Review: TU Dance presents strong works new to Minneapolis

TU Dance’s fall concert offered fluid works with themes of light, pain, strength and renewal. 

By Sheila Regan Special to the Star Tribune OCTOBER 21, 2019 — 6:04PM

TU Dance’s performance at the O’Shaughnessy this past weekend wasn’t quite as flashy as the company’s collaboration with Bon Iver, which has kept the company busy touring around the country since the 2018. It also wasn’t as sublime as its spring performance of works by Alvin Ailey and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. But the concert did offer a couple of strong works never before seen in Minneapolis.

“Something Amber,” originally commissioned by Alonzo King Lines Ballet Training Program, began the program and was the highlight of the night. It began in darkness to the sound of strings playing a long, sustained note. As the lights gradually lit the ensemble, the dancers moved like seaweed. Their arms floated above them, their bodies fluidly rising and falling.

Lush and alive, the work, which was presented by TU for the first time, had a sensorial quality, while Vladimir Martynov’s gorgeous neoclassical music provided the ghostly score.

The second piece in the program, “Clear as Tear Water,” originally was created by Ronald K. Brown for TU Co-Artistic Director Toni Pierce-Sands, who danced in its premiere in 2005. It’s a juicy solo, and Taylor Collier performed the piece with fortitude. There were flashes of traumatic history in the work: a slave with her arms tied behind her back, for instance. In another moment, a woman hunched over in backbreaking labor. We also see the central character exude power and strength, buoyed by those that came before her. There was a sense of renewal, even rebirth, particularly in its final moments, when Collier was doused with a stream of water, baptized in water and light.

“Salve,” commissioned for Ballet Memphis in 2017, featured a church pew as a central set piece and began with the dancers one by one prostrating themselves on the floor. Eventually, they discovered healing in the space. It’s set to Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which loops a recording of an unknown homeless man singing with increasing harmonies of strings and brass.

The work was moving, even if you wanted to cry mercy to make the song stop repeating over and over by the end. There was an odd choice in costumes — the women’s diaphanous, light-colored dresses were paired with black socks, which was a rather strange look.

The program concluded with the company premiere of “Tracks,” originally commissioned by Alvin Ailey II in 2018. With glitter and shimmying shoulders, the piece paired revelry with gravitas.

Photo by Michael Slobodian ©

Review: TU Dance re-creates the past well, but the present feels more exciting

By ROB HUBBARD | Special to the Pioneer Press

PUBLISHED: May 4, 2019 at 1:32 am | UPDATED: May 4, 2019 at 3:53 pm

Now and then, TU Dance presents a program of dance from now and then. The St. Paul-based company will feel about as up-to-the-minute as one could hope, and then will pay tribute to the past, breathing life into something created in another era.

Such is the case with the troupe’s 15th anniversary program at the O’Shaughnessy on the campus of St. Catherine University. Beginning with a graceful, high-energy Ronald K. Brown piece that the company premiered at the Ordway two years ago, then delivering a work by intrepid theatrical adventurers Urban Bush Women, TU Dance finished the evening very much honoring the past with a pair of pieces by American dance giant Alvin Ailey.

While all were worthwhile experiences, Friday’s performance felt most powerful when the choreography was at its freshest. The Brown work was bursting with energy, launching the performance with a surge of electricity before Urban Bush Women veteran Jawole Willa Jo Zollar joined the troupe for a more intense and emotionally complex creation.

The Ailey dances were expertly delivered, but they seemed a bit too much like museum pieces to me, faithful re-creations tightly wrapped in nostalgia. While the O’Shaughnessy crowd surely loved Ailey’s 1974 work, “Night Creature” — rewarding it with a standing ovation — it was so immersed in “then” that I found myself longing for the urgency of “now” found on the program’s first half.

It’s understandable if the audience contained enough regulars at TU Dance performances that Brown’s “Where the Light Shines Through” felt a little too fresh. After all, the company just brought it to the stage for the first time in 2017. However, I was taken with its combination of cooperation and forthrightly asserted individuality. Bearing a Crayola box full of boldly colored costumes by Keiko Voltaire, the seven dancers threw their bodies about with admirable abandon, elements of traditional African dance emerging and sliding into unexpected synchronization. It felt like a slice of TU Dance at the peak of its powers.

The rest of the evening was made up of company premieres, starting with Zollar’s 2004 “Walking With Pearl … Africa Diaries.” Employing less music, more silence, the movement punctuated by the sound of breathing, it was a disarmingly intimate experience. Even more so because driving the mood were excerpts from the diaries of dancer Pearl Primus, read by Zollar from a chair at the stage’s edge. The text is a love letter to “Mother Africa,” evoking sweet mangoes and sunsets, tears and trauma, the words inspiring, each dancer sharing something quite individual and arresting while the soundtrack surged with an orchestra of kalimbas or the hypnotic sound of a kora, an African harp.

After intermission, it was all Ailey, starting with “Witness,” a solo work delivered expertly by Taylor Collier on opening night. Clad in a white gown, she danced before a choir loft full of cathedral candles while traditional gospel music filled the hall. Created in 1986, it was America’s most famous African-American choreographer returning to one of his favorite themes, the church of his childhood. As the soundtrack morphed into explosive improvisation on a saxophone, the dancing laid bare where the sacred meets the sexual in a very interesting performance.

