The Mississippi School of the Arts (MSA) Dance Department performed in the first annual Dance Gala Concert as part of the Dance Revelry series at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) on February 23, 2019. Stacy Reischman Fletcher, Director of the School of Performing and Visual Arts at USM created the concert that would involve MSA and DanceSouth as partners in the endeavor. Choreography by alumni, faculty, and guest artists was performed along with work by the USM Dance Department founder, Patricia Amacker McConnell. MSA Dance performed Catting, one of many pieces of choreography that was given to MSA as part of a repository of work by Patricia Amacker McConnell. Ms. McConnell is a mentor to Tammy Stanford, MSA Dance Department Teacher, and donated the work in 2011. MSA is now the home to all of her choreography.
Dancers Celeste Garrett, Daria Fisher, Jamison Carroll, and Grace Bass are seniors at MSA. In addition to each learning a solo work by McConnell, they worked together to learn Catting for this event. Like most of McConnell’s work, the piece is highly physical requiring strength to seamlessly lift each other and extend the body beyond its limits. Celeste Garrett said about the experience, “After rehearsing Catting I knew I grew as a dancer because I’ve never danced liked that before.” As with any dancer who studies under Ms. McConnell, MSA dancers felt they grew as artists because of the experience. Daria Fisher said, “Struggle brings the greatest success for me as a dancer. Dancing in Ms. McConnell’s piece has brought about the greatest struggle and success I’ve experienced.”
MSA dancers attended classes while at USM, rehearsed in the venue, and performed that night for a full house, which also hosted Ms. McConnell. Ms. McConnell was able to offer feedback to the students who brought her choreography to life from old videos by the original USM cast in the 1980s. Jamison Carroll said, “The Catting experience provided me with the strength and capacity to go beyond my growing place.” Catting was performed a second time in the 1990s. The 2019 edition is the third generation of performers in the work and once again performed at USM. Grace Bass said, “The process of dancing in Catting changed my body and the way I think and portray dance.”
“We are honored to be the repository of Ms. McConnell’s lifetime of choreography. The work transcends age and is a wealth of opportunity for our young dancers,” said Suzanne Hirsch, Executive Director. “USM has long been a feeder for many of our students, this opportunity offered exposure for them before a diverse audience while honoring an artist with such a significant legacy of dance in our state.