Distinguished Alumni

The University of Utah College of Fine Arts presents the Distinguished Alumni Awards each year during the CFA Gala. Alumni are nominated by each department within the college to highlight the careers and accomplishments of CFA graduates. All past and present CFA Distinguished Alumni can be found here. The Distinguished Alumni from the School of Dance are listed below.




Alumni Tina Misaka

Arts Educator Award, which honors an alum who has made significant contributions in the area of arts education.

Tina Misaka is an alumna of the University of Utah Modern Dance Program. Tina has danced and performed with Repertory Dance Theatre and other professional dance companies around the world. Tina has served as a dance educator and taught throughout the United States and Europe. She served as rehearsal director for New Carte Blanche (Bergen, Norway) and acting dean of Danshogskolan (Sweden). In 1998, Tina was honored with the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Arts Award. Tina is the recipient of the 2014 Sorenson Legacy Award for Excellence in Arts Education. For the past 14 plus years, she has served as a highly qualified licensed dance educator in the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program (BTSALP). Currently, she is the BTSALP dance specialist at Mountain View Elementary in Salt Lake City, UT. Tina is renowned across the state as a master dance pedagogue and an expert in the field of arts integration. As a dance educator, Tina promotes young people’s artistic enrichment as well as their personal growth. She educates the whole child and elevates learning as students meet and achieve dual learning objectives in dance and other core subject areas to understand both better.



Legacy Award

Tauna Hunter is a retired Professor and Chair of Dance at Mercyhurst University (1994-2019). She began her dance training with Willam F. Christensen, then earned BFA and MFA degrees in ballet performance and choreography at the University of Utah. Hunter was an acclaim leading ballerina at Ballet West, and toured internationally as a guest artist with numerous regional companies throughout the United States. She was featured in “Megatrends 2000” and “Success” Magazine for DANSOURCE, a national networking service connecting dancers and companies, which she co-founded. 

Ms. Hunter has taught for companies, universities, and private schools throughout the United States and in China, staging full-length classical ballets and choreographing over 25 contemporary works. For 10 years, she was Guest Artist in Residence for the Interlochen Arts Academy summer dance program. Hunter is the recipient of the Chautauqua Artist Teacher Award, and Erie Arts and Culture Life Time Achievement Award. She serves on the Advisory Boards of Ballet Concerto (TX) and Dance Now Miami! (FL), as artistic advisor to Lake Erie Ballet, and as President and Chairman of the board for the Erie Dance Consortium. She is an active member of DanceUSA, the CORPS de Ballet International and formerly served on the University of Utah Artistic Advisory Council. 

Alumni Tauna Hunter



Alumni Rosa Vissers

Rosa Vissers is a Netherlands-born Seattle-based dancer, nonprofit leader, and lover of plants. She received her MFA in Modern Dance from the University of Utah in 2007, and sees movement as a powerful pathway to reclaiming our beauty, resilience, and connection to ourselves and each other. She has performed internationally for 15 years with over 20 companies and artists on large and small stages, in film, on sidewalks as well as in galleries, parks, and living rooms, and with Jessica Jobaris, Shannon Stewart, and zoe|juniper. As a movement educator, she has offered dance and yoga classes at universities, festivals, and in prisons for over a decade. She is currently the Executive Director of Yoga Behind Bars (YBB), a nonprofit offering trauma-informed yoga to incarcerated youth and adults.



Barbara Jean Hamblin was born in Klamath Falls, Oregon. She came to Salt Lake City in 1958 at the age of 18 to pursue study in classical ballet at the University of Utah in the Department of Speech, at the time a division of the Theatre Department. Hamblin was a charter member of Utah Civic Ballet established in 1963, later to become Ballet West, where she became a principal artist in 1966. Hamblin was met with critical success in several leading roles including Balanchine’s “Serenade,” “Concerto Barocco,” “Symphony in C,” andWillam Christensen’s “Coppelia,” “Cinderella,” “La Valse,”and “Firebird.” After her performing career ended in 1970, she continued her education and graduated from the University of Utah in 1973. She began teaching as an adjunct faculty member in the U’s Department of Ballet in 1972. She was then awarded a full-time teaching position in 1984, and was appointed chairwoman of the Department of Ballet in 1988. Upon her retirement in 2007, she was awarded the rank of Professor Emerita.

