi, the choir is singing this month in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. This is the first time the choir has performed in the United States.

“They want to connect the various parts of the world through cross-cultural understanding together with a message of peace, which they deliver through quality choral singing,” said Don Trott, UM director of choral activities.

“I encourage anyone who has Monday evening open to come to the Ford Center to hear this choir who has traveled literally halfway around the world to deliver their message through choral singing.”

Opera Rising Stars Concert Series Coming to Ford Center

Performance features some of opera's favorite arias, duets and classic performances

Rising Stars of the Metropolitan Opera will perform at the Gertrude C. Ford Center Sept. 28.

Rising Stars of the Metropolitan Opera will perform Sept. 28 at the Ford Center.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts will continue its Artist Series Monday (Sept. 28) with a performance by the Metropolitan Opera Rising Stars Concert Series.

The concert series tour allows opera fans around the country to see these extraordinary young performers beginning their careers. The event is to include performances by baritone David Won, pianist Brent Funderburk, mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall, bass baritone Kevin Short and soprano Amanda Woodbury.

The event starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $17 for the mezzanine and balcony levels and $25 for orchestra and parterre levels. They are available online at or at the UM Box Office inside the Ole Miss Student Union.

“We are looking forward to having these talented young opera stars to start the Ford Center’s 2015-16 season,” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “The audience can expect a wonderful evening of dynamic performances of some of opera’s favorite duets and arias, as well as some classic pieces from musical theater.”

Won made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 2005 in a production of “Romeo et Juliette.” His most recent roles with the opera include roles in “Die Frau ohne Schatten” in 2013 and “Manon” in 2015. He has also won numerous international competitions and awards.

Praised by the New York Times as an excellent pianist, Funderburk has collaborated on numerous occasions with world-class singers and instrumentalists. He has made notable appearances in the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration at Zankel Hall and partnered with young artists as part of The Song Continues at Carnegie Hall.

Funderburk is also on the staff of the Ellen and James S. Marcus Insitute for Vocal Arts at the Juilliard School.

Hall has also been praised by The New York Times as “rich-voiced.” Hall is an alumna of the Met’s Young Artist Development Program and the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center. She is also an alumna of Juilliard School and a noted recitalist, performing several times at Carnegie Hall.

Short has performed in more than 20 operas at the Metropolitan Opera as well as other notable opera houses across the country. He is also an alumnus of Juilliard School and was the winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Woodbury is an alumna of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. She won the 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions as well as many other awards in opera competitions.

Koresh Dance to Perform Saturday at Ford Center

Koresh Dance Company will perform at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts Saturday, May 2.

Koresh Dance Company will perform at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts Saturday, May 2.

A troupe that blends Middle Eastern music with classical favorites for a cross-cultural experience brings its unique take on dance to the University of Mississippi for a Saturday (May 2) performance at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Koresh Dance, created in Philadelphia in 1991, uses music from Israeli and Turkish composers along with works of Chopin, Ravel and Beethoven. The performers also incorporate Israeli folk dance with classical movements to convey a range of emotions and ideas.

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show are $30 for general admission and are available online or at the UM Box Office, inside the Ole Miss Student Union.

“Koresh Dance is a known for being technically superb,” said Kate Meacham, the Ford Center’s marketing director. “We are happy to have the chance to bring them to the Ford Center. Seeing them perform is a real treat.”

Koresh Dance is part of the Ford Center’s Campus Connections series and also will appear at events throughout the community leading up to the performance. Koresh is partnering with the RebelWell program to provide a workshop in Grove for faculty, staff and student at noon Friday (May 1). No dance experience is required.

The company is scheduled for a workshop at the Scott Center for special needs students, as well as a session for middle school and high school students at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Lafayette High School.

Russian National Ballet Brings ‘Cinderella’ to Ford Center

The Russian National Ballet will perform Cinderella at the Ford Center Tuesday.

