TU Dance at 15: Honoring Years of Vibrant, Socially Conscious Work

The contemporary dance company in St. Paul revives an old commission in an anniversary performance Oct. 27

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In a typical Ernie Barnes painting, bodies coil around some physical feat—mid-stride, mid-breath, or mid-air. Clothes ripple. You can almost hear the bright colors. Barnes, born in the Jim Crow South in 1938, was also a professional football player. With paint, he captured scenes of springy athleticism while often illustrating his views on the leaps and pitfalls of the African American experience.

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts commissioned TU Dance for the first time in 2011, and choreographers Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands came up with a show inspired by the lissome, extended-limb elegance of Barnes’ work. Now, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the contemporary dance company in St. Paul’s South St. Anthony neighborhood, that show, With Love, returns. It melds with the music of Donny Hathaway, jazz and blues legend from the ’70s.


PHOTO BY MICHAEL SLOBODIAN

And it reminds us that, for 15 seasons, TU Dance has not only brought national attention to the Twin Cities’ dance scene (recently putting on a show with Bon Iver). It has also consistently and uniquely examined the body as it confronts narratives on gender and race. Like Barnes, TU Dance tackles important questions—about social justice, history, and human resiliency—with verve.


PHOTO BY MICHAEL SLOBODIAN

TU Dance’s anniversary performance, on Saturday, October 27, at 7:30 p.m., also features a new retrospective work covering the company’s history since its 2004 founding. And eight dancers will perform Salve, a 2017 commission by Ballet Memphis, where grooves interlace to demonstrate healing through community. Before the show, artistic directors Sands and Pierce-Sands discuss how it came together. Afterward, in a 20-minute Q&A, they and company members open up.

In Studio Company Showing, October 10

In anticipation of the TU Dance 15th Anniversary Fall Concert at the Ordway Center on October 27, please join Artistic Directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands at TU Dance Center for an informal in-studio showing celebrating TU Dance’s 15th anniversary performance season. The showing will feature excerpts from the fall concert program, including a new retrospective work reflecting on the company’s rich repertoire of thought-provoking works as well as the Ordway’s first commission for TU Dance — With Love (2011), inspired by the paintings of African American artist Ernie Barnes and set to the legendary music of Donny Hathaway. Also on the program is Uri Sands’ Salve, a work that brings people together in hope from adversity, originally commissioned in 2017 by Ballet Memphis.

Wednesday, October 10. Doors open at 5:00pm. Showing begins at 5:30pm. Refreshments to be provided.

Space is limited. Advanced registration required. RSVP here or call 651-282-3115

This activity is supported by a grant from the Good Family Foundation.

TU Dance Center is located at 2121 University Avenue West, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55114. Find us on the north side of University Avenue, one block east of Vandalia, located directly behind Subway on the building’s east side. Limited parking is available in the lot in front of TU Dance Center. Additional parking is available in the Subway overflow parking lot located east of the TU Dance Center parking lot.

TU Dance and the International Association of Blacks in Dance

TWENTY-FIVE BLACK-LED DANCE COMPANIES AWARDED QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS

The International Association of Blacks in Dance distributes a second round of MOVE (Managing Organizational Vitality and Endurance) grants to dance companies in 12 States across the U.S.
with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) has awarded $250,000 to 25 Black-led member companies throughout the United States. Each company has received an unrestricted INFLUENCERS grant of $10,000 for general operating expenses. IABD awarded the grants as part of its inaugural financial and organizational health program, MOVE: Managing Organizational Vitality and Endurance, which was generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“This round of grants penetrates to the very root of our communities, where these companies thrive, create, and provide much needed services to their constituencies. These organizations are critical and serve as a lifeline in many communities across the U.S. They are literally saving lives,” said Denise Saunders Thompson, President and CEO of IABD. “IABD is awarding general operating support grants to offer just a bit of relief and funding capital to address any challenges they might be facing. The companies include:

Iibada Dance Company, Indianapolis, IN
Dance Iquail, Philadelphia, PA
Muntu Dance Theatre, Chicago, IL
Robert Moses’ KIN, San Francisco, CA
Step Afrika, Washington, DC
Threads Dance Project, Golden Valley, MN
Eleone Dance Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
TU Dance, St. Paul, MN
Urban Bush Women, Brooklyn, NY
Garth Fagan Dance, Rochester, NY
Washington Reflections Dance Co, Washington, DC

The COLLECTIVE Cohort, as they are called, is participating in a peer-to-peer online learning community that includes technical assistance, financial planning, organizational development strategies and training with the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), as well as relevant and important discussions on issues facing these companies on a day-to-day basis. The COLLECTIVE kicked off its activities in July with an online webinar administered by IABD and NFF. The training includes access to information and tools that will support longevity and strengthen the capacity of these organizations to remain recognized artistic and thought leaders.

