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Ballroom dancers prance to the Utah Symphony's pipes

Published February 1, 2013 8:44 pm

Preview • Utah-reared dancers return home to take a spin with the orchestra.
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The twist in "Ballroom With a Twist" is that it's a live performance with dancers, singers and the Utah Symphony.

"There's nothing like hearing the sound of an orchestra or watching dance live — not taped, not on TV, but live right in front of you," said principal pops conductor Jerry Steichen. "There really is nothing like the joy and excitement of being in the audience. Absolutely nothing can compare to the energy of the crowd."

The show, which has been touring nationally since 2008, will make its Utah debut this week. The title implies the program will be strictly ballroom, but the concert will include Latin, contemporary, hip-hop and jazz dance styles. Live vocalists are choreographed into the show to provide continuity, Steichen said.

The show will feature some of Utah's best-known dance talent, Chelsie Hightower and Randi Lynn Strong. Other Utah-trained dancers rotate into the cast as the show tours nationally, a way to keep dancers healthy and allow them to stay involved with other projects. For example, Strong's other projects included Season 5 of "SYTYCD," the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, "High School Musical III" and "X-Factor."

"I've been touring with 'Ballroom' for 2 1/2 years," Strong said. "And I love performing live as much as I loved being on television."

The live show keeps dancers, singers and the orchestra focused. "One night, one of the girl's straps broke on her ballroom gown right before we were set to walk onstage," Strong said. "Within minutes, they reblocked the entire dance for one less couple. It all worked out, though."

Strong and Hightower are excited to work with the Utah Symphony, which Steichen says is considered one of the country's top 20 orchestras.

"I grew up going to the Utah Symphony — it is part of who I am," said Hightower, who invited friends and family to stay after the show to say hello. "I love Utah. It's been a long time since I've gotten to perform live for my family and friends here."

Another "SYTYCD" and "DWTS" regular in the show is Dmitry Chaplin, known for his masculine dance style, as well as performing with his shirt open — or even off. In a phone interview, Chaplin's hint of an accent sounds more like he grew up in Brooklyn rather than the port city of Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia. "Really, I sound like I'm from Brooklyn?" Chaplin asked. "I live in Brooklyn! I'll take that as a compliment."

Chaplin and Hightower have been cast as partners in "Ballroom," due to their chemistry on and off the stage.

"We are good friends," Chaplin said. "Once you have been on 'SYTYCD,' something changes in you about the way you dance, about the way you express yourself as an artist. Chelsie and I have both been on that show, we understand each other and we have a good connection."

Strong is excited for Utahns to see the dance "Gravity," a trio performed to the vocal stylings of Gina Glocksen, a finalist on season 6 of "American Idol." Strong says the trio dance feels very emotional to perform, and he hopes the audience will be "equally moved."

"Gravity" is one example of how this show is different from other pops concerts, Steichen said. "I travel the world, but I am particularly thrilled by the coming together and immense talent of people from the three hit shows in one concert in Salt Lake with the Utah Symphony — made even more significant by the fact that many of them have roots here."

"Ballroom" producer Scott Stander said the moment he waits for in each concert is when singer Von Lee Smith hits a high note that is "so sweet, it sounds like Pavarotti."

Stander adds: "Man, that kid has pipes!"

features@sltrib.com —

Let's twist again

The Utah Symphony partners with the reality TV show world, through professional dancers from "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance," as well as vocalists from "American Idol." The show features Utah dancers Randi Lynn Strong, from Orem, who attended Utah Valley University before becoming a finalist in season 5 of "So You Think You Can Dance," and Chelsie Hightower, who graduated from Timpanogos High School and attended Utah Valley University before making her debut at age 18 on season 4 of "So You Think You Can Dance."

When • Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1-2, 8 p.m.

Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $29-$85 ($5 more on show day) at 801-355-2787, or www.utahsymphony.org (subscribers and groups should call 801-533-6683.






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