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MS 158 students perform Alvin Ailey’s choreography

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A hush fell over the packed audience at MS 158 last Thursday when 13-year-old Brandon Torre lifted his dance partner Heather Yeager off the ground and set her back down again, once with her right leg slightly bent around him and again with her body stick-straight, her arms using his a crutch.

The intensity and sophistication of the performance, part of choreographer Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations,” brought thunderous applause from the hundreds of parents who came to watch the recital “The Branches of Dance,” which featured music from diverse traditions set to choreography by dance teacher Lauren Magarelli.

Magarelli started the dance program at the Bayside school four years ago and it has been spared the kind of budget cuts that forced the elimination of the school’s home economics class, Principal Charles DeMeo said.

Beaming with pride at his students’ accomplishment, he said, “people pay hundreds of dollars for a show. For $5 they get the best show in the city.”

The show included flamenco, swing and African dance routines and ended with a six-part rendition of “Revelations,” a modern dance performance set to gospel and spiritual songs.

Eighty-five children between the ages of 11 and 14 participate in the program. They practice five days a week, often giving up lunchtime to perfect their routines, said Magarelli, whose background is in ballet and modern dance.

“It’s fun to learn new things,” said Chelsea Couto, 13, one of the performers.

Acknowledging that learning to dance in front of others can be a “very intimidating, intimate kind of thing” for middle-schoolers, Magarelli said, “I think if I make a fool out of myself, they feel open to it.”

“She makes us try as hard as possible,” said Dayana Cardona, 13.

The students’ hard work was evident throughout the hour-and-a-half show, which featured a breathtakingly aerobic African dance routine with music by Sergio Mendes that had students flying off their feet. Another routine had student Candra Graham reading author Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” while five girls performed an interpretive dance to Angelou’s feminist verse.

Magarelli said most of her students did not have dance experience before joining her class, a fact belied by the students’ grace and agility onstage.

Some of Magarelli’s students have gone on to attend LaGuardia High School, the city’s top performing arts school. Brandon Torre, who had a solo performance at the end of the show, said he would pursue dance at Cardozo High School next year.

Asked whether he wanted to dance on Broadway someday, Torre said, “it’s crossed my mind a couple of times.”

Assistant Principal Anna Marie Toscano told the audience in the school auditorium that “these children strive to perform and be the best.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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