“I like to think about the difference between a technique and an approach,” said choreographer Raja Feather Kelly. “An arabesque is an arabesque; it’s not anything else. But an approach — to gravity, to movement, to the body — can lead a performer to discovery. The outcomes are potentially infinite.”
This fall, as a visiting artist at Washington University in St. Louis’ Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences, Kelly — winner of a 2017 Princess Grace Award for choreography — worked with students to create “The Land of 1,000 Dances,” a new piece exploring the instinctive, unconscious and sometimes explosive poetry of everyday movements.
On Dec. 1-3, “The Land of 1,000 Dances” will debut as part of “Here.Now.Together,” the 2017 Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT) concert. In all, the concert will feature dozens of dancers, selected by audition, performing seven new and original works by faculty and visiting choreographers.
“The traditional model is that choreographers tell dancers what to do,” said David Marchant, professor of the practice in dance and artistic director for WUDT. “It’s a controlled experience. But Raja’s process and aesthetic goals are very different. He sets the conditions under which the dance will be created, and nurtures the dancers’ own capacities to be artistic collaborators.”
Kelly, a former David Dorfman dancer, cites artist Andy Warhol as a formative influence. Like Warhol, “I don’t necessarily feel that I’m trying to create something new,” he said. “But I am trying to see things in another way, from another perspective.
“How we sit, how we stand, how we interact talking to one another — these can be just as beautiful as rehearsed, athletic dancing,” Kelly added. “As a choreographer, my job is take you on a walk. I know what I want you to see, and I hope that you’re able to experience what I’ve experienced.
“The dance is meant to challenge what we think dance is, while also fulfilling those things we love about dance: movement, chance and drama.”
Also on the program are:
- “Tones” by Ting-Ting Chang. This work for six dancers is inspired by the concept of yin and yang. “Many tangible dualities, such as fire and water, are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality symbolized by yin and yang,” explained Chang, assistant professor at the National Taiwan University of Arts and a former Andrew Mellon post-doctoral fellow in the PAD. “This duality lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy.”
- “Out of Shadows” by Mary-Jean Cowell. Cowell, dance program director, collaborates with seven dancers to create a series of dramatic, non-narrative movement images suggesting the “evolution from individual and collective turmoil and insecurity to resolve and assurance.”
- “Now You Here It” by Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal. Inspired by minimalist composer Michael Torke, this work for eight dancers aims to create a sense of moving forward along a positive trajectory. “Torka designed this music as his response to the color purple,” said Knoblauch-O’Neal, director of the master of fine arts in dance program. “I choreographed the work in response to his music. I listened first, then moved.”
- “Refuge” by Marchant. This work for seven dancers, which was debuted last year by the Utah Repertory Dance Theatre, explores themes of displacement and asylum. “At a time when so many people are displaced from home,” explained Marchant, “how do we balance these needs to take care of ourselves and others?”
- “American Mosaic” by Cecil Slaughter. Inspired by current events, this work for nine dancers is choreographed by Cecil Slaughter, professor of practice in dance and founder of The Slaughter Project, the PAD’s professional company-in-residence.
- “One on One” by Rob Scoggins. Choreographic reconstruction by Jennifer Reilly. Set to music by Gabrielle Roth, this sly duet by veteran choreographer Scoggins draws on the movement vocabulary of basketball and contemporary dance.
Tickets and performances
Performances of “Here.Now.Together.” take place in Edison Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1 and 2, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3.
Tickets are $20, or $15 for seniors, students and Washington University faculty and staff. Tickets are available through the Edison Box Office, 314-935-6543. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd.
For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit edison.wustl.edu.