UI Dance Department to celebrate 40th anniversary at Dance Gala 2021

The University of Iowa’s Department of Dance is back and ready to perform live again for this year’s Dance Gala.


Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

More than 40 students will perform in Hancher Auditorium’s Strauss Recital Hall this coming week to celebrate 40 years of the Dance Gala.

Since the Dance Gala’s origin in 1981, the event has functioned as a space where students can work directly with faculty and guest choreographers to create the movement seen in the final performance, according to the University of Iowa Dance website. The event showcases UI talent along with the support of costume, scenic, and lighting designs.

This year, dance students worked in collaboration with their choreographers to create the five featured pieces — most notably, the famous classic modern dance, The Moor’s Pavane, by José Limón.

Sophomore Ashley McKim said, that after a year of virtual performances, anticipation has grown among the dance troupe. McKim has been working on one of the gala’s pieces, On the Verge…, since last year.

The piece, choreographed by UI Department of Dance professor Armando Duarte, is a continuation from McKim’s first-year seminar class, which is designed to teach first-year students how to go through the performance process.

McKim said for her, dancing in On the Verge… symbolizes release.

“The dance is about COVID-19 coming into our freshman year, last year,” McKim said. “I have a lot of pent-up emotions that I can really bring out in their piece.”

She said, compared to her performance in Hancher Illuminated in August — which also featured UI Dance Department performers — the dancers have had much more time to prepare for the Dance Gala.

“I’m most excited to be onstage performing in front of people again and show the audience what I’ve worked so hard for,” McKim said.

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Tony Orrico, assistant professor in the UI School of Art and choreographer for one of the gala’s pieces, said he looks forward to seeing his students showcase what they’ve learned.

He described the piece he choreographed, Our Body in Interval, in two parts. Orrico said “the body” references the social body, and “interval” discusses the spatial allowance of the body. The piece is inspired by the work of Arawana Hayashi, who incorporated creative and social practice into her understanding of the body.

“Looking at the choreography as a social system, it’s not about dismantling hierarchy, but claiming our roles and our intentions in the space of what’s at stake,” Orrico said.

Orrico said much of the dance is improvised by the students, calling the style of dance “movement research.” He is not trying to prioritize being clever or highly functional, Orrico said, but instead instilling confidence into the performers.

As a third-year MFA candidate with a performance emphasis, Juliet Remmers has performed in the Dance Gala before. This year, she and fellow graduate student Michael Landez chose to recreate José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane.

The piece is a dance quartet based around the Shakespearean tragedy, Othello. In the dance, Remmers portrays Moor’s wife (Desdemona in the play), a noblewoman in medieval Europe. After her marriage to Othello, Othello’s best friend becomes jealous and convinces him that Remmers’ character is cheating on him. In a loss of faith, Othello murders his wife.

“It is a really excellent example of a dramatic form of modern dance that uses storytelling very effectively, within a specific dance technique that was developed at that time,” Remmers said. “For us to bring the piece to life has just been incredible.”

She said she is most excited to see her performance develop each night. She is fascinated by how the piece can change over time while the choreography stays the same.

“I am interested in how the piece can change emotionally and how that can be seen through different personal experiences that I’m pulling from,” she said. “I get to interact with the other three dancers in the piece who are also doing the same thing and every night it’s a new iteration or way of coming into the dance.”

The Dance Gala 2021 live performances will be held Oct. 13-16 at Strauss Recital Hall at Hancher. There will also be a free livestream available to the public to watch the performances Oct. 12 at 8 p.m.