For performing artists accustomed to live audiences, the COVID-19 pandemic posed an almost existential question. “How does dance fit into this world?” David Marchant remembers thinking. “Will dance survive?”
But when Washington University in St. Louis resumed in-person classes, Marchant, professor of the practice in dance in the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences, said he noticed a funny thing. Enrollments went up.
“I’ve heard from a lot of students that dance has been essential to their well-being,” Marchant said. “You can dance at home, you can watch dance on your phone or computer, but moving in community is irreplaceable.”
On Dec. 3, the PAD will present “Return,” the 2021 Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT) concert and the department’s first fully staged dance production in nearly two years. Dozens of dancers, selected by audition, will perform five original works by faculty and visiting choreographers.
Marchant, who serves as WUDT artistic director, noted that last year, the show did go on, in the form of “Aperture,” an evening of short dance films streamed through the PAD website. “I think we all learned new things,” he said. “The camera gave us new perspectives, new ideas and new tools.” But returning to the Edison stage “reminded me that it’s a real privilege to perform for live audiences and in these grand spaces.
“Dance is one of the most amazing things that human beings have the opportunity to do,” Marchant added. Yes, there are barriers — of access, of self-consciousness, and even the occasional pandemic. “But whenever we can gather and experience what it’s like to move together, there’s nothing else like it.”
The program will include:
- “Edgings”: Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, director of the MFA in dance program, choreographs this “slightly off-center” ballet, set to the waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s 1941 “Masquerade” suite.
- “Winter Song”: In this new work, set to music by instrumental duo Hammock, Marchant explores emotional states associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, from “loss, grief and isolation to the joy of return to loved ones and the possibility of renewal.”
- “I Want Some Sugar in My Bowl”: Visiting choreographer Heather Beal (MFA ’18) debuts a new piece set to the music of Nina Simone. “Every day there are warrior women fighting battles for our loved ones, blocking shots, taking hits and sacrificing themselves for a better life for those who will come after us,” Beal said of the work. “This dance is dedicated to those warrior women who walked so that I could run.”
- “Not All These Things Are True”: Elinor Harrison, a postdoctoral fellow in dance and in neurology, explores connections between memory and one’s sense of self. “According to embodied cognition theory, memory retrieval depends on reactivating physicalized expressions within our bodies,” Harrison explained. “Our animated remembrance of events from our past is how we know who we are.”
- “Stepping Good”: Visiting choreographer Anthony Redd Williams — a St. Louis native who has performed and choreographed with Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Nelly and other national artists — will close the evening with this “high-energy hip hop work.”
Tickets and performances
Performances of “Return” begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3 and 4, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5. Performances take place in Edison Theatre, located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd.
Tickets are $20, or $15 for seniors, students and WashU faculty and staff, and free for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office. View information about campus COVID-19 policies here.
For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.wustl.edu.