Spotlight On: Katherine Alexander

By: Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

From prima ballerina to founder of Exhalations Dance Theatre, Katherine Alexander has come a long way.

Katherine Alexander during Exhalations' "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

When the 21-year-old pharmacy student began ballet she stuck to it. “I was a very strict ballerina in high school,” Alexander said. She would practice between 24 to 26 hours per week.

When she began to look at colleges, Point Park University was definitely in mind; but Alexander chose Duquesne University for pharmacy. There was a dance team at Duquesne, but no dance theatre, so Alexander began Exhalations Dance Theatre.

Exhalations broke the ballerina from her mold. “I never thought as a strict ballerina I would be performing some of the things I’m performing,” Alexander said. She has now added contemporary, modern, Fosse jazz, tap, ballroom and hip-hop to her repertoire. She described the experience as, “Oh my gosh, I’m wearing foot thongs.” She has also studied Martha Graham contemporary, as well as Greek, Ukrainian and Bulgarian folk dancing.

Alexander, front, with Brandi Salter, during an Exhalations' modern number/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Alexander also dances with the Junior Tamburitzans, focusing on Croatian dance and music, and plays an instrument called the brač, which belongs to the tambura family. The instrument is, “like a little guitar that sounds like a mandolin,” Alexander described. She enjoys performing with the Tamburitzans for, “celebration, carrying on traditions,” she said.

Alexander performing "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber

“Anytime I am on stage…that is happiness for me,” she said of her dancing, choreography and teaching.

Alexander taught and choreographed Exhalations' beginngers class for "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Alexander has been fortunate, with no serious injuries holding her back from what she loves. However, she does have to be careful to avoid dislocations, as her extreme flexibility can sometimes cause them.

When asked if she had any regrets about not attending Point Park, her answer was no. Alexander is, “excited about being a pharmacist, and would not have been able to start Exhalations,” had things gone differently. She is grateful to her family, who has given her great support with her Exhalations venture. Her mother supplies costumes and food for the shows, and her aunt and brother help out as well.

Alexander also performs with Spotlight Musical Theatre Company and Encore Show Choir, and belongs to KE and ASP.

Dance Panorama Reviews “Expressions”

On April 28, 2012, at 8 p.m., Exhalations Dance Theatre wrapped up its spring showcase, titled “Expressions.” This was the third spring showcase for the dance theatre, and the last for its founder Katherine Alexander, who will be moving on to her fifth year of pharmacy school next semester.

Wrote 2012 Exhalations president Lea Fosbenner of the theme “Expressions,” “this was chosen to highlight how the dancers can interpret their emotions through the art of dance.” And express they did.

Exhalations' company opens "Expressions" to "Let Go" by Frou Frou. Choreography Lea Fosbenner/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Opening the show was Exhalations’ company, dancing to “Let Go” by Frou Frou with choreography by Lea Fosbenner. Company members include Alexander, Fosbenner, Brittany Cerimele, Victoria Climo, Sandi Comunale, Felicia Freger, Kali Fronczekk, Carly Fuller, Shaylyn Livingston, Ariel McKeown, Rachel O’Rorke, Brandi Salter and Emily Stokowski. This opening number suited the theme perfectly. During this first piece, and throughout the show, the dancers literally let go; every turn, every jump, every facial expression showed them letting go and using dance to express themselves.

The intermediate class dances to "Express Yourself." Choreography by Brandi Salter/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

The second dance of the night, aptly set to “Express Yourself” from the Glee Soundtrack, was performed by the intermediate class, made up of Rachel Bristow, Haley Draper, Stephanie Kuratnick, Kylie McGraw, Bridget McGinty, Stacy Miller, Stephanie Novakowski, Jessica Probst, Hayley Ricy, Jenna Trill and Jennifer Wood, with choreography by Salter.

 

"Nast Boys" performed by the advanced class. Choreography by Victoria Messino/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

“Nasty Boys,” music by Janet Jackson and choreography by Victoria Messino, was performed by the advanced class, including Kristen Best, Courtney Caligiuri, Erica Carbaugh, Lauren Curry, Rebecca Ipjian, Kate Iseman, Francine Kusher, Christine Lugaila, Lauren Maha, Christine Sajewski, Kayla Sparkman and Megan Tiernan.

"Fool of Me," choreography by Messino, dancers belong to the advanced class/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

The advanced class later took on another Messino piece, “Fool of Me,” music by Me’Shell Ndegeocellob.  Sam Potter executed a series of excellent lifts, and the dancers’ expressions through their movements communicated the sadness of the lyrics in the piece.

