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December 29, 2016

Lights, Camera, LeeRoc!

Feature Web

(Courtesy Alyson Villard)

Sunshine streams through the windows of Totman Dance Studio 204, illuminating the slick black marley that stretches across the floor and the faces of University of Massachusetts students Andria LaRocco and Beth Liebowitz as the two rehearse for their upcoming show, the “The LeeRoc Dance Project.”

As they sprawled out across the same black marley floor where much of their work has been perfected, LaRocco and Liebowitz spoke at length about “The LeeRoc Dance Project.” Although the two have pirouetted before several ballet bars over the last four years, they are intent on raising the figurative bar for student-run arts events with “Lee Roc,” an enriched performance experience featuring dance, live music, original artwork and more.

Funded by the UMass Amherst Alumni Association and the UMass Arts Council, LaRocco and Liebowitz’s passion for dance inspired them to collaborate and provide a fine arts event free of charge to the campus.

As artistic directors – as well as best friends – LaRocco and Liebowitz have busied themselves over the course of this academic year, planning the production of “LeeRoc.” In addition to choreographing the show, the pair has reached out across the campus community, recruiting a bevy of emerging musical and creative student talents. Those recruited include UMass students Eve Boltax and Nicholas Shaneyfelt – a violinst and a pianist, respectively – along with photographer Alyson Villard, lighting designer Sierra Boyea and visual artist Amy Dolan.

Also contributing to “LeeRoc” and sure to entertain are The Dynamics, a student-run a cappella group featuring Corrine Byrne, Rebecca Downey and Patrick Watson. To add yet another aspect of entertainment to the show, UMass Amherst alumnus Justin Stewart has assembled video clips starring student actor Jonathon Remmers, which will be played in between dances.

“Even from the get-go this wasn’t going to be just a dance show, it was going to be something that would showcase the arts on campus at UMass,” said Liebowitz.

The performance will consist of five dances, each lasting no longer than 45 minutes in total. Audience members are encouraged to peruse the student art on display during the show’s brief intermission.

When asked if those lacking previous exposure to the arts would be interested in attending, LaRocco let out a squeal of excitement. “There’s something for everyone,” she exclaimed. “The show is multidimensional. Because of its multiple points of interest, it is sure to appeal to students at UMass as well as those from surrounding communities.”

Liebowitz added that the duo “[Have been] thriving on the partnership with all of [their] fellow artists, and you will see that in the show.”

“The LeeRoc Dance Project” was designed to be highly accessible to a wide array of audiences. The company, which LaRocco and Leibowitz started from the ground up, literally – they have been building their own stage – has been fashioned by its creators as a beacon of light for the entire arts community.

“The more our students are collaborating, the more visibility and excitement is generated for all the arts at the university,” said Peggy Schwartz, director of the UMass Dance Program.

LaRocco and Leibowitz worked tirelessly to fuse their technical dance backgrounds together to form their own self-titled “LeeRoc technique.”

According to LaRocco, the two are always “going to be LeeRoc’ing, a new verb! We eventually hope to have a “LeeRoc” studio[and we] are going to put on shows whenever we can.”

As far as the future, LaRocco remains optimistic.

“Beth will be in New York and I’ll probably be in Boston, so it’ll be like a dual city experience,” said LaRocco regarding the duo’s plans post-graduation.

Beyond “LeeRoc,” the two hope to engage in community outreach programs. “We’d also want to do movement therapy for people with disabilities. Whoever we can help with movement we want to,” said Liebowitz.

LaRocco and Liebowitz attribute much of their artistic growth to their time spent here at the University.

“We are so excited that it’s happening our last semester here because we want to give back to UMass everything they’ve given to us and leave a blueprint for other people to use to continue collaborating on campus,” said LaRocco, before adding that the two “really hope that something like the LeeRoc Dance Project happens again.”

Perhaps nothing describes their intentions more than the show’s name, which was intended to encapsulate the zeal with which they want to educate the public about the arts. When asked about the title, “A Movement,” Liebowitz explained that it is “a movement, meaning people moving, as in dancing, but also the movement on campus of bringing the arts together.”

And on Feb. 5 and 6 in Totman Gymnasium, “The LeeRoc Dance Project” will be doing just that – bringing the arts together.

To reserve your free tickets to “The LeeRoc Dance Project” debut performance February 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. in Totman Gymnasium, please contact leerocdanceproject@gmail.com.

Rachel Aylward can be reached at rpaylwar@student.umass.edu.

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