WashU Dance Theatre in Edison Dec. 1-3

Concert includes new works by visiting artists Leslie Cuyjet and Mike Esperanza

Dancers perform “Riffs,” by celebrated choreographer Mike Esperanza. The piece, created during a residency this fall, will debut Dec. 1-3 as part of “WUDT’sNEXT,” the 2023 Washington University Dance Theatre performance. (Photo: Jack Rushen/Performing Arts Department)

“The world is constantly accelerating,” said David Marchant. “We’re constantly committing to things before we have the opportunity to feel them in our own minds and our own hearts and our own bodies.

“My research as an artist is about giving people a way to be present and centered,” Marchant added. “For me, improvisation is a somatic practice for keeping one’s attention genuinely and authentically engaged in the moment.”

Marchant, a professor of the practice in dance in the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences, was discussing “This.Here.Now.Together,” a new work he choreographed in collaboration with 17 dancers. The piece will debut Dec. 1-3 as part of “WUDT’sNEXT,” the 2023 Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT) performance.

Dancers perform “Catatumbo” by Leslie Cuyjet, the PAD’s 2023 Marcus Artist. (Photo: Jack Rushen/Performing Arts Department)

“This year, we have some really amazing guest artists,” said Marchant, who also serves as the show’s artistic director. Leslie Cuyjet, co-founder of the Duvet dance collective, will present “Catatumbo,” a work for six dancers set to music by Michael Gordon. Mike Esperanza, founder of the Bare Dance Company, will present “Riffs,” a work for 11 dancers set to his own original score. Both were choreographed during residencies this fall.

Rather than dictating precise gestures and phrases, Cuyjet and Esperanza emphasize larger patterns and movements, which the dancers then work to embody. “Leslie is like a sculptor, arranging material on stage,” Marchant said. “Mike does this sorcerer thing with his hands, giving prompts about how bodies should move through space, but allowing the dancers to create their own unique personal solutions.”

Also on the program will be “Hey Al,” a work for 11 dancers by Antonio Douthit-Boyd, the PAD’s recently appointed ballet master.

A dancer moves during the work “Hey Al,” by Antonio Douthit-Boyd. (Photo: Jack Rushen/Performing Arts Department)

“’Hey Al’ is a ballet born from my deep love for Al Jarreau’s music and a reflection on my enduring passion for dance,” Douthit-Boyd said. Crafted in collaboration with his husband, dancer Kirven Douthit-Boyd, the piece showcases “the abundant light and love in the world” as well as “the sheer bliss of this art form.”

Elinor Harrison, a lecturer in dance, earned her doctorate in movement science from WashU in 2018. She then spent several years as a postdoctoral fellow, dividing her time between the PAD and the WashU School of Medicine, where she explored the links between cognition and motor learning.

In “See, They Return,” a work for 20 dancers, Harrison investigates the ways trauma impacts the body. “The physicalized imprints of trauma are stored long term and can induce global negative effects on health,” she said. “Their manifestations may live on in the body until they are released — but how?”

Dancers perform “See, They Return” by Elinor Harrison. (Photo: Jack Rushen/Performing Arts Department)

Rounding out the program will be Marchant’s “This.Here.Now.Together,” the latest in a series of works exploring improvisation and slowness.

“Improvisation can feel intimidating,” Marchant said. Performers must balance individual and collective awareness — of story, composition, pacing, movement and audience. “But we go through an immersive process, practicing and rehearsing the same hours we would for any choreographed piece.

“Instead of repeating the same movements over and over, we’re getting better and better at defining parameters and making compositional decisions,” Marchant concluded. “The constraints we choose actually set us free.”

Dancers perform the work “This.Here.Now.Together” by David Marchant. (Photo: Jack Rushen/Performing Arts Department)

Tickets and performances

Performances of “WUDT’sNEXT” begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 1 and 2, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3. 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.

Cuyjet’s work is made possible by the Dance Program’s annual Marcus Residency, with additional support from WashU’s Center for Literary Arts and from the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Equity. Esperanza’s residency was supported by the PAD, the Resilience Dance Company, and by David and Holly Marchant.

For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.wustl.edu.

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