In March 2018, IABD received a $2,636,000, multi-year grant award from The Mellon Foundation for Phase II of the organization’s Comprehensive Organizational Health Initiative (COHI). In partnership with the Nonprofit Finance Fund, this phase of the COHI program offers capital deployment, financial consultation, and technical assistance to participating IABD member companies.  Responding directly to many of the lessons learned from Phase I activities (i.e. site visits, financial diagnostics, educational workshops), it serves as recommended next steps to strengthen IABD, Inc., its member organizations, and by extension, the field of Black dance. The collaborative nature of this program aims to ensure the vitality of the Black dance sector by addressing historic barriers, building parity among Black dance organizations that support and create work with differing aesthetics, and developing new organizational processes and practices for nonprofit arts organizations.

For more information about the COHI program, please visit www.iabdassociation.org/COHI.

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ABOUT THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACKS IN DANCE: The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) preserves and promotes dance by people of African ancestry or origin, and assists and increases opportunities for artists in advocacy, audience development, education, funding, networking, performance, philosophical dialogue, and touring. IABD has become the Mecca for Blacks in Dance, such as administrators, artists, choreographers, dance companies, directors, educators, researchers and scholars, and those interested in artistry, Black dance issues, and performance presentations. The Association, founded in 1991, provides a network, formal newsletters, choreographer’s directory, and published papers; it is the raison d’être for the annual conference and festival. The Association also responds to and initiates dialogue around issues that impact the Black Dance Community as well as the Dance community at large. IABD has developed national prominence and allowed the Black Dance Community to come together on important issues. For more information on IABD visit iabdassociation.org.

ABOUT THE ANDREW W. MELLON FOUNDATION: Founded in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work. Additional information is available at  mellon.org.

ABOUT NONPROFIT FINANCE FUND: Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) advances missions and social progress in underserved communities through financing, consulting, partnerships, and knowledge-sharing that empower leaders, organizations, and ideas. A leading Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), NFF currently manages over $310 million. Since 1980, we have provided almost $700 million in financing and access to additional capital in support of over $2.3 billion in projects for thousands of organizations nationwide. NFF is headquartered in New York City and serves clients from five offices across the country. For more information on NFF visit  nff.org.

Come Through excerpt Naeem

Naeem, the name of one of the segments of Come Through, the collaboration between TU Dance and Bon Iver, commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series. This excerpt was created by TPT as part of their MN Original Series.

The Company

Come Through was supported in part by a grant from the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge St. Paul and from the City of Saint Paul Cultural STAR Program.

Come Through excerpt Sdiah

Sdiah, the name of one of the segments of Come Through, the collaboration between TU Dance and Bon Iver, commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series. This excerpt was created by TPT as part of their MN Original Series.

Dancers: Amanda Sachs, Christian Warner and Elayna Waxse with the company.

Come Through was supported in part by a grant from the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge St. Paul and from the City of Saint Paul Cultural STAR Program.

Come Through excerpt 1867

1867, the name of one of the segments of Come Through, the collaboration between TU Dance and Bon Iver, commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series. This excerpt was created by TPT as part of their MN Original Series.

Dancers: Taylor Collier and Jake Lewis.

Come Through was supported in part by a grant from the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge St. Paul and from the City of Saint Paul Cultural STAR Program.

Come Through on MN Original by TPT

Watch the beautiful mini documentary created by TPT for their MN Original series to be aired on TV later this fall.

Come Through was commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series with support from the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge – Saint Paul and The City of Saint Paul Cultural STAR Program.