Alumni Barbara Hamblin




Alumni Linda Smith

A native of Utah, Linda C. Smith began her career indance at the age of four with Virginia Tanner’s Children’s Dance Theatre. In 1966, she become a founding member of Repertory Dance Theatre where she fulfilled her dream of becoming a performer, teacher, choreographer, writer, producer, and eventually the Artistic Director.Her performing experience spans more than 90 works. She’s taught in more than 1,000 schools, bringing the magic of dance to students and teachers with her unique demonstrations, lectures, classes, and professional development workshops. Smith has dedicated her life to making the arts relevant and to communicating the value of dance in the life of a community by encouraging audiences of all ages to imagine, create, and communicate with the language of movement.




Bené Arnold is a graduate from the University of Utah who has distinguished herself in the world of ballet. Arnold received her BFA and MFA from the Department of Ballet, a BS in elementary education, and an M.Ed in special education. She danced professionally with The San Francisco Ballet Company for 10 years and served as the first ballet mistress to Ballet West from 1963-1975. From there, Arnold taught at the University of Utah, Department of Ballet until 2001. A few of her numerous awards include, The Chamber of Commerce Award in the Arts (1984), Utah State Senate Citation for contribution to ballet through the state, Distinguished Professor (1989), and Distinguished Professor Emerita.

Alumni Bené Arnold




Alumni Phyllis Haskel Tims

Modern Dance

Professor Haskell’s professional dance experience, choreography, and teaching career has taken her to such diverse locations as Europe, Africa, Canada, Mexico, and Asia as well as all 50 states. Formerly, she was director of dance at the University of Hawaii, on the faculties of Arizona State University and the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, and chair of the Modern Dance Department at the University of Utah. Professor Haskell retained her appointment in the Department of Modern Dance while she served as the University of Utah’s Associate Vice President for the Arts, and Dean of the College of Fine Arts.

Phyllis Haskell retired from the university in June, 2005. Phyllis has been our leader, our colleague, our advocate, and our friend for many years. She single-handedly established our largest endowed scholarship fund. She taught skillfully and eloquently for years. Phyllis has advocated not only for dance but for all of the arts in the most effective way ever known in the College of Fine Arts. She is well known internationally for her effective and inspirational work in arts administration and in the dance world, she is a diva. Phyllis has recently received prestigious awards from the Council of Dance Administrators and the College of Fine Arts. In October 2004, she was awarded the Alma Hawkins Dance Administration Award and in April 2005, Phyllis received the CFA Distinguished Alumnus Award.




Julia Gleich is Head of Choreography at London Studio Centre and is on faculty at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, where she teaches ballet and Limón. An internationally acclaimed choreographer, Gleich is interested in re-contextualizing ballet and bridging the gap between the traditional and the contemporary. Her site-specific dance works include performances in drained pools, on piers, and annual stint in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Plattsburg, NY. After graduating from the U (MFA Ballet ’94), she has based her work in London and New York, as founder of Norte Maar for Collaborative Projects in the Arts, Brooklyn, NY, Aegis Live Arts in London, and Gleich Dances.

Alumni Julia Gleich




Alumni Tamara Riewe

Modern Dance

Tamara Riewe has just retired from the Trisha Brown Dance Company, where she danced professionally since 2006. She has danced with many companies in the U.S. and internationally, including Bill Young/Colleen Thomas & Dancers, Keith Johnson/Dancers and Steeldance, and has appeared twice at the Metropolitan Opera House in works choreographed by Doug Varone. During her time at the U (BFA Modern Dance ’01), she experienced an accident, which sharpened her drive to become a professional dancer and spurred her to find the soul within the body. This, she says, gave her a sense of purpose that later informed both her teaching and performing.





Derryl Yeager, founder and artistic director for Odyssey Dance Theatre, graduated from the University of Utah twice (BFA Ballet ‘76 and MFA Ballet ‘78), and said it was the challenge of dance that intrigued him. His training led him to become a Ballet West principal dancer for six years and took him all over the country. He has performed for 25 years in film, television and Broadway theatre. Yeager’s work directing and choreographing lead him to other realms including music videos and Equity Theatre. In his role at Odyssey Dance Theatre, Yeager has directed, choreographed and produced more than 24 works for his world-renowned jazz-ballet company.

Alumni Derryl Yeager




Alumni Ann Carlson

Modern Dance

For the last three years, Ann Carlson has been a guest artist at Stanford University and is an extraordinarily celebrated and recognized artist. She graduated from the University of Utah (BFA Modern Dance ’76), and has gone on to win two American Masters Awards and a USA Artist Award among others. She was recently invited by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to be in residence next year on Captiva Island, Florida. Carlson's award winning work defies description and category while expanding the context of choreography and performance. Her work has been seen in theaters, galleries, museums, concert halls, biological preservers, swimming pools and landscapes throughout the world. 




