There are lots of eyes on Foster Dance Studio’s (“FDS”) Seventh Annual winter show “Together Unique,” today at the Music Institute at Nichols Hall – 1490 Chicago Avenue in downtown Evanston.
Although 90 or so students, ranging in age from 8 to 18 will be on the stage at one time or another in the 12 performances that comprise each of today’s 90 minute shows (2 pm matinee and 7 pm), this is not kid stuff.
The remarkably influential choreographer, teacher and dancer, the late Ronn Stewart, did so much of this himself that his sudden and premature exit from this earth on September 30, 2017 presented an existential issue for FDS.
Ronn choreographed the bulk of his twelve annual shows over the last six years and taught many of the students. Ronn did the music at the shows and fixed anything that could or would go wrong.
Dancing, doing choreography and teaching all over Chicago, Ronn’s influence was felt throughout the dance world.
But, mostly, Ronn’s life was at Foster Dance Studios, 915 Foster in Evanston, IL.
Ronn’s name is synonymous with the teaching that choreographers collaborate with their dancers to create a performance. It is not about recitals at Foster. it is about the thrill, joy and excitement of feeling the dance spirit run through your veins and soul as you perform.
True dancers never give up on that feeling and love to dance seven days a week. But dancers, like athletes, have an expiration date, as Ronn’s mentee and replacement as artistic director, Jana Schneider, told this reporter recently[Watch Schneider with Berkowitz, here]. So, they become choreographers and teachers.
But Ronn loved the thrill of performing and the adulation of the crowd and his students, so he continued to do that as much as he could.
And, almost every student who encountered Ronn wanted to leave with a piece of him. But, today, the tributes to Ronn stop and the focus shifts.
Somewhat ironically, if Ronn is to have a legacy, it will be helped along by prototypically strong, modern women.
The stong, modern Foster women:
For starters, first among the quartet of equally strong modern women now running the show at Foster is the late Ronn Stewart's talented, smart, strong, lovely and loving widow- Sarah Goldstone, 31, associate artistic director at Foster and the Cocodaco Dance Project. Ms. Goldstone was classically trained at Juillard, continues as the majority owner at Foster, and albeit loyal to her man, did much more than stand by him- whenever that was needed.
Sarah will watch today’s performances streamed to Los Angeles, as she readies to deliver Madeleine Kendall, her last joint production with the late Ronn Stewart, in February.
Sarah choreographed with Jana Schneider two of today’s performances: “One” No. 5 in sequence today and performed by the 13 FDCo Orange dancers, aged 11 to 13; Also,“From Pillar to Post,” No. 10 and performed by 14 Purple dancers, aged 12 to 17.
Second, another Foster strong modern woman is Jana Schneider, 26 and interim artistic director at Foster, recruited in October from among the Foster faculty to help keep the trains running. She choreographed Cinderella, No. 3 in the sequence, performed by the 19 hip-hop students, aka Junior Crew, aged 6 to 12, to the music of Michael Jackson. Working with another 8 hip-hop students, aka Advanced Crew, aged 13 to 18, Jana choregraphed “The Crown,” No. 4 in the sequence.
And, Jana choregraphed No. 9, “Butterfly effect,” performed by the intermediate Pre-Professional group, aged 11 to 13.
Finally, in her last collaboration with Ronn, Jana choreographed No. 8, “Let’s go Dancing,” performed by the youngest company- Pink, comprised of 11 eight to ten year olds. Ronn had constructed some of the phrases to these and other of today performances, as he began work on today’s effort during the last two weeks of last September.
Third, another strong woman in today’s quartet of four stepping in to fill the void left by Ronn's passing is Graca Sales. Graca has been with Foster for half of its six year life span, and like the other three women discussed here, without her, the show couldn’t have gone on.
Graca is Joffrey classical ballet master and principal coach and instrumental to Foster's unique blend of classical training and discipline with improvisation, interpretation and collaboration.
Graca starts today’s shows with her choreography of classical ballet. The first performance is by the intermediate group of six ballet dancers, aged 9 to 11, doing “Talisman.” The second in today’s sequence of twelve sets is by twenty one advanced ballet dancers, aged 12 to 18, doing “Classical Variations,” to the music of Peter Tchaikovsky and Paul Lows.
Finally, perhaps the strongest force to help keep Foster intact over the last four months is Kathryn Ebert, 53, who has a finance degree, MBA and banking background.
Ms. Ebert is a long time Evanston resident, Foster co-founder and now its sole minority owner. She learned dance through her now college age daughters-- Jess and Elizabeth.
Kathryn Jones Ebert started as the Foster studio manager six years ago. She has been the Executive Director of Foster who has worked diligently to manage Foster over sometimes turbulent times during the last three years, and to keep Foster intact during the last three months of its existential challenges.
Ebert is now the face and utility infielder of Foster. The program for today’s annual performance needs the right sequence? Last year that was on Ron. This year it was on Ms. Ebert.
Make sure payroll is met, parents are reassured and the school is ready to open on Monday, two days after Ronn dies? That was on Kathryn and she delivered.
Make sure the Foster community of faculty, parents, students and friends are cohesive, happy and getting through the day always? That has been Kathryn Ebert for the last three years and especially the last three months.
Behind every great woman, an even greater man?
Decades ago, Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s paramour, confidant and partner said, “Behind every great man, there is an even greater woman.” Today, the saying is, “Behind every group of great women, there is an even greater man.
At Foster today, that is David Maurice, interim artistic director at Cocodaco, Foster’s sister professional dance company. Formally, Foster and Cocodaco are separate. Informally, there are many synergies and connections between the two and Ronn kept the two close. Today, Maurice, as a member of the Foster faculty and a big participant since last October in the preparation for today’s show, does a lot of what Ronn did to connect Cocodaco and Foster.
Maurice had a hand in choreographing four of today’s performances. He handled, on his own, the highly emotional “Like Straight but kinda a round,” performed by the Advanced Pre-professional group of 14 to 18 year olds and No. 11 in the sequence.
David Maurice collaborates with the late Ronn Stewart on “Lovin Blue, ain’t feeling Azul,” No. 6 in the sequence performed by 10 members of the FDCo Blue, aged 11 to 13.
And, David collaborates with Ronn, prior to intermission on “Cohorts,” performed by the 18 member FDCo Red, aged 14 to 18.
Finally, David collaborates with Jana and, of course, the dancers on the choreography of the Finale, with all of today’s 80 performers on stage, except for those few who are only in ballet or hip hop.
So, how will the modern contemporary women- Jana, Kathryn, Graca and Sarah do today? Will their students cut it?
Jana, Graca and Kathryn will be in the audience watching, and another 250, at each performance will join the women, they hope.
Will it be a thumbs up performance?
As they say in sports: “We don’t know. That’s why they play the game. To find out.”
Join the fun by coming over to the Music Institute this afternoon or this evening.
So you, too, can see the emerging new world order of Foster- strong, modern girls and boys, and strong modern women and men-- from the very young to the forever young.
Get your tickets online or at the door [$20, $10 for students]:
Buy tickets at the Foster Dance Studios, 915 Foster St., Evanston, IL or 24/7 by clicking Brownpapertickets.com ( 2 pm performance)
or starting with the FDS Facebook page.