TU Dance to perform at the Hollywood Bowl, August 5

TU DANCE & BON IVER: COME THROUGH

“Profound beauty and ambition.” —Los Angeles Times on the music of Bon Iver

“A performance of generosity, grace and primal power.” —Dance Magazine on TU Dance

“Hopes are off the charts.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune on the collaboration

Saint Paul, Minnesota, May 25, 2018 – Electrifying contemporary dance company TU Dance, known for navigating complex themes of social change “with variety and innovation” (StarTribune) and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, whose “rustic chamber pop with an experimental edge”(Pitchfork) and “hyper-modern balladeering” (The Guardian) has garnered Grammy Awards and significant international acclaim, come together in an unprecedented collaboration of Twin Cities-based powerhouses. Come Through — conceived as an invitation, motivation and declaration by the collective — will make its West Coast premiere at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Sunday, August 5, 2018, following a sold-out premiere of four shows at the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul. The commission features new music from Vernon as well as new choreography from TU Dance’s “incredible polyrhythmic genius” (Star Tribune) Uri Sands.

The artists developed the work together at TU Dance Center in Saint Paul, April Base Studios in Eau Claire, WI, and in residence at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA. Vernon expressed his excitement for the project stating, “I feel so inspired in collaborating with Uri on new work. I know that the experience will be both positively challenging and extremely rewarding for all involved.”

“I’ve always found the music of Bon Iver and Uri’s choreography to possess a unique sensibility,” explained Toni Pierce-Sands (TU Dance). “Yet what is most compelling for me about this collaboration is how their artistry together—in the studio—seems to tap the emotional core of my existence. I can only imagine what the audience might experience.”

Come Through was originally commissioned and presented by the Liquid Music Series of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra with support from The City of Saint Paul Cultural STAR Program and the Knight Foundation Arts Challenge – Saint Paul.

FEATURED ARTISTS:

TU Dance
Uri Sands, Artistic Director and Choreographer
Toni Pierce-Sands, Artistic Director

Dancers
Kaitlin Bell  Taylor Collier  Jacob  Lewis Adam  McGaw  Randall Riley  Amanda Sachs  Alexis Staley  Christian Warner  Elayna Waxse

Bon Iver
Justin Vernon
BJ Burton
Michael Lewis
JT Bates

Visual Art Team
Aaron Anderson
Eric Carlson

CONCERT DATES AND LOCATION

Sunday, August 5, 2018 – 7:00pm
Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA
https://www.hollywoodbowl.com/events/performances/391/

REVIEWS

https://blog.thecurrent.org/2018/04/review-bon-iver-and-tu-dance-come-through-at-the-palace-theatre/

https://www.twincities.com/2018/04/20/review-bon-iver-and-tu-dance-form-an-ideal-creative-confluence/

http://www.startribune.com/new-bon-iver-music-finds-soulful-success-in-st-paul-premiere-with-tu-dance/480379733/

http://www.startribune.com/dancers-and-musicians-amplify-each-other-in-bon-iver-tu-dance-premiere-in-st-paul/480379743/

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BIOGRAPHIES

ABOUT BON IVER

Formed in Fall Creek, Wisconsin by Justin Vernon, Bon Iver has achieved worldwide acclaim since the release of the band’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007. The debut generated word-of-mouth buzz and praise from critics and fans alike. After assembling a talented touring band and traveling across the world, Bon Iver released its highly anticipated 2011 follow-up album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Met with further critical acclaim, the release netted the songwriter Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Music Album and Best New Artist. After a hiatus in which Vernon collaborated with countless artists and toured with his own Volcano Choir, Bon Iver returned to the stage at Vernon’s Eaux Claires Music Festival, later announcing the project’s third album, 22, A Million, released on September 30, 2016. Further touring in 2017 and 2018 has found Bon Iver collaborating and touring with various musicians in both familiar and new venues in the US and Europe.

https://boniver.org/

ABOUT TU DANCE

Founded in 2004 by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands, TU Dance has garnered audience and critical acclaim for its diverse repertory, versatile artists, and for performances that are engaging, dynamic and generous. Modern dance, classical ballet, African based and urban vernacular movements are combined in inventive and unpredictable ways to provide opportunities to experience the connective power of dance.

In its 14-year history, TU Dance has consistently performed to enthusiastic and sold out audiences, including the 1,900-seat Ordway Performing Arts Center in Saint Paul. The company has also enjoyed local and national recognition, including Star Tribune’s Artists of the Year, the inaugural Princess Grace Award in Choreography, DANCE Magazine’s “25 to Watch,” City Pages’ 2011 Artists of the Year, “Best Dance Company 2014” by Minnesota Monthly and multiple Sage awards for outstanding performance. TU Dance was awarded the 2011 Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Initiative and was recently named as “Best Dance Company of 2016” by the StarTribune.

