Dance, experience and healing

MFA dancers Parker, Servello debut new works March 23

Dancers perform Rachael Servello’s “Common Fate.” From left: Lauren Slaughter, Gigi Gilbert, Rachael Servello, Marcus Johnson, Kelsey Donovan, Mary Claremont. Not pictured: Justin Wright. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

Dance is expressive, dynamic, challenging and joyous. It also can be healing.

Rachael Servello began studying gymnastics at age 4. After college, she spent a decade performing acrobatics and aerial dance all across the United States. Then a tumble went wrong.

Servello

“It messed up my knee,” she said with a grimace. “And as part of the rehab, I took a ballet class. I had no formal training. It was petrifying. Deer in headlights.

“But I noticed a shift,” Servello continued. “Acrobatics is very external. Dance is physical, but it’s also emotional. Something clicked. By the end of the semester, I decided to devote myself fully to dance.”

Four years later, Servello left Los Angeles for Washington University in St. Louis, enrolling in the new Master of Fine Arts in Dance program. At 8 p.m. Saturday, March 23, she will debut “Common Fate,” a half-hour long piece about the nature of learning, as part of the dance thesis concert “Reel2Real.”

Sponsored by the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, “Reel2Real” also will feature “Little Lives,” a film/dance project by fellow MFA candidate Harrison Parker.

A still from Harrison Parker’s “Little Lives.” (Photo courtesy of the artist)

A St. Louis native, Parker began performing in community musical theater productions as a child. “I played the sultan in ‘Aladdin,’” he said with a smile. “I wore a tape-on goatee.”  A few years later he began studying ballet and modern dance at COCA and went on to earn an undergraduate degree in dance.

Parker

“Little Lives” offers a kind of behind-the-scenes look at a group of eight young performers. Parker alternates scenes of them dancing — filmed at various locations around St. Louis and Kansas City — with snippets of conversation about their lives and experiences with art.

“The basic premise is to help you see them as more than just a performer,” Parker said. “You get to know them and to identify with their story.”

Servello’s “Common Fate” was inspired by her experiences as a mentor with Cirque du Monde, an arts outreach program for homeless youth, and the St. Louis Truancy Initiative.

“I’ve worked with all kinds of kids, and I’m a differently abled learner myself,” Servello said. “I wanted to give audiences a sense of that experience. What does it feel like to have a learning disability, or visual/spatial issues, or to not be able to filter different forms of stimulus? How do we show that on stage?

“I hope viewers enjoy this piece, but I also want them to learn something.”

“Reel2Real” is free and open to the public and takes place in Edison Theatre in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call the PAD at 314-935-5224 or visit the PAD website.

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