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U of U Modern Dance Graduate Named Best Student Performer in the Nation at Kennedy Center

June 14, 2004 — Last week Jill Patterson, 28, who graduated with an M.F.A. in Modern Dance from the University of Utah in May, won $1,000 and was named “Outstanding Student Performer” at the National Festival of the American College Dance Festival Association. Finalists from 10 regions, representing 400 colleges and universities, attended the National Festival, held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C.

Patterson and fellow U student Nathan Shaw, 24, performed “House of Timothy,” an eight-minute duet choreographed by U student Natosha Washington and performed to “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” by Daft Punk. Shaw and Washington graduated from the University last month with B.F.A.s from the Modern Dance Department, long recognized as one of the top programs in the country. Last March the University hosted the Regional Festival, where Patterson was named best performer and Washington was named best choreographer.

Patterson, who now dances with Ririe Woodbury Dance Company, explains, “House of Timothy” is “fast-paced, intense, physically demanding, very sensual.”

Washington, 26, explains that while she was choreographing the beat-driven “House of Timothy,” she was “having issues with women being submissive. I’m not saying that women have to be masculine, by any means. Women can be as powerful as men, whether it is spiritual, physical or emotional. But I get sick of always seeing women lifted in dance pieces. I wanted to see a woman who had strength and beauty and who could lift Nathan as he could lift her. Nathan’s very masculine on stage. Then you see Jill and you don’t think she’s going to be able to lift this man over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes, but she does,” says Washington, who has returned to the University to work with Children’s Dance Theatre as a faculty member. Along with Nicholas Cendese, a University Modern Dance graduate and Repertory Dance Theatre dancer, she is also in the process of founding “Raw Moves,” a modern dance company in Salt Lake City.

Key to “House of Timothy” is the “indescribable” connection that Patterson and Shaw have with each other on stage, says Washington. “Audiences have told me that they want to have or do what they see Patterson and Shaw performing on stage.”

Patterson acknowledges the piece is technically demanding, but doesn’t necessarily think it played into her being named best performer. “That was already in the choreography. My winning was really a group effort-the confidence that Natosha and Nathan provided me allowed the piece to be performed with an elevated level of honesty. The piece is so compelling and so real that when Nathan and I worked together we weren’t necessarily putting on an act. It felt like a slice of reality; and, because our technique was strong, we were able to take it to that reality,” she says.

Patterson, who hopes to eventually become a professor, notes that the technique classes offered at the U are “some of the best in the nation. The Modern Dance Department at the U excels in academic and scholarly research in addition to the creative research. It’s a great program and at the festival was recognized as one of the best,” she says.

Donna White, chair of the U’s Modern Dance Department, says the award “is very relevant to the University’s national and international visibility, its ranking and its recruitment.” According to White, many U students are successful in obtaining positions in professional companies. “There are University of Utah dancers everywhere-a lot of our alums are heading programs, teaching, choreographing, running companies. Many of them were at this festival.”

White says Patterson’s dancing was mature, dynamic, sophisticated and charismatic. “She’s stunning, drop-dead gorgeous as an entity and performer on stage. She has a presence-not just what she looks like, but her energy. I think she just took everyone’s breath away,” she notes.