2011 saw the opening of TU Dance Center, realizing a vital part of Toni and Uri’s vision to establish a welcoming hub for rehearsals, dance education and training in Saint Paul. Now in its seventh year, TU Dance Center offers year-round educational programming for dance students of various ages and levels of experience.

http://www.tudance.org

Toni Pierce-Sands (Artistic Director) Prior to co-founding TU Dance, Minnesota native Toni Pierce-Sands performed with Minnesota Dance Theatre, Tanz Forum in Germany, Rick Odums in Paris and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where she was a featured soloist in such signature pieces as Revelations. Toni has also appeared in the Twin Cities as a guest performer with several companies. Her command of the Horton Technique has led to teaching posts throughout the United States and Europe. Toni directs programming and teaches classes at TU Dance Center in Saint Paul. She is a faculty member at the University of Minnesota, and was the Director of University Dance Theater for several years. Toni was awarded a 2004 McKnight Artist Fellowship in Dance, and was named the Sage Awards’ “2011 Outstanding Dance Educator”. Toni was recognized with a 2013 Links Emerald Service Award for service in the arts, and recently was awarded the 2015 USA Knight Fellowship in Dance.

Uri Sands (Artistic Director and Choreographer) has received national recognition for choreography that is notable for the fusion of classical elegance with edgy contemporary action, for pulsating intensity with poetic lyricism. A native of Miami, Uri performed as a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for five years, Philadanco, Minnesota Dance Theatre, James Sewell Ballet, as a guest artist with Complexions under the direction of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, and as a principal dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre. His recent choreographic commissions include, among others, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican University of California, Ballet Memphis, Dance St. Louis, VocalEssence, Zenon Dance, Penumbra Theatre, North Carolina Dance Theatre and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Uri was named City Pages’ 2011 Choreographer of the Year, and was awarded a Princess Grace Award in choreography, a Joyce Foundation Award, a McKnight Artist Fellowship in Choreography and the 2015 USA Knight Fellowship in Dance.

ABOUT THE VISUAL ART TEAM

For over a decade, Aaron Anderson and Eric Carlson have been producing collaborative works, events, and exhibitions. They currently maintain a multidisciplinary studio based in Brooklyn,  NY. Carlson (b. 1984) is an interdisciplinary artist from Brooklyn, working with collections of semiotic content generated through processes of drawing, image/object collection, and assemblage. Since 2006 he has maintained a diverse exhibition history exhibiting at both art institutions and DIY spaces; a self-publishing practice producing zines and artist books; and an independent design studio working with artists and musicians. Anderson, (b. 1981) is from South Dakota, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. His interests include poetry, education, light antagonism and participation mystique.

ABOUT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL

One of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world, with a seating capacity of nearly 18,000, the Hollywood Bowl has been the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since its official opening in 1922 and plays host to the finest artists from all genres of music, offering something for everyone. It remains one of the best deals anywhere in Los Angeles; to this day, $1 buys a seat at the top of the Bowl for many classical and jazz performances. In February 2018, the Hollywood Bowl was named Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue for the 14th year in a row at the 29th Annual Pollstar Awards and was awarded the Top Amphitheater prize at the 2017 Billboard Touring Awards. For millions of music lovers across Southern California, the Hollywood Bowl is synonymous with summer.

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Photo by Michael Slobodian

TU Dance Company Audition – NYC, May 19, 2018

TU Dance Artistic Directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands are seeking dancers for the 2018 – 19 season.
 
Saturday, May 19, 2018 | 12:00-3:00pm
The Ailey Studios, Studio 6A
405 West 55th Street, New York, NY 10019
 
Audition Fee: $20.00 (you can pay online below or with cash the day of the audition)
Registration begins at 12:00pm.
Name:


Interested dancers should email a headshot and resume to gemma.isaacson@tudance.org (if unable to attend audition, please also include a video link). It will be necessary to provide hard copies of a headshot and resume on the day of the audition.
 
The audition will consist of a modern warm-up, ballet center and repertory.

