November 19, 2016 tudance

Pioneer Press: TU Dance talks about race and identity through movement

  • What: TU Dance
  • When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: The O’Shaughnessy, 2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul
  • Tickets: $34-$18; 651-690-6700 or

TU Dance has a few things to say about race and equality.

But the St. Paul-based dance company won’t use words to express the message.

Dance will carry the message in TU Dance’s fall concert this weekend. Performances include two premieres as well as a reprise. New York choreographer Francesca Harper’s commissioned piece, “In Witnessing,” looks at how the human body reacts to injustice and violence. “Matter,” choreographed by TU Dance co-founder Uri Sands, touches on the recent tragedies of racial bias and profiling. Finally, the return of Sands’ “Tearing” examines how communities connect in grief and celebration.

“We do our work and honor our art and craft and responsibility by utilizing this platform to very simply just address what’s going on,” Sands said.

After meeting at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, Sands and his wife, Toni Pierce-Sands, founded TU in 2004. The company has navigated social change in their works in the past, but this is the first time a performance has had a central theme.

Alanna Morris-Van Tassel, a dancer in her 10th season at TU, talked of how dance can recreate connections where words, such as “I can’t breathe,” cannot when they are politicized or desensitized.

“You have a body. We all have a body. They have a body. That’s something we all have,” Morris-Van Tassel said. “If I’m showing you what it means to have a lump (in your throat), you’re going to get a lump. If I’m anxious, you’re going to feel anxious in your body, too. And I feel like it can also become more of an access point for audiences because that’s something that we all share.”

The dancers said the choreography lets them represent the events and issues of the Black Lives Matter movement — putting their hands up, getting down on their knees or lying on the ground with their hands behind their backs.

“I feel that, as a young person, my voice isn’t as valued as it could be,” said Randall Riley, a second-year dancer at TU. Dance is his form of activism, he said. “I’m doing this physical thing on a stage, and then afterward I’m speaking to people about what I shared and what they experienced,” Riley said.

Toni Pierce-Sands, artistic director and co-founder of TU, said dance gives artists a voice.

“We’re still able to do our work when disasters happen,” Pierce-Sands explained. “Therefore, the artists become the historians, through their vocabulary of their art. So the importance of us as artists (is) being able to have some sort of voice in what’s happening in our world.”

Riley added: “I feel like, as an artist, as a dancer, it’s almost a duty at times. It feels like so much has been said, why not have the voices of artists be a part of the discussion?”

TU Dance talks about race and identity through movement

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