Sandra Birch Allen, BFA 1964, MFA 1967, Associate Professor of Dance at Brigham Young University, was named the 2012 Distinguished Alumna of the Department. Sandra began teaching at BYU in 1968, and rose to be the Ballet Division Administrator, basically creating, nurturing and growing the program of ballet studies at BYU for the past 44 years. The University of Utah Department of Ballet particularly wishes to honor Sandra Allen’s leadership in ballet studies in higher education.

Prior to her studies at the University Sandra was one of the charter members of the Utah Civic Ballet, the predecessor to Utah’s Ballet West. During her studies and for a year following her graduation with the MFA, Sandra continued to perform with the Utah Civic Ballet, performing demi and solo roles in many of Willam Christensen’s classic works. While at BYU Sandra also served as Associate Chair of the Dance Department, choreographed over 20 original works, restaged over 13 works for BYU Theatre Ballet, and wrote two textbooks: Reference Resource for Teaching Ballet Part I: The Teaching of Ballet, An Eclectic Approach, and Part II: Ballet Methodologies, A Comparative Analysis. In 2011 she received the Gerrit de Jong, J.r Gratitude Award. In 2008 the CORPS de Ballet International, the organization of ballet professors in higher education, bestowed its Outstanding Service Award on Sandra.

While visiting our campus on the occasion of the award, Sandra delivered a compelling lecture about the history of ballet in high education and Willam Christensen’s place within that history.

1002-16 Allen, Sandra 09Dance Faculty PortraitsFebruary 3-4, 2010Photo by Jessica LeBaron/BYUCopyright BYU Photo 2008All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu  (801)422-7322



Alumni Keith Johnson

Modern Dance

Keith Johnson was a competitive gymnast and team captain at Brigham Young University before he became interested in dance. He received his MFA in dance with an emphasis in choreography from the University of
Utah in 1991 where he received the Dee R. Winterton Award for Excellence in Dance.  Keith danced in the Ririe/Woodbury Dance Company, Creach/Koester, Doug Varone and Dancers, and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, touring the widely acclaimed work Still/Here both nationally and internationally. 

In 1998, Keith formed Keith Johnson/Dancers. The company received favorable reviews from the Los Angeles Times.   Keith continues to perform and choreograph nationally while currently a full professor at California State University in Long Beach.  Keith also makes dance films with collaborator Gregory R. R. Crosby and together they have formed Fistbomb Films.




Jiang Qi received his early ballet training at the Beijing Dance Academy, he also received BFA and MFA from University of Utah. Department of Ballet. He has performed with the National Ballet of China, National Song and Dance Ensemble, Twyla Tharp Dancers before joined Ballet West in 1986 as a soloist,and was promoted to a principal dancer in 1988 and ballet master in 2000. In 2001, he joined the College Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati as an assistant professor, and was promoted to an associate professor with tenure in 2005, and to professor in 2011. As a guest artist, he has danced or choreographed works or taught master classes for Hong Kong Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, Louisville Ballet, Balletmet, Singapore Dance Theater, Toshiko Sato Ballet of Japan, Utah Regional Ballet, Tianjin Ballet of China, Utah Ballet, Guangzhou Ballet of China, Suzhou Ballet of China, Joffrey Ballet School, HK Jean Wong School of Ballet, Beijing Dance Academy, Shanghai Theater Academy, and Shandong University of China.

In 1980, he won the top prize in All China Dance Competition and in 1985, he was deemed the premier artist of China by the Chinese government. His recent awards including Artistic Excelence in Choreography Project from The National Endownment For The Arts, and a Third Place for Choreography at 2008 China National Dance Competition. In 2010 he was featured on CCTV-China’s National TV’s documentry film “Artist”. He is Currently an Artistic Director of Dance China NY–a Manhattan based professional dance troupe where he present works with combine of tradition and contemporary themes.