TU Dance at The O’Shaughnessy 11/17/17 by Caroline Palmer

In the weeks prior to the TU Dance program at O’Shaughnessy the country was rocked by two mass killings – Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. These were the most recent large-scale incidents of gun violence, but certainly not the only ones. On any given day in America bullets come from weapons wielded by everyone from random shooters to friends, neighbors, and family members.

And some bullets come from law enforcement – an especially difficult subject locally given this year’s acquittal of the officer responsible for taking the life of motorist Philando Castile and the 2016 failure to charge two officers for killing Jamar Clark. Both African American men, Castile and Clark joined a long list of other men of color nationally who have lost their lives during encounters with police.

One of the most notorious officer-involved shootings took place in the Bronx in 1999. Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, was hit 41 times after he reached for his wallet. All four members of the New York Police Department responsible for his death were acquitted after claiming they thought he looked like a rape suspect. Diallo’s story remains a chilling example of a justice system failure.

Diallo’s story is relevant because TU Dance presented the world premiere of Stefanie Batten Bland’s “41 Times” on the opening night of November 17. The work honors those whose lives were cut short. It employs a particularly visceral approach – one that began in the lobby prior to the show with audience members volunteering to have their bodies outlined on brown paper.

Some of the papers were crumpled up center stage, others were carried in to the theater as if by coffin bearers. And as the lights faded into black, the dancers punched at the papers stretched between them. It sounded like gun shots, repeating, causing the heart to pound with fear. Once out of the darkness, we saw the paper torn to bits and the dancers left to deal with the chaos. But they weren’t alone – we in the audience shared in the trauma. We will all better understand the alarming pop of a life-ending bullet and the brutal silence that follows because of this work.

“41 Times” is a solemn and elegiac creation, as it must be. The dancers (who collaborated with Batten Bland in making the piece) performed with care and focus, as if they were keepers of Diallo’s spirit and the spirits of all who have been lost. The movement was wary, hands went up at times – but there was also an internal struggle laid bare, an attempt to break free of a horrific cycle. The work depicted a journey from despair into an opposite state – not really hope (that would be too simple) but a level of perseverance and determination to survive, despite the odds.

“41 Times” left the audience in a state of mourning. It was a powerful gut punch of a performance but also a deeply necessary experience as we grapple, from within our different experiences, with the insidious problems of gun violence and police brutality.

Ronald K. Brown’s 2005 solo “Clear as Tear Water” followed. Originally created for TU co-director Toni Pierce-Sands and performed by the effortlessly elegant Taylor Collier, Brown’s light-limbed choreography proved a perfect pairing for Collier’s steadfast stage presence. The work also served as a powerful cleansing moment, delivering us into a space of light, love and deeply empowered dancing, shifting (but not deleting) the sorrow and contemplation generated by “41 Times.”

The evening featured another world premiere, “Sensible Existence,” created by Marcus Jarrell Willis, who like Brown and Batten Bland is a New York-based choreographer. Willis is also a former member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, so his aesthetic is a particularly good match for TU (Uri Sands and Pierce-Sands both danced for Ailey). The premiere had the feel of a parlor game marked with mischief, as the dancers assumed and re-assumed positions but then took off in new directions through movement defined by an electric, almost calligraphic energy.

Performed by Kaitlin Bell, Jacob Lewis, Alexis Staley, Christian Warner and Collier on opening night, “Sensible Existence” was set to a minimalist score comprised of artists Steve Reich, Alarm Will Sound, Ossia and conductor Alan Pierson – yet somehow the movement contained a more baroque feel, as if simultaneously innovative and whimsical but also hinting at something older, as if a tradition meant to be broken. Willis brought a well-crafted work to the stage, with just a hint of nonsense to support his fresh approach to choreography.

The evening closed with Sands’ gorgeous 2014 work “Hikari,” performed amongst panels created by Hawaiian print artist and scenic designer Hiroki Morinoue. The work blends a futuristic vibe (particularly through Tulle and Dye’s layered suit-like costumes) and a more natural essence, as if the performers were dropped into a forest on another planet. The movement in “Hikari” is a whirl of virtuosity and shifting relationships, bound together by a collective force. In recent years Sands has really pushed the limits of contemporary dance, allowing his dancers the space to explore the unusual imaginary realms in which he places them. “Hikari” is yet another fine example of his experimentations.

November 26, 2016

Big Dance Town is Caroline Palmer’s dance blog

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