Ashley Harju and Micah Enzlin

Celebration of a Song and Dance Man: George Brown Dance Alumni Ashley Harju and Micah Enzlin Pay Tribute to Gene Kelly at the Toronto Fringe Festival

Female dancer doing a split jump and a male dancer on grass
Left to right: Ashley Harju & Micah Enzlin

“You dance love, you dance joy, you dance dreams,” said Gene Kelly upon his acceptance of the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award. The power of dance was beautifully illustrated in an on-stage tribute to Gene Kelly himself, titled Anatomy of a Dancer: The Life of a Song & Dance Man, which debuted at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival. Among the cast of 10 were George Brown Dance (GBD) Commercial Dance Program alumni Ashley Harju and Micah Enzlin. Ashley and Micah share their experience of portraying Gene Kelly’s life story through dance, reflect on their time at GBD, and offer some words of advice to the new GBD graduates.

Directed and choreographed by Adam Martino of Breakaway Entertainment, Anatomy of a Dancer explores the many facets of Gene Kelly’s story, from his early life in Pittsburgh to his success on the silver screen. The fifty-five-minute production was two years in the making and Breakaway Entertainment’s largest project to date. “It was a pleasure performing seven shows at the Al Green Theatre, as well as dancing alongside Micah Enzlin,” says Ashley, who performed several roles as one of the featured female dancers, ranging from a producer’s assistant to a circus acrobat. “The rehearsal process was exciting to see how everything would be pieced together,” she continues. “It was amazing how each member brought something unique to the show.”

The role of Gene Kelly was shared by the male cast members, with Micah portraying significant pieces of the performer’s life, such as his relationship with actress Betsy Blair, in a Pas-de-deux to “Cheek to Cheek.” “I had the utmost pleasure performing the show and was honoured to play the role and hold the title of the legendary Gene Kelly,” says Micah.  “But the best part was I got to work for Adam Martino, a choreographer/director turned friend through attending some of his classes. It was more of a joy to be able to help him realize his dream project.”

The show is just one of the many projects that Ashley and Micah have been involved with since completing the GBD Commercial Dance Program in 2013 and 2017 respectively. Reflecting on the role of their education at GBD on their professional careers in dance and the performing arts, both credit the program design and faculty for setting them up for success. “The program is designed to be a triple threat (dancing, singing, and acting),” explains Ashley. “After graduating, I was prepared and had enough experience and knowledge to attend an audition in any three disciplines.” The program further supports students in their development as versatile dancers. This was particularly important to Micah who reflects that the commercial dance program “really opened my eyes to the various styles I may not have touched on back when I was still dancing at my home studio.”

Scene from Celebration of a Song and Dance Man
Scene from "Celebration of a Song and Dance Man."

The GBD faculty was also key to their success in the program and beyond. Ashley shares, “The faculty was fantastic with breaking down any discomforts and encouraging students to work through them.” Micah further emphasizes “professional profile building” as one of the most useful aspects of the program, explaining that there is a faculty focus on “how to conduct oneself in a work environment, in front of people of significant… reputation within the industry.” Micah identifies this as a primary element of building a successful career in dance, “because the two major things that can be a deciding factor of whether or not you get a job is who you know, and reputation.”

With their professional careers underway, Ashley and Micah offer some words of advice to the new GBD graduates. “Continue taking classes once you graduate,” Ashley encourages. Micah agrees, explaining that it was through continued dance education that he connected with the director of Anatomy of a Dancer, Adam Martino. Both alumni also advise new graduates to keep an open mind and go after a variety of opportunities. As Micah reflects, “You may fall in love with something you never knew existed!”