MFA dance concert returns to Edison Theatre March 26

Performance features new work by Marcus Johnson, Charis Railey, Ashley L. Tate and Jane Tellini

From left: Choreographers Ashley L. Tate, Charis Railey, Marcus Johnson and Jane Tellini will perform new works in Edison Theatre March 26 as part of the 2022 MFA Student Dance Concert. (Photos: Danny Reise/Washington University)

“I love the virtuosity of dance,” said Ashley L. Tate. “I love watching really great dancers do their thing. But I also think about what I want an audience to leave with.

“How do you carry empathy in your body and in your heart?”

Tate, a 2020 graduate of the MFA Program in Dance in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is discussing “Stolen Memories,” a new work for 15 dancers inspired by her grandmother’s struggles with Lewy Body Dementia.

Originally scheduled for spring 2020, the piece was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But on March 26, “Stolen Memories” — along with new works by MFA candidates Charis Railey and Jane Tellini and recent graduate Marcus Johnson (MFA 2020) — will debut in WashU’s Edison Theatre as part of the 2022 MFA Student Dance Concert.

“Each of these pieces is the result of a year-long process,” said Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, who directs the MFA in Dance. “It’s our equivalent to a thesis. Some choreographers come into the program with a sense of what they want to do; others are searching and find their way to unexpected places.”

In either case, as both adviser and audience member, Knoblauch-O’Neal offers the same advice. “I want to go along for the ride,” she explained for a laugh. “I want to get on board and follow your idea. As choreographers, our craft can come from a nebulous place. But for these projects, there’s also rigorous process of research and scholarship — as there would be for any WashU department.

“These are very different artists,” Knoblauch-O’Neal adds, “but I think each of their pieces represent some form of personal journey. It’s a great show and has great depth. I’m proud of them all.”

Charis Railey (right) and Jane Tellini. (Photo: Danny Reise/Washington University)

Finding Utopia

The program will open with Railey’s “Finding Utopia.” Choreographed for eight dancers, the piece “fuses and explores movement traditions of the African diaspora across the Americas.”

An Olin Fellow at WashU, Railey has trained in martial arts, hip hop, jazz and ballet as well as modern dance. Her research has explored folk and contemporary genres of the African diaspora and currently centers on Black dance as a vehicle for self-care and personal liberation.

In a program note, Railey explains that the four pieces comprising “Finding Utopia” — “Crossroads,” “Winds of Change,” “Oceans of Comfort” and “Lands of Joy” — embody her experience of “healing her own gendered and racialized trauma in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal society.”

She adds: “We are finding bold and unashamed Black joy in ourselves and in community with each other.”

Seed of Dreams

Next on the program will be Tellini’s “The Seed of Dreams.” Choreographed for six dancers, the piece “follows the journey of a dreamer navigating the world that exists in her subconscious. Her light, shadow, protectors, and fate challenge and guide her as she grapples with the unknown.”

Tellini earned a BFA in dance from Stephens College and has performed with Carpetbag Brigade and Consuming Kinetics Dance Company, among others. Her current choreographic and research interests blend principles of Western concert dance with the ritual practices of Butoh, a Japanese style of avant-garde dance.


After a brief intermission, the program will continue with Johnson’s “Unearth,” a new work for six dancers that “explores the gradience of minimalism through the use of gestures within an abstract world.”

Johnson began his dance training at COCA and earned his BFA from Webster University. He has danced with numerous companies, including professionally with the Modern American Dance Company. He is an adjunct instructor at Lindenwood University and directs RJ’s Dance Studio in Chesterfield.

Marcus Johnson and Ashley L. Tate. (Photo: Danny Reise/Washington University)

Stolen Memories

Concluding the performance will be Tate’s “Stolen Memories.” A former Olin Fellow and current artistic and executive director for Ashleyliane Dance Company, Tate explains that Lewy Body Dementia — which is sometimes misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s — can cause hallucinations and lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior and mood.

“Choreographing this piece has been equally educational and therapeutic,” Tate said. “It is not designed to offer solutions; not to cheapen what it’s like. But just to explore how it must have felt for my grandmother to navigate life and to make sense of that for myself.

“I wanted to make sure I did her justice.”


Presented by the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, the 2022 MFA Student Dance Concert will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26. The performance is free and open to the public. Edison Theatre is in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or visit

For information about campus COVID-19 policies, visit the WashU Together: COVID-19 Response website.

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