Dr. Dance brings Broadway talent to Carbondale

By Tia Rinehart

World established choreographer and Broadway star Mark Allan Davis chases dreams for a living. Now, he has brought his inspirational talent to SIU.

Last semester, the university welcomed Davis to the department of theater as a lecturer in musical theater, dance movement and performance. However, Davis has much more to offer than class lectures. With a performing background and 45 years of dance experience, he brings much more to the university than simple choreography.

At just seven years old, Davis began practicing movement with ice skates rather than dance shoes. His aunt arranged for him to go skate as a guest at a local rink. Davis said he grew to enjoy skating and his mother was thrilled he found something that interests him. Growing up in a musically inclined family, dance was always around, but he described himself as a loner as a child.

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“When I finally took to the ice, yeah, it was something I could do in the community, but it was something I could do on my own,” he said.

In high school, he continued his ice career as well as dancing with a school group called Movements and Dance.

“I look back now, that was so teenager,” he said. “‘Movements and Dance,’ it’s so redundant.”

Davis choreographed around five dances for this high school group without realizing it would be his future career.

At 17, he attended his first year of college at Boston University to study acting where Julianne Moore and Jason Alexander were some of his fellow classmates.

After only a year at Boston, he discovered a deep desire to continue skating and decided to leave college and compete in ice dancing for one more year.

Davis said the experience helped him mature and moved back home to Rochester, N.Y., where he began learning dance technique from Garth Fagan, the owner and director of the Garth Fagan Dance Company.

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“He took dancers basically off the streets or playground and turned them into world class dancers,” he said.

Davis danced once a week for the company for about a year. After considering a number of directions to go with his career, Davis said the only option panning out was to move back to Boston and to get serious about a career in dance.

Within two weeks after the move, he landed his first professional job in a musical based on Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

“After that, I never looked back,” he said.

Moving to Europe was Davis’ next move, as he wanted to experience different cultures. For 11 years, Davis lived in Germany and danced in 20 different European and Asian countries.

After living overseas, he danced for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York and for the dance company of Tony Award-winning Bill T. Jones before he brought his talent to Broadway.

In 1997, Davis was cast in the original production of “The Lion King” as a background dancer. Davis said the experience of being a dancer in the Broadway show enlightened him artistically. The cast assisted in constructing the production from scratch, which created a unique personal connection that he said is now a part of him.

In 1998, the cast received a standing ovation before the show even concluded their Tony Award performance.

“That was one of the greatest moments I’ve ever had on stage,” Davis said. “It was so powerful, so emotional.”

Davis said it was one of the biggest highlights of his career.

But Broadway also has a dark side.

“For every dream, there’s always a nightmare,” he said.

Davis said corporate America brought out the negative in the extravagance of Broadway. He said that something designed with such precision and heart was losing its artistic spirit because of the Disney brand.

After five years, Davis left Broadway and finished his degree in theater and dramatic literature.

Tom Viola, a former colleague of Davis’ and the executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, he developed a personal friendship with Davis while in the industry. Viola and Davis worked together through Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, a nonprofit AIDS fundraising organization. Over the years, Davis and Viola got to know each other well.

“He’s centered, smart and a creative person,” Viola said. “The generosity he brought with the efforts during Broadway Cares is what he brings to students as well.”

Viola said that the two still keep close contact.

Davis taught at various universities before reaching SIU, such as the University of Memphis. After one semester at SIU, he has already left an impression. Along with teaching in classrooms, Davis choreographed the theater’s production of “Ragtime.”

Davis, also known as “Dr. Dance” by his students because he jokes that should be his license plate, has developed a relationship with all of his co-workers.

Tim Fink, a professor of opera and musical theater at SIU, said his experience working with Davis during “Ragtime” was great and Davis left a lasting impression on him.

Davis said his motivation was found through a desire to change from his childhood.

“I wanted to have a voice,” he said. “I wanted to be heard.”

Tia Rinehart can be reached at [email protected] or 536- 3311 ext 254.

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