The Russian National Ballet will perform Cinderella at the Ford Center Tuesday.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Russian National Ballet Theatre returns to the University of Mississippi on Tuesday (April 21) with its production of Prokofiev’s “Cinderella.”

The performance is at 7:30 p.m. in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The production brings to life the iconic tale of a girl who is servant to her stepfamily, but with the help of her fairy godmother, is transformed into a princess.

“‘Cinderella’ is a beloved fairy tale that appeals to all ages,” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “We are thrilled to bring the Russian National Ballet to the Ford Center to perform this ballet. It should be a great experience.

This performance, with its beautiful scenery and costumes, is a delight for the whole family.

Tickets are $28 for mezzanine and balcony seating and $35.50 for orchestra and parterre seating. They are available for purchase online and at the UM Box Office in the Ole Miss Student Union.

Opera Theatre Presents World Premiere of ‘Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’

Adaptation is latest work by acclaimed UM alumnus Nancy Van de Vate

Dr. Nancy Van de Vate listens to the cast and orchestra during the Sitz Probe in the Ford Center.

Nancy Van de Vate listens to the cast and orchestra during the sitzprobe, or seated rehearsal, in the Ford Center.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Opera Theatre Ensemble will present the world premiere of “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark” this weekend at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The performance is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday (April 18). Tickets are $30 for general admission, $24 for faculty and staff, and $10 for students. They are available at the UM Box Office inside the Ole Miss Student Union and from the Ford Center website.

The opera, composed by UM alumna Nancy Van de Vate, adapts the classic Shakespeare play. The production will feature faculty, staff and students on stage and in the orchestra, and the entire cast will travel to Prague to perform May 30 with the Moravian Philharmonic.

Van de Vate said Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is beautifully written and the structure is very much like an opera, allowing a smooth transition from stage play to opera theatre.

But the process of composing isn’t complete until the opera comes to life, she said.

“I can put black spots on paper, but the piece doesn’t exist until it’s performed,” Van de Vate said.

Van de Vate completed her undergraduate education at Wellesley College and came to Ole Miss to earn her master’s degree in music composition. She went on to earn a Doctor of Music degree from Florida State University.

She has composed more than 115 works in many different forms and is considered one of the world’s most accomplished female composers. She resides in Vienna, having received dual citizenship for her musical achievements and contributions to the Republic of Austria.

“I’m delighted to be back in Oxford, and I’m thrilled to work with such a fine music department,” she said.

Julia Aubrey, UM associate professor of music, serves as the production’s artistic and stage director.

“This is very much a University of Mississippi and community project,” Aubrey said. “We have faculty, students, guest artists and community members working on stage, in the orchestra pit and behind the scenes. To stage ‘Hamlet’ as a play can be daunting. To direct it as an opera is an exciting challenge. This production gives the university and Oxford an opportunity to experience something extraordinary.”

The performance will also feature guest singers for the lead roles. Tenor Ryan MacPherson will perform the role of Hamlet, UM music faculty members Jennifer and Bradley Robinson will perform as Gertrude and Claudius, and guest faculty artist G. William Bugg, of Samford University, will perform as the ghost/gravedigger.

“It’s an honor to be performing something as powerful and challenging as ‘Hamlet,'” MacPherson said. “I hope the audience finds not only a love for contemporary music and new opera, but also an appreciation of Mrs. Van de Vate as a writer.”

“We are very pleased to be producing this project in collaboration with the Department of Music’s opera program,” said Norm Easterbrook, Ford Center director. “This is a very satisfying opportunity for us to utilize our resources to yield what we hope will be highly rewarding experiences for our students, faculty and staff.

“We are profoundly grateful to the Ford Foundation, the Office of the Provost and College of Liberal Arts and donors to our Ford Center Friends program for their continuing support, without which this project simply would not have come to fruition.”

Pilobolus to Teach, Perform in Oxford

Pilobolus will perform at the Ford Center March 31 at 7:30 p.m.

