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UI dance alumnus celebrates sesquicentennial in May 2-3 concerts

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa dance department alumnus and former Joffrey Ballet dancer Mark Wuest now lives in Switzerland and works throughout Europe, but he describes himself as "an Iowan through and through." Wuest returned to the UI this spring to celebrate the state and UI sesquicentennials by creating a new dance work, "Wild Rose," which will be premiered at the dance department's spring Space/Place Concert at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 2 and 3, in the Space/Place Theatre of North Hall.

An adjudication panel will select the other works on the program from among submissions by student choreographers.

Wuest's "Wild Rose," named for the Iowa state flower, features recordings of his voice reciting sections from an Iowa fact book, a commissioned musical score by English composer Paul Pavey and Iowa landscape images by photographer Jeff Lubsen, a recent graduate of the UI American Studies program. The piece also includes lighting design by the dance department's technical director, Gary Holmquist.

Wuest met Pavey in Zurich, but the composer now lives in Paris, where the two collaborated at Christmas time on the spoken text and the music.

"From my fact book, I knew that there was an Iowa anthem, so I telephoned my friend Larry Eckholt at the Iowa City Public Library, to see if he could manage to find the lyrics for me," Wuest explains. He e-mailed them to me and also told me that it's normally done to the tune of 'Oh Tannenbaum,' so I passed that information on to my composer friend. He did what I would call it a 'Tom Waits' version of the Iowa Anthem."

He was relieved to discover that the lyrics are rather poetic. "I was afraid that if the lyrics were a bit too dorky that it could come off as me making fun of Iowa, which is not at all my intent," Wuest says.

Wuest was born in Amana and grew up in Marshalltown, where he was a swimmer and gymnast. He did not take dance training until he was at the UI, where he studied with Francoise Martinet in the dance department.

"My athletic background served me well," Wuest says. "Otherwise it would have been next to impossible, starting at age 20. Another advantage I had was starting with a really quality teacher. Lots of people, even if they started young, have to be retrained because their training wasn't so solid, but with Francoise I had absolute quality professional training from day one."

After graduating from the UI, Wuest danced for five years with the Joffrey Ballet, including performances of "The Nutcracker" in the UI Hancher Auditorium. But ever since he studied abroad during his UI education, he had planned to live in Europe.

"While I was still young enough and healthy enough to work as a professional ballet dancer, I wanted to head back to Europe," Wuest explains. "So I took a job in Geneva and then took a job with the Zurich Ballet, where I spent two years."

Although he is associated with the Amanda Miller's Pretty Ugly Dance Company in Amsterdam and will work with Miller's new company in Frieburg, Germany, Wuest is now so well established that for the past two-and-a-half years he has been able to support himself primarily as a freelance choreographer and dancer.

"Since I'm a young choreographer I've been just jumping into any opportunity to choreograph, so I've done little things for television and for opera, for small contemporary dance companies, for ballet companies," he says. "Most recently I did a musical in Berlin, spending the last couple of months in Berlin before coming back to Iowa."

Wuest says his choreography for the eight student dancers in "Wild Rose" has moved far from the classical steps of his ballet training: "When Helen Chadima, the director of the department, telephoned me to prepare for the audition, she said, 'Will you be doing a piece on pointe?' And I said, 'Well, maybe you should just label it as contemporary.' because the movement that I do is very deconstructed. I think it's something certainly new for the young dancers in the piece, and it certainly will be different from what people are expecting, or what they ordinarily see."

Admission to the Space/Place Concert will be $5 ($4 for UI students) at the door.

4/21/97