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Student dancers and original choreography by faculty and guest artists. Costumes, lights and scenic design.

The annual Dance in Concert at the University of Montana brings all these elements to the big Montana Theater stage as the flagship dance performance of the year for the School of Theatre & Dance.

The dance program aims to inspire "creative artists to find their voice and create new and cutting-edge work," said Karen Kaufmann, a dance professor and concert's producer. At other concerts, the school features student choreography. This concert puts the spotlight on sophisticated and thoughtful new choreography from faculty and guest artists, she said.

The show will open with an excerpt from artist-composer Meredith Monk's "A Celebration Service." Last fall, the school staged the work in its entirety, a rare chance to see Monk's internationally celebrated work in Montana. As part of the production, Monk's company sent choreographers to work with faculty and students on her unique amalgamation of folk music and movement.

After her piece comes a new work by Missoula native Brian Gerke, one of the local dance community's success stories. He left UM early to pursue his career in New York and then Iceland, where he was a featured soloist with the National Dance Company. After developing his professional career, he returned to UM to finish his degree and has created work as a guest artist.

His piece, "On Jasper's Farm," is choreographed for eight UM students with video projection by Natalie Oliver.

In Gerke's description, his new works "focus on observing and treasuring individuality in a culture, at least subliminally, encourages conformity."

In 2011, one of his pieces was performed by UM students at the Northwest Regional Conference of the American College Dance Association. Out of 50 pieces, it was selected for a performance at the Kennedy Center the next year.

This year, the students will bring his new piece to the conference, held in March in Boulder, Colorado. At the ACDA conference, they take classes, hear talks and perform for a panel, which is a "blind adjudication," meaning the judges don't which school is presenting a particular piece.

"The ACDA experience is probably the most extraordinary highlight of the year for our dance students," Kaufmann said.

Professor Nicole Bradley Browning will present two new works in her series of environmentally themed pieces. "Sediment," choreographed on student Logan Prichard, works with "an individual's desire to journey from a place of dislocation and despair toward one of connection and hope," according to Bradley Browning's description.

Her second piece, called "light" and choreographed for 12 dances, "explores human connections with fire and works choreographically with the power and mythology of fire."

In professor Heidi Jones Eggert's "Woven Echoes," a quintet is to be performed by five dancers. Kaufmann said Eggert is "interested in closing the gap between the energy that the performers are experiencing on stage and that of the audience members in the house."

She said the title clearly describes the trance-like movements, an "integrated tapestry of sound, movement, light and texture."

Dance instructor Joy French is presenting a piece choreographed and shot on location. While six of the seven pieces are in the contemporary vein, guest artist Marie Barnett choreographed a piece for nine dancers as a tribute to the late Tom Petty. It's inspired by one of his music videos that drew on imagery from "Alice in Wonderland."

The entire show has costumes and scenic design by school faculty and staff members Paula Niccum, Jennifer Jones, Alessia Carpoca and Brian Gregoire.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.