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Bill Evans 70! pays tribute in Brockport

By Vanessa Oswald
On April 14, 2010

For the past 30 years Bill Evans has been throwing performances for his birthday. This year he's turning 70 and has every intention of continuing the tradition."My dance company was in Denver, at Colorado Women's College and it was my birthday," said Evans, a full time visiting dance professor and guest artist at The College at Brockport. "Afterward, my whole company took me out and I thought 'that was a great way to celebrate my birthday because I love dance.'"

Ever since, he's performed for his birthday, whether in Paris, Finland, Mexico or even the Strasser Studio.

For his "Bill Evans 70!" performance, he dedicated pieces to special people in his life that had lasting impacts on him Saturday and Sunday, April 10 and 11, and encouraged him to go far in life. In the past few years, Evans lost three people very close to him -- including his mother Lila Snape Evans, Margaret Gisolo, a woman he calls his dance mother and Daniel Nagrin, one of his most influential mentors.

The first piece of the night, "Three Preludes for Lila," was a solo tap dance, which he dedicated in memory of his mother. Evans said the last time his mother had seen him perform was July 23, 2008. As he tapped, each step was executed with absolute grace. Though there were moments of slow-paced movement, it always transitioned to be upbeat and energetic, as he danced with a radiant smile.

Three dancers were featured in his next piece, "Multiple Margaret," created for Gisolo. Before the dance commenced, photos of Gisolo were projected onto the wall, showing her with family and friends, along with pictures highlighting her various accomplishments, such as playing baseball for an American Legion team, serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy and founding one of the most prestigious dance departments in the country.

The dance represented the different facets of Gisolo's character, with the three dancers moving effortlessly through the space. They intertwined at specific moments, connecting to symbolize prominent parts of Gisolo's life and how they directly affected each other. One repeated pose in the dance looked as if the dancers were holding a baseball, which appropriately emphasized that groundbreaking time in her life as a female baseball pioneer.

Evans spoke at both his mother's and Gisolo's funeral within a week of each other this past December.

"It was really hard to lose them both in such a close time," said Evans. "They're both very wonderful, special people."

Before the third performance, "Velorio: A Vigil for the Deceased," Evans had pictures of his mother projected onto the back curtains, dedicating the piece to her.

"There was a bond between me and my mom I can't express in words," said Evans.

He asked the audience to close their eyes, think about someone they had lost and hoped they would dedicate this piece to them. As one dancer lay in the center of the floor, the other seven dancers walked slowly out from the corner of the studio, veils draped over their faces, as they carried small lanterns, lighting up the dark room. As the piece went on, it was as if the dancers were angels watching over the main dancer, Andrea Vázquez, who was on the floor. They guided her as she glided around the space. Suzanne Oliver played the role of the nurturer who danced alongside Vázquez for most of the piece.

The fourth piece, "Blues for My Father," was dedicated to his father William Ferdinand Evans. James J. Kaufmann provided vocal improvisation while Evans performed another tap solo. He was light on his feet; his steps matched Kaufmann's bluesy vocals perfectly. Even the most intricate steps were just as dynamically expressive as the loud steps.

"I revisit him every time I perform this piece," said Evans about his father. "He stays alive. It brings back cherished memories of dad."

With the performance "The 'Guys,'" Evans worked with five new freshman male dance majors. They had first shown this piece at the New Dancer's Showcase last semester. Evans wanted to include a look not only into the past, but also into the future of the dancers who will follow in his footsteps.

"Working with Bill was great," said Tom Ciccone, a first year dance major. "He is very calm and relaxed, but at the same time knows what he wants to accomplish and definitely achieves those goals."

One of the dancers, Owen Scarlett couldn't perform due to surgery, but Robin Wonka took his place, holding her own among the boys.

"One of the main things I learned from Bill was the art of embodying the movement and making it our own," said Ciccone. "He had made a comment about how much we have grown since last semester. Then to be doing it again for his concert, it was like we had something new to bring."

As all the artists came out to bow with Evans they received a standing ovation from the audience, showing their appreciation of Evans sharing his love of dance with everyone present.

"I felt I was born to dance," said Evans. "I didn't have a choice. It isn't as if I chose it, I feel it chose me.

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