But it also felt tightly tied to the past, as did “Night Creature,” which, despite being from 1974, is very much about the mid-20th-century twilight of big band swing as a cultural phenomenon. Spearheaded by the magnetic Alexis Staley and adorned in the eye-catching costumes of Barbara Forbes — with nods to both the ’50s and ’70s — it’s a hybrid of classical ballet and jazz dance that surely must have seemed iconoclastic when it premiered on TV.

While TU Dance’s founders and co-artistic directors, Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands, surely wanted to pay homage to Ailey — in whose company they’d both once performed — I came away feeling as if the Brown and Zollar pieces were a greater tribute to the legendary dance artist’s spirit than the attempts to reconstruct his creations. On a program that seemed increasingly backward looking, I was reminded that TU Dance’s greatest asset is its heartfelt immediacy. 

Photo by Michael Slobodian ©

Review: TU Dance re-creates the past well, but the present feels more exciting

TU Dance Company Showing – Friday, October 4

In anticipation of TU Dance’s 16th season fall concert at The O’Shaughnessy on October 18-20, 2019, please join Artistic Directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands for an informal in-studio showing at TU Dance Center. The showing will feature excerpts from the fall concert program.

The performance program features two company premieres by Artistic Director Uri Sands. Something Amber (2012), originally commissioned by Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program, is a full company work inspired by an illustrious string composition by neoclassical composer Vladimir Martynov. Tracks (2018), a full company work set to the legendary sounds of R&B music’s The O’Jays and originally commissioned by Ailey II, references the markings, wounds, and scars that our history leaves on us, pathways created or followed in life, and the regimen of building railroad tracks; manual labor and the arduousness of continuing on despite life’s challenges, in an effort to create better tomorrows. The program also features Ronald K. Brown’s Clear as Tear Water (2005), a solo originally created for Artistic Director Toni Pierce-Sands that explores the balance of a woman’s vulnerability and strength as she is supported by generations of women before her, and a reprisal of Sands’s Salve (2017), originally commissioned by Ballet Memphis and set to the music of Gavin Bryars, a meditative work for eight dancers that illustrates the idea of healing through the simple action of coming together. 

TU Dance’s fall concert is part of The O’Shaughnessy Presents series.

FRIDAY | October 4, 2019

Doors open at 5:00pm. Showing begins at 5:30pm. This event is free and open to the public.

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 north side lot accessible by taking Vandalia St. and Charles Ave.

Photo by Michael Slobodian ©

TU Dance Company Showing – Friday, April 12th

In anticipation of the TU Dance 15th Anniversary Spring Concert at The O’Shaughnessy on May 3-5, 2019, please join Artistic Directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands for an informal in-studio showing celebrating TU Dance’s 15th anniversary performance season. The showing will feature excerpts from the spring concert program, an unprecedented evening of works by legendary choreographers that have given form to the shared vision of TU Dance founding Artistic Directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands.

The performance program will include two works by renowned modern dance pioneer Alvin Ailey. Night Creature (1974), “a bubbly champagne cocktail of a dance”, celebrates Duke Ellington’s “sparkling music”. In Witness (1986), inspired by a recording of traditional spirituals sung by Jessye Norman, “…a female soloist embarks on a spiritual journey that echoes the repeated lyric ‘my soul is a witness for my Lord.’” The program also features Urban Bush Women Founding Artistic Director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Walking with Pearl…Africa Diaries (2004)—a tribute to dance anthropologist Pearl Primus—narrated live by Ms. Zollar during the TU Dance performances, and a reprise of Ronald K. Brown’s Where The Light Shines Through (2017) originally created for TU Dance, which tells a story of solidarity and perseverance.

FRIDAY | April 12, 2019

Doors open at 5:00pm. Showing begins at 5:30pm. This event is free and open to the public.

TU Dance’s 15th Anniversary Season is supported in part by generous gifts from the Rosemary and David Good Family Foundation, The Saint Paul Cultural STAR Program and the Markell C. Brooks Fund for Dance of The Minneapolis Foundation with production support from The O’Shaughnessy.

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 and in the north side lot accessible by taking a right on Vandalia and a right on Charles.

Photo by Michael Slobodian ©

Call for Choreographers

TU Dance is seeking guest choreographers for the 2019-2020 Season. Interested Choreographers should submit their materials to gemma.isaacson@tudance.org, including CV/résumé, work sample and a minimum of two personal references. Please include information about any upcoming performances of your work as it may be possible for the Artistic Directors to attend. Interviews are by invitation only. The Artistic Directors will make a pre-selection based on the materials you provide. Only those choreographers selected in the pre-selection process will be contacted for an interview.

Photo by Michael Slobodian

TU Dance 2019-2020 Audition Information

Call for Artists

TU Dance is now considering dancers for the 2019-2020 Season. Interested Artists should submit their materials to gemma.isaacson@tudance.org, including CV/résumé, work sample (YouTube or Vimeo links only), headshot and a minimum of two personal references. Please include information about any upcoming performances as it may be possible for the Artistic Directors to see your work. In-person auditions are by invitation only. The Artistic Directors will make a pre-selection based on the materials you provide. Only those dancers selected in the pre-selection process will be contacted for an in-person audition.

Thank you for your interest in working with TU Dance!

Photo by Michael Slobodian

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

Published: 

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.

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.

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.

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