Pilobolus will perform March 31 at the Ford Center.

The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi welcomes renowned dance company Pilobolus for a Monday (March 30) performance as part of its Artist Series.

Seating for the 7:30 p.m. show starts at $28 for the mezzanine and balcony levels and $35.50 for orchestra and parterre. Tickets are available on the Ford Center website or at the UM Box Office inside the Ole Miss Student Union.

Pilobolus, founded in 1971 by Dartmouth College students, challenges perceptions of modern dance by forming diverse collaborations that break barriers. The company has toured to more than 64 countries over the last 42 years and has been seen by more than 500,000 people. It physically and intellectually engages audiences through performance and education.

“Pilobolus is a very exciting dance company,” said Norman Easterbrook, Ford Center director. “They are very different from a typical modern dance company. The way they view movement and music and their use of space is very unique. It truly challenges the audience see things differently.”

Besides performances, the dance company also educates through workshops, classes, residencies and children’s programming. The Pilobolus@Play program allows children and adults with various levels of dancing experience to learn about improve, movements and choreography and are also invited to watch a show.

A community workshop is set for 2 p.m. Saturday (March 28) at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center. Children attending the workshops and students are invited to a Kids Show at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday (March 31) at the Ford Center.

“We are thrilled to partner with Pilobolus for their Pilobolus@Play program,” said Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director. “It is great way to teach different audiences how dance and movement can be used examine themes and ideas found in daily life.”

Pilobolus is known around the world and has made appearances at the Academy Awards broadcast (2007), on “Oprah,” “Sesame Street,” “60 Minutes” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” It was received prestigious honors including a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Cultural Programming and the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in Choreography.

‘American Cultural Icon’ John Waters to Perform One-Man Show on Campus



Acclaimed writer, director and photographer John Waters is bringing his one-man show “This Filthy World” to the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts for a March 28 performance.

Hosted by the university’s Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, the student-inspired event is made possible by the support from the University Lecture Series, numerous campus entities and private donations. The 7 p.m. event is free, but tickets are required and are available at the UM Box Office inside the Ole Miss Student Union.

Waters has directed more than a dozen movies and is a noted photographer whose work has appeared in galleries worldwide. His is also the writer of many nonfiction books, and his most recent, “Carsick” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), was a 2014 New York Times bestseller.

“John Waters has been a key figure in gender studies for decades,” said Jaime Harker, the Isom Center’s interim director. “His films paved the way for performers like RuPaul and with his casting of ‘big girl’ Ricki Lake in ‘Hairspray,’ he forged a path that, most recently, Lena Denham in (the HBO series) ‘Girls’ has trod. Look at recent popular culture manifestations of feminism, body size, gender and sexuality, and it is almost certain that John Waters did it first and did it better.”

In anticipation of the event, the Isom Center, Student Union and Division of Student Affairs are hosting a “Welcome to the World of John Waters Movie Night” beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday (March 24) in the Turner Center Auditorium. “Hairspray” and “Serial Mom” will make up the double-feature. The evening also will feature a raffle of John Waters tickets with VIP seating, an autographed movie poster and copies of “Carsick.” This event is free.

“Bringing John Waters to our campus marks an important moment for the university community and our students,” said Theresa Starkey, assistant director and instructor of gender studies. “His body of creative work covers so much and his vision and influence seems limitless, embracing film, photography, sculpture and nonfiction. As an artist, Waters is always probing the boundaries of good taste. He embraces the complexities of American culture and social life and celebrates diversity and the outsider in the process.”

Bruce Levingston, New UM Friends Share ‘Words and Music’ at Ford Center

Chancellor's Honors College artist-in-residence leading all-star local line-up for March 27 show

Ross Bjork and Bruce Levingston

Ross Bjork and Bruce Levingston

OXFORD, Miss. – When acclaimed concert pianist and recording artist Bruce Levingston returns to the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts next Friday (March 27), he’ll be joined by an all-star line-up of campus celebrities.

