‘Thrilled’ Point Park duo to dance in national festival

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The stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., is usually reserved for performers well into their professional careers. This week, recent Point Park University graduates Jennifer Florentino and John Michael O’Neill will appear on this prestigious stage as both dancers and choreographers.

The pair is participating in the National College Dance Festival, which runs June 4-7 and is sponsored by the American College Dance Festival Association. The event’s goal is to “highlight, on the national level, the outstanding quality of choreography and performance that is being created on college and university campuses,” according to the association’s website. The two students’ work was among 31 selected for the national festival.

“None of this was expected,” Ms. Florentino, 22, says. “My partner and I are more than thrilled.”

She and Mr. O’Neill, 22, first recognized their creative chemistry in a partnering class. They began working together in September on a duet for the Conservatory of Performing Arts. The work, “Til the End,” was selected by faculty at the conservatory’s student choreography showcase in October to represent Point Park at a regional conference at Ohio University in March. Performed to Arvo Part’s “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” the five-minute contemporary work chronicles a relationship of endless support.

Throughout the development of their work, Point Park dance professor Doug Bentz mentored the pair, encouraging the two to keep a journal and reminding them to “take time for the details.” Mr. Bentz will accompany the pair at the national festival.

During each performance, Ms. Florentino says she tries to lose herself in the intimate work, hoping to pull the audience into the world she creates onstage with Mr. O’Neill. Mr. Bentz says the artistically mature work leads audiences to be “drawn into this world because it’s not pushing you out.”

Although the piece has not changed, Ms. Florentino says that each performance “feels like something new.”

“The more we do it, the cleaner it gets,” Mr. O’Neill says. “The first time was the most emotional for me.”

Ms. Florentino and Mr. O’Neill both graduated this year with a concentration in modern dance. She looks forward to connecting with other dancers and taking master classes at the festival. He heads into the festival with a practical goal in mind; he hopes there will be companies in the audience that are hiring.

Mary Hornak: mhornak@post-gazette.com.

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