Alumni Jiang Qi



Alumni Della Davidson

Modern Dance

Ms. Davidson has been Principal Choreographer and Artistic Director of the Della Davidson Dance Theater for over 20 years, and is the creator of some 40 choreographic and theatrical works that have been commissioned and performed by companies in California, New York, London, and throughout the world. She is a choreographer, theater artist and teacher who creates interdisciplinary works that explore the presence of women and the lyrical power of dance and storytelling.  Currently, Ms. Davidson is a Professor of Dance and Physical Theater at UC Davis, and Artistic Director of Sideshow Physical Theater, the resident professional company of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the Department of theatre and Dance.  Ms. Davidson was named a Chancellor’s Fellow at UC Davis in 2003 for her contributions to the profession, and she has been the recipient of numerous other grants and awards, including an Isadora Duncan Award (Izzy) for Choreography, a Bonnie Bird North American Choreographer’s Award, two residencies at the Sundance Institute, a Gerbode Fellowship, a Rockefeller Multi-Arts Production Grant, an Irvine Foundation Creation to Performance Grant, and many years of National Endowment for the Arts support.  Her critically acclaimed Night Story, which is based on the short story Wicked Girl by Isabel Allende, and was created for the Ririe Woodbury Dance Company in Salt Lake City, was filmed and broadcast on public television, and won an international CINE Golden Eagle Film and Video Award in 1996. For the past six years Ms. Davidson has been collaborating with video artist Ellen Bromberg to create mediated works that extend the narrative and the imagery of the work. These works include Collapse (suddenly falling down), produced by the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in 2007, a multi-disciplinary work for 3 actors and 6 dancers that was inspired by the book by Jared Diamond and combines original text, movement, and music with 3D images, motion capture technology, and videography. Collapse was awarded an Izzy Award for scenic design in 2008.  Other works in collaboration with Ms. Bromberg are A Dream Inside Another and The Weight of Memory. Ms. Davidson’s highly popular 1992 work, The P.M. Dream, based on the poems of Anne Sexton, was revived for the fourth time and performed by the Sacramento Theatre Company in September 2008.




Bart Cook earned a reputation around the globe and across the U.S. as one of the finest ballet dancers of the 20th Century. He added choreographic accomplishments, and distinction as a master teacher of ballets by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins to professional companies on every continent. His ability to engage the youngest dancers led to a parallel commitment to community ballet education. 

Bart Robinson Cook was born into a dance family in Ogden, Utah, preceded by an older sister in ballet. He registered for tap lessons to contain his energy, but soon moved to classical dance. As a teenager, Bart studied in Salt Lake City with Willem Christensen, who founded the company that became Ballet West. Bart joined as an Apprentice at 17 and began performing. He also entered the University of Utah, to study music and dance. He became aware of Balanchine ballets for the first time, and the repertoire of New York City Ballet. He appeared in a summer stock production of Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story. Jacques d’Amboise, a celebrated NYCB dancer, saw Bart dance and helped him secure a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York to refine his technique. SAB was, and is, the premier training ground for NYCB. Young Bart was on his way, leaving the University and Ballet West.

Balanchine, director of the School and the Company, invited him to join the Company within a year, 1971, and soon cast Bart in leading roles. He became a Principal Dancer in 1979.

Alumni Bart Cook



Alumni Bill Evans

Modern Dance

Bill Evans, dancer, choreographer, teacher, movement analyst, speaker and writer, has earned the Guggenheim Fellowship; numerous fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts; Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the National Dance Education Organization and Dance Teacher Magazine; the National Dance Association Scholar/Artist Award; an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, and many other recognitions for his five decades of leadership in the fields of modern dance, rhythm tap dance and Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis.  In the most recent Dance Magazine Readers’ Poll he was named one of America’s three favorite tap artists. The Bill Evans Dance Company, founded in 1975, was for several years the most-booked professional dance troupe in the U.S.  The company has performed in all 50 states, throughout Mexico and Canada and in many countries in Europe, Asia and Australasia.  He has choreographed more than 200 works for professional dance companies, including his own (59 works), Repertory Dance Theatre (18 works), Ballet West, Concert Dance Company of Boston, Deutsche Oper Ballet—West Berlin, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Stars of American Ballet Theatre at Jacobs Pillow, and many others.  He has worked as a guest artist in most of the college dance programs in North America, and has created or restaged three individual works and two full-evening productions under the National College Choreography Initiative and American Masterpieces, Dance—College Component programs of the National Endowment for the Arts.  He is a distinguished emeritus professor of dance at the University of New Mexico and, since 2004, has been visiting professor/guest artist at The College at Brockport, where he is also undergraduate program director.  His book, Reminiscences of a Dancing Man, was published by the National Dance Association in 2005.