Acro to "Hit the Lights." Choreography by Sam Potter/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber

The modern/jazz routines were followed by a snappy acro routine, choreographed by Potter, to “Hit the Lights” by Selena Gomez. The level of acrobatics in this routine was high, and the costumes accentuated the dancers’ moves perfectly. The dancers incorporated in this routine were Messino, Fronczekk, O’Rorke, Rebecca Clayton, Maria Clements, Sandi Comunale and Emiley Duespohl.

Exhalations presents its graduating seniors/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

“Expressions” took a break as Alexander took to the stage to present Exhalations’ graduating seniors. 2012’s graduating class included Cerimele, Fosbenner, Messino, Novakowski, Clements, Seth Laidlaw, Cheryl Dusky, Brooke Mulkins, Marla Veschio, Rachel Bristow, and Rebbeca Clayton.

 

The beginners broke onto stage with their number "Grenade." Choreography by Alexander/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

 

The beginner's second number, also choreographed by Alexander/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

 

The beginners, including Dusky, Bianca Coleman, Miranda Cunningham, Karie Diethorne, Denise Herr, Brooke Jackson, Kristina Logan, Kaitlyn Mellor, Kelsey Vale and Christina Yohe, took to the stage with “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. Alexander choreographed the piece and was incredibly proud of the dedication her beginners showed. Their classes began at 7:30 a.m., but they stuck to it and their dedication certainly showed in this piece. It also showed in their second piece, also choreographed by Alexander and set to “Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray. Besides being well-equipped dance-wise, the beginners also showed what some more experienced dancers tend to forget: passion in their faces. Their expressions could not be clearer.

The ballerina in the music box. Choreography by Potter/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Tutus flew onto the stage for Potter’s acrobatics number to “Music Box” by Regina Spektor. They were gone just as quickly, but their fast-paced number was not one to be overlooked or soon forgotten. It contained very powerful choreography and very powerful dancers. I, for one, would have loved to have seen more.

Duquesne’s Encore Show Choir broke in twice. First, to sing “Love Song” and then again to sing “Beautiful Day.” Their voices were lovely, but I would have loved to have seen more movement from them. Maybe I’ve just been watching too much “Glee.”

Tapping away to Fuller's number/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

“Kaboom,” music by Ursula 1000 and choreography by Fuller, was a lively and colorful tap piece. The tappers were well in sync and formed a cohesive group, which included Fuller, Freger, Yohe, Caligiuri and Kelly Folk.

“Power Trip Ballad and Requiem for a Dream” (music by Maria Mena and Clint Mansell) showcased the talents of Messino both as choreographer, and as a soloist.

Messino's solo/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Dancing for joy/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

This was a high energy routine that required the strength of all dancers involved, including Potter, Messino, O’Rorke, Comunale, Duespohl, Cerimele and Bristow. While Potter fought for his power trip, he was quickly unplugged by the girls as the swirled around him. Potter made some fantastic lifts, highlighting his strength as a dancer and gymnast. The technique of all the dancers was showcased in this piece, as well as their ability to tap into the darker side of their emotions.

Potter on a power trip/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

 

Potter's powerful lift/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Messino ends Potter's power trip/ Choreography by Messino/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Potter is finished/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

A powerful routine to hold the audience’s attention right before intermission.

 

"Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Expression through movement was the message, and that was never clearer than right after intermission, when only the silhouettes of the dancers were available to the audience.

Performing "The Magic of Us"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

 

Choreography by Lea Fosbenner/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Seth Laidlaw in "The Magic of Us"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

“The Magic of Us,” music by Bim and The Section Quartet, choreography by Fosbenner, showcased the talents of Salter, Fronczekk, Alexander, Fosbenner and Laidlaw. This was another heavily technical modern number.

Choreography for "Sweeping Insensitivity" by Alexander/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

"Sweeping Insensitivity" One/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

"Sweeping Insensitivity" Two/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber

The dancing was silhouetted again when Fosbenner, Alexander, Climo, Laidlaw, Freger, Fuller, Stokowski, Fronczekk and Livingston gracefully brushed the stage to choreography by Alexander and music by Imogen Heap, Never Shout Never, and Mumford and Sons, “Sweeping Insensitivity.”

Sparkman's hip-hop number "Dizzy"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Hip-hop was brought in by Sparkman and her class, including Comunale, Kusher, Carbaugh, Coleman, Cunningham, McGinty, Miller,  Mulkins, Dara Stockdell ,Trill, Audra Joseph and Lisa Master. Music was”Dizzy” by Day 26. Hip-hop is hard to feel, especially if you are a ballet-trained dancer, and it was evident that some of the dancers in this number where trying to break free from technique so they could express themselves through unstructured movement.

