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A real challenge for Point Park dancers

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For close to 10 years, the Point Park Conservatory Dance Company's annual mixed repertory program at Byham Theater has become a rite of passage of sorts for its students.

"It's kind of the culmination of the year of work," says dance department chair Susan Stowe. "We usually bring in some really powerful pieces, master works, things that really will push and challenge the students."

Point Park Conservatory Dance Company

Where: Byham Theater, Downtown.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $18-$20; 412-392-8000 or

This year's program (Thursday through Saturday) will show off students' skills with works by George Balanchine and Martha Graham and more contemporary figures David Parsons and Dwight Rhoden.

Point Park dancers are trained in a variety of genres so building a lineup that highlights their diverse strengths is a goal each year, Ms. Stowe says. For ballet-focused students, Balanchine choreography is used as a "teaching tool."

"It's very challenging and helps them to work on their quick footwork and musicality," she says.

This year's Balanchine offering will be an excerpt from "Serenade," choreographed in 1934 for School of American Ballet students in New York City.

All conservatory dancers receive at least a year of training in Graham technique. Performing "Steps in the Street," an excerpt from Graham's "Chronicle" (1936), will allow students to bring what they've studied to the stage. The dance is one of Graham's antiwar works, in which movement is used to elicit images and emotions in response (and resistance) to the Spanish Civil War.

Works from recent decades also will be staged. "Wolfgang" (2005), commissioned by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, is set to Mozart's Symphony No. 25 and was created by Mr. Parsons, hailed by The New York Times as "one of the great movers of modern dance." "Mercy" by Mr. Rhoden, a regular choreographer on Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's roster, will round out the production.

The entire production process unfolds like a professional job, starting with students auditioning for guest artists. After casts are picked, guest artists and repetiteurs -- many of whom have worked with the choreographers or performed their works -- help students prepare the pieces. Over the years, these connections have not only helped students get a taste of the working dance world but also build connections in it, Ms. Stowe says.

"We're always hopeful that through working with the guest artists they will network, and hopefully that will lead to future work for them."

Sara Bauknecht: or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.

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