Douglas C. Sonntag serves as the Director of Dance for the National Endowment for the Arts; a position he has held since 1997. From 2004 to 2008 he was also the Director of the Office of National Initiatives where he supervised work on several signature Endowment programs including Shakespeare in American Communities, Save America’s Treasures, American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius, and the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes.

Previously, he served as program administrator and senior program specialist for the Arts Endowment’s Dance Program where he supervised grants to dance companies, dance presenters, dance media grants, and dance preservation projects. From 1981-1986, Mr. Sonntag was general manager of the Repertory Dance Theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition, he was an associate instructor for the University of Utah’s Institute of Arts Administration and a staff specialist for the Department of Ballet. From 1980-81, Mr. Sonntag was the project director of the Utah Playwriting Conference, a joint project of the Sundance Institute and the Utah Arts Council.

He has served as a judge for the American College Dance Festival/Dance Magazine Awards, and as a panelist for the Utah Arts Council, the Jerome Foundation, and the Carlisle Project. He has spoken at and served on panels many organizations including Dance/USA, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, the International Association of Blacks in Dance, and at the International Tanzmesse NRW in Dusseldorf, Germany, and the Monaco Dance Forum, Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Mr. Sonntag attended the American College in Paris and the University of Utah graduating with a B.F.A. in Ballet and an M.F.A. in Theater with an emphasis in arts administration.

Alumni Douglas Sonntag



Alumni Stephan Koplowitz

Modern Dance

Stephan Koplowitz is a director/choreographer/media artist known for his work on the concert stage (works of dance/theater/text) and for creating original site-specific multi-media works for architecturally significant sites. His choreography, whether for site or stage is infused with a sense of the human condition and aims to alter audiences perspectives on what is dance, who can dance and where one can dance.

He is the recipient of a 2004 Alpert Award in the Arts (Dance), a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship in Choreography in addition to a 2000 New York Dance and Performance Award, “Bessie” for “Sustained Achievement” in Choreography. Koplowitz is also the recipient of six National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowships from (1988-97).




Over the past eleven years, Cincinnati Ballet has experienced tremendous growth and critical success under the leadership of Artistic Director Victoria Morgan. As the company enters its 45th Anniversary Season in 2008-09, Ms. Morgan takes on the additional role as an executive leader, serving for the first time as both the Artistic Director and CEO of Cincinnati Ballet.

Ms. Morgan arrived in Cincinnati in 1997, taking immediate steps to raise the company’s standard of excellence by attracting celebrated dancers, choreographers, and ballet masters to the Ballet from the international dance realm. Ms. Morgan is on the board of Dance Magazine and national membership organization DanceUSA, has served on the NEA evaluation panel, was presiding judge for the 2005 New York International Ballet Competition, and was a judicator for the Benois de la Danse Awards Gala in Moscow, Russia in April 2006. Ms. Morgan came to Cincinnati Ballet after nearly a decade as resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera. Prior to that, she was a principal dancer for San Francisco Ballet (1978-1987) and Ballet West (1969-1978). Her repertoire included leading roles in numerous classical ballets such as Giselle, Swan Lake, Cinderella and many ballets by George Balanchine. Ms. Morgan also danced in modern and contemporary ballets by William Forsythe, James Kudelka and Val Caniparoli, among others. In addition, Ms. Morgan performed lead roles for television and film and her choreography was featured in the PBS documentary, The Creation of O.M.O. Ms. Morgan graduated Magna Cum Laude with an M.F.A from the University of Utah.

Alumni Victoria Morgan



Alumni Gesel Mason

Modern Dance

Gesel Mason is a choreographer, performer, educator, and arts facilitator. She is Artistic Director for Gesel Mason Performance Projects and Associate Professor of Dance and Choreography at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a member of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and Ralph Lemon/Cross Performance Projects. She has also performed with Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Repertory Dance Theatre of Utah, and under the direction of Chuck Davis, Jacek Łumiński (Silesian Dance Theatre), Murray Louis, and Victoria Marks. 

Her company, Gesel Mason Performance Projects (GMPP), serves as a medium for her creative work. GMPP is a project based dance company that seeks to create meaningful, relevant, and compelling art events as a way to encourage compassion and inquiry. In her work, Mason utilizes dance, theater, humor, and storytelling to bring visibility to voices unheard, situations neglected, or perspectives considered taboo. Numerous venues and festivals have presented Mason’s choreography including John F. Kennedy Center, American Dance Festival, Bates Dance Festival, the International Association of Blacks in Dance, and numerous colleges and universities.

Gesel graduated with a BFA in Modern Dance in 1995.