“Music Noir: An Evening of Words and Music” begins at 7:30 p.m. Combining the melodies of classical composers with readings from both legendary and modern authors and poets, the program features UM faculty such as violinist Robert Riggs and singers Nancy Maria Balach, Jos Milton and Jaci Skoog. Readers include poet Beth Ann Fennelly, novelist Tom Franklin, journalist and author Curtis Wilkie and patron Patricia Lewis.

“This concert is really a concert about friendships, collaboration and inspiration,” Levingston said. “There is also a cool twist in that each piece is a little noir, about the night, so there will be pieces ranging from the haunting Dracula Suite of Philip Glass to nocturnes of Chopin.”

Ballerina Genevieve Fortner, founder and director of Oxford Ballet School, will perform, as well as star Ole Miss student-athletes Robert Nkemdiche, football; Jon Luke Watts, track and field; Taina Laporte, volleyball and track and field; and Forrest Gamble, golf. Special guests from the athletics world will be football Coach Hugh Freeze, Athletics Director Ross Bjork and Billy Chadwick, the former Rebels tennis coach.

“One of the pieces we will be performing will be the hilarious ‘Sports and Divertissements’ by Erik Satie,” Levingston said. “We think we have the perfect cast!”

Tickets range from $20 to $33 and can be purchased at the Central Ticket Office in the UM Student Union from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

While the event combines the music of Chopin, Satie, Debussy and Liszt with the words of great writers such as Verlaine, Hugo, Mann, Byron, Fennelly and Franklin, Levingston said the program is mostly about collaboration.

“As I’ve come to know each performer, I’ve learned so much from them,” he said. “Robert Nkemdiche is a tremendous reader and thinker and an incredibly sensitive and thoughtful human being. Ross Bjork is also just one of the greatest leaders here on campus and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”

He voiced similar words of praise for the other cast members.

“Coach Freeze cares not only about his players, but about the impact he has on the lives of so many people outside his field,” Levingtson said. “Beth, Tom and Curtis are world-class writers and we are so blessed to have them at the university. The incredible musicians Robert, Nancy, Jos and Jaci are some of the finest I’ve ever performed with anywhere. Patty and Genevieve simply epitomize elegance.”

Balach, an associate professor of music, said she is looking forward to the evening’s performance.

“It is an absolute joy to work with someone who cares so passionately about music and creating a concert experience that is interesting and genuine,” she said. “We will be performing two gorgeous art songs with beautifully sincere texts: ‘Si mes vers avaient des ailes (If my verses had wings)’ by Venezuelan-born and naturalized French composer Reynaldo Hahn and ‘Goodbye, Goodbye World’ by American composer Lee Hoiby.”

Skoog, a graduate student in voice performance who studies with Balach, will join her and Levingtston for a third selection by Gioacchino Rossini.

Meeting and working with the students has been equally, if not more, transformative for Levingston.

“Fast-rising stars like Jon Luke Watts, who was just accepted for a year of study at Oxford University in England, Ty Laporte and Forest Gamble, both amazing leaders in their sports and brilliant, caring and powerful individuals, have changed my life,” he said. “Their spirits and passion for what they do inspire me in my own work and life.”

Laporte, a junior journalism major from Columbia, South Carolina, said Levingston has influenced her life as well.

“Meeting and watching Bruce play brought back why I love my sport,” Laporte said. “It’s an amazing thing to watch someone do something they love and see their love and passion for it. The way he plays is how I want people to see me when I play, to see my passion.”

The pianist thinks the evening will be one of most unique and entertaining evenings of classical music ever presented at the Ford Center.

“People can really inspire one another regardless of coming from different worlds and disciplines and places,” Levingston said. “I believe when the audience sees our performance, they will all share in this inspiration of friendship.”

For more information, visit