DanceWise brings modern dance to Sewanee



Photo by Lucy Wimmer

Anna Mann

Executive Staff

Sewanee students performed “DanceWise: from the heART” on the weekend of February 24-26. The performance contained pieces of modern dance that celebrated movement, passion, and the wide range of emotions that comes with both. The concert included works from Bill Evans, an internationally renowned teacher, choreographer, and dancer, as well as choreography from Assistant Professor of Dance: Courtney World, guest composer Madia Cooper, and Fridien Nana Tchoukoua (C’17).

The five dances each had distinct costumes, feelings, and stories paired with their movements. The first piece, “Didjeri Riff,” featured the dancers in loose-fitting red and cream outfits. They danced erratically, struggling with their footing on a floor that seemed to shake beneath them. The dance created an eerie feeling throughout the dark room, as it seemed the performers could not control their volatile movements. It ended with the dancers crawling on all fours toward the crowd, wearing ominous expressions.

The next dance started with a decidedly more playful ambience as dancers skipped, ran, and moved freely like children on a playground. “Portraits of Play” seemed a favorite among the girls who performed it. Longtime classical dancer Annie Corley (C’20) explained World’s process of creating the piece, stating, “it was definitely more relaxed because in the process Ashlin and I came up with our own choreography. Then Courtney cut and spliced to put in her own. So it was kind of a mashup, which was neat because I felt I had a big part in creating the piece as well.”

A more humorous and pensive atmosphere followed the lighthearted “Portraits of Play” when the lights illuminated a sharply dressed Evans at center stage next to a single wooden chair. The short one-person act depicted Evans as an interviewee for a high-end job. The audience knew nothing about what he applied for, only his urgency to please the panel and a desire for the position. His over-eager attitude seemed comic at times, but at others it made one think about the importance of authenticity. Either way, the audience seemed to enjoy Evans’s energy and easy stage presence.

Next came the student-drafted dance by Tchoukoua, “Noir.” Tchoukoua created the piece to celebrate African American culture and highlight both personal and ancestral struggles. Contemporary and jazz dancer, Alyssa Holley (C’18), explained, “Essentially what that dance portrayed was that the dancers were slaves. It was over the generations with them trying to work for freedom, trying to work through struggles. We were falling, trying to get back up. It was essentially a tribute to our ancestors who have gotten us to where we are today.”

Holley remembered a rehearsal when Tchoukoua had the cast contemplate a time when either they felt directly oppressed or someone they loved had been, then he asked them to channel those feelings into their movements. “Fridien had us sit down and think about a moment in time where we felt scared or when we felt our color defined us,” Holley elaborated.

The second to last dance, “Suite Rhythms,” featured only Evans and World, dressed in dapper black outfits and tap dancing to lively music. During the second part of the duet, Karissa Wheeler (C’19) sang an a capella version of “Bye Bye Blackbird” by Mort Dixon to the clicking of the two dancers’ shoes. The classical air of the dance transported the audience back decades, especially with Wheeler’s vintage singing voice as an accompaniment.

Visiting Social Dance and West African Performing Artist, Madia Cooper, choreographed the final dance, “Life’s Victims.” A thought-provoking piece on the dangers of heedlessly following a leader, the piece ended the event with a contemplative aura.

Ballet and contemporary dancer Ashlin Ondrusek (C’19) explained, “in Madia’s piece, Fridien was a dictator. In the beginning, you see Alyssa holding him up blindly because she’s a blind follower. Whenever she and I have our duet, I pull up her head showing her, ‘look, look what we can be.’ In the end, whenever we all squat down and he goes with us, it’s supposed to show we all fall down but we can stand up together.”