Batons spinning to the sky to "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" Choreography by Yohe/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain was used by the baton class, including Yohe, Veschio, Herr, Mellor, Patty Camarda, Alexis Ellis, Jenna Lowrey, Carley Risley and Brittany Yu. Yohe choreographed this piece, and batons flew high, with some batonists twirling more than one.

Salter's number "Rock Your Soul" with the intermediate class/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Salter had her number “Rock Your Soul” by Elisa do just that with the intermediate class. These girls are learning fast; their technique is growing, but it was their movement and emotional connection with the audience that really made the piece draw you in.

These girls just want to "Settle Down"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Chorepgraphy by Fuller/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

“Settle Down,” music by Kimbra and choreography by Fuller, was my favorite piece of the evening. It was modern, sexy and quirky, and incorporated dancers with incredible technique and theatrics: Fuller, Salter, Cerimele, Livingston and Freger. The girls took on the idea of the old-fashioned wife and quickly flipped it on its head, whipping their aprons off and dancing with pizzazz.

These dancers "Gotcha"!/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

“Gotcha” was a trio choreographed by Messino, with music by Liza Minelli. Messino, Comunale and O’Rorke were sassy and sizzling in this number slightly reminiscent of “Cell Block Tango” from “Chicago.”

Dancers move and groove through the audience during their finale. Choreography by Sparkman/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

No one saw what was coming when the dancers came out to take their final bows – and then rush the audience to music by Fun Ft. Janelle Monae (Alvin Risk Remix) and choreography by Sparkman. Dancers took the floor and aisles as they danced their hearts out one last time before the curtain came down and another season with Exhalations Dance Theatre came to a close.

Bravo, Exhalations!/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber.

Exhalations a Home for Dance at Duquesne University

By: Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

No dance? No problem.

When Katherine Alexander, 21, came to Duquesne University, there was no dance theatre, only a dance team. As she moves on to her fifth year in pharmacy school, that is no longer the case.

Alexander founded Exhalations Dance Theatre in 2010. She served as its president until this year and is now the treasurer of this unique dance group.

“When I got to Duquesne, there was no dance besides the dance team,” Alexander said. “I missed it so much, I needed to do something.” She wanted to create a dance theatre, “for people who danced in high school and wanted to keep dancing.”

It is also a place for people who want to discover dance. Beginners are welcome. So are boys.

Dancers rehearse for Exhalations' spring showcase: "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber

Exhalations has become a huge movement on Duquesne’s campus. When Alexander held auditions for Exhalations in 2010, 70 people showed up. Now over 100 people show up to the auditions. “The first semester I was expecting 10 people, maybe 20,” Alexander said.  “It’s already so much bigger than I thought it would be…it kind of just grew around me.”

Perfecting a lift while rehearsing for "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber

The theatre also welcomes all styles of dance, though modern is the main focus. The students have practiced acro, taught by Sam Potter, tap, taught by Carly Fuller, hip-hop, taught by Kayla Sparkman, ballroom and baton as well. The styles vary by semester, depending on who is available, “as long as we have someone willing to teach,” Alexander said.

Tap dancers in rehearsal for "Expressions"/Photo Credit Debra Schreiber

And not everyone has to perform. Students are welcome to come in and warm up with the dancers and leave before the showcase choreography begins. The students are divided into beginner, instructed by Alexander, intermediate, instructed by Brandi Salter, advanced, instructed by Victoria Messino, and company classes, instructed by Lea Fosbenner, who is the current Exhalations president.

Choreographer Victoria Messino works with dancers on their movements for "Expressions"/ Photo Credit Debra Schreiber

The group performs fall and spring showcases and has also performed at the University of Pittsburgh as part of the Choreography Project. “I had a really rewarding experience after the first show,” Alexander said. “A girl’s mom thought her daughter would never dance again,” but the girl discovered Exhalations and was able to revive her dance life.

For their showcases the group has performed a modern version of “The Nutcracker,” which was a, “crazy version; nothing classic” Alexander said, for which the group developed much of the music; “Radio Hits,” which included “a lot of Adele,” Alexander said; and this spring, “Expressions.” The group also visited Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh in 2010 to perform for the kids.

When asked about the name Exhalations, Alexander said it was something she never thought about. “In my mind, it worked,” she said, explaining the exhale as something you give off, which, in the case of the dancer, is choreography.

Although she will be leaving Exhalations soon, Alexander hopes that the dance group will, “continue being open to different styles of dance…and dancers.”