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Stars Of The Future: Weekend filled with dance and jazz

by Lara Jo Hightower | April 30, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.
The Northwest Arkansas Jazz All-Stars Youth Ensemble is in its fifth year. Musicians in grades 9-12 are eligible to audition for the ensemble, and each session culiminates in a public performance — this year at Baum Walker Hall in the Walton Arts Center. (Courtesy photo)

The Walton Arts Center opens its doors to two performances this weekend that demonstrate what exceptional young artistic talent Northwest Arkansas possesses. The Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance will present "The Exiled King" at 7 p.m. today, and the Northwest Arkansas Jazz All-Stars Youth Ensemble will perform a concert with legendary jazz musician Bobby Watson at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

"What you learn in the class is all theoretical aspects of the dance -- if you really need to learn a performing art, it's actually through presentation," says Meghan Rao, founder and dance instructor at Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance. "[The dancers] get exposure, they get to know their audience, they get to know how to present themselves to an audience. At Dhirana, we encourage them to perform as many times as possible, no matter how small the audience is, how big the audience is or where they're performing -- it doesn't matter, as long as they're performing and getting the exposure they need."

Students at Dhirana learn the dance genre called Bharatanatyam, one of the oldest Indian classical dance forms. "The Exiled King" is a re-telling of the great Hindu epic "The Ramayana," penned by Sage Valmiki in the 5th Century B.C.

Rao says though her students are young, they operate more like professional dancers -- some have been studying the art for up to nine years and, because of their heavy performance schedule, they usually find themselves dancing up to five times a week. The company travels and has performed in larger cities like Little Rock, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

"These are student artists -- they take this very seriously," says Rao. "This is not just a passing hobby."

Similarly, the Northwest Arkansas Jazz All-Stars Youth Ensemble comprises 14 exceptional young musicians who were looking for a challenge to push their music education further. Musicians can audition for the ensemble when they hit ninth grade -- but Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society Executive Director Robert Ginsburg says the passion for the project can start even earlier than that.

"If a student has some gifts in the way of music, and they are turned on to it at an early age, and that becomes a really important part of their lives, that fuels the discipline it takes to be a great musician," Ginsburg explains. "To be a great musician is incredibly hard work. God-given gifts are wonderful, but they won't get you nearly as far as discipline and hard work will."

Those student musicians accepted to the Jazz All-Stars have met and rehearsed in socially distanced pods this spring, have had an experience in the recording studio and, this Sunday, will play on the large Baum Walker Hall stage with legendary jazz performer Bobby Watson. That's a heady experience for students who have yet to graduate from high school.

"Not only will they get the technical training they need, but they also get the culture of it," says Ginsburg. "The spirit of it. And I've made sure that's part of the program -- and there's no better way to do that than to bring in these elders."

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Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance

Presents ‘The Exiled King’

7 p.m. today

Jazz All-Stars Youth Ensemble

With Bobby Watson

7 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — The Walton Arts Center, 495 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville

COST — $15

INFO — 443-5600,


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