Student cast member and music director Kylie Westerback (left) and guest artist Christiane Matallo right with other "House of Murals" cast members. -Courtesy of David Cimetta

Opening Nov. 30 in Tohill Theater in Bunce Hall is the Department of Theatre and Dance’s original production “House of Murals.”

Featured in this performance is Christiane Matallo, a performer from São Paulo who is the current artist-in-residence for the department. The title of the work is a nod to the cities of Philadelphia and São Paulo, Brazil, the latter of which is Matallo’s home city and country.

Matallo started her dance career when she was just two years old, and everything in her childhood was about the arts. Her grandfather loved tap dancing and encouraged her to do it; Matallo started when she was five. She explained how tap was so poetic because she could bring dancing, acting and music together at the same time.

“I always knew I would be an artist, a professional artist,” Matallo said. “I dedicated my life to dance and art. The focus was tap.”

She continued to study arts in New York, where she traveled to twice a year while still in school. Matallo came to the United States during her summer and winter breaks for two to three months because Brazil didn’t have as prominent a tap dance scene. Matallo also studied at UNICAMP (Universidade Estadual de Campinas), where she studied to be a teacher and a dancer. After earning her undergraduate degree, she went on to earn her Master’s.

Matallo met faculty member Corinne Karon in 1999 at a dance festival. Karon also teaches dance classes at Rowan University.

“She was different than other tap dancers,” Matallo said. “Her sound was amazing, of course. She was an amazing tap dancer.”

Matallo also explained how Karon moved in a way that was so brilliant and different from other dancers when she tapped. “House of Murals” will feature choreography from Matallo, Karon and Leslie Elkins, a dance faculty member at Rowan University. Matallo will dance alongside student cast members. 

“We haven’t really ever had an international dance residency prior to this project,” Elkins explained. “We have had guests come in and either do some choreography or directing in our mainstage season, but this is really the first time we have an international guest dancer residency.”

In addition to never featuring an international dancer as a resident, a tap dancer has also never been featured.

Elkins, who teaches improv, explained that there is a link between improv and tap, which is the dance style that Karon teaches. Elkins explained that she and Karon have always talked about doing a project together, but never got a chance before this to do so.

“Dance is a whole, not just parts,” Matallo explained. “Dr. Leslie [Elkins] thinks that way, like a unit, not just parts.”

Matallo noted that Elkins and Karon are great choreographers, as well as great teachers.

“She’s very passionate,” Elkins said about Matallo. “It’s clichè, [but] she’s the whole package.”

House of Murals will offer a preview performance on Nov. 30 and will run Dec. 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. in Tohill Theatre.

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