CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Dance students will present their choreography and perform at Studiodance, an event of the dance department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to showcase student work.
Studiodance, Oct. 21-23 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, will feature six dance performances and one film.
Alex Kinard, a senior dance student, choreographed a piece about her relationship with her hair. She created “Un4ceen” for a choreography class during last year’s social unrest, when she was thinking about what it meant to be a Black woman.
The dance’s title refers to the kinkiest type of hair texture, called “4c.”
“With that hair texture come a lot of negative stereotypes and negative connotations. It’s called nappy or ghetto or unprofessional or unkempt. It’s never associated with pretty or beautiful or sexy. It never has positive stereotypes or assumptions attached to it,” Kinard said. “For a Black woman hearing those things while growing up, it creates a certain relationship with your hair that isn’t healthy.”
Kinard said she remembers having her first perm at age 6 to make her hair more manageable. She didn’t wear her hair naturally until high school.
“This is such a personal story for me,” she said.
Jordyn Gibson performs “Un4ceen,” a dance commenting on Black women’s relationship with their hair.
Photo by Natalie Fiol
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Jordyn Gibson, a junior dance student, will perform the solo piece at Studiodance. Some of the dance’s movements are literal and others are abstract. They include Gibson whipping her hair around with her hands, scratching her head to signify how a perm itches, and moving her hands in coils that mimic tight hair texture and in ways that represent straightening hair. Her body positions represent how a woman sits at a beauty shop while having her hair styled and how she looks at herself in the mirror after her hair is flat-ironed.
The sound for the piece is a spoken word poem – “Burn Scars” by Teeana Munro – about the scars left when young Black girls are told to dislike their hair and go to great lengths to change it.
Dance students Jacob Henss, a graduate student, and Jade O’Connor, a junior, co-choreographed “A Rhapsody in Blue” to perform with dance department accompanist Beverly Hillmer, who played George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” at a recent recital. The two created a 20-minute performance for the recital, and will present a 7-minute excerpt at Studiodance, accompanied by Hillmer.
Henss said the dance has “a jazzy, ballet vibe to it, and is referential to musical theater, such as ‘Oklahoma!’ and ‘An American in Paris.’” He described the dance as a conversation with Hillmer, in which the dancers move to the music at times and pause to listen to Hillmer’s playing at other times.
“It’s actually quite hard to choreograph to. It’s a really rhythmic piece of music. There’s a lot of syncopation, and that leads to a lot of time signatures that give it different vibes. Adding Beverly’s interpretation, we really had to calibrate the movement to her nuances,” Henss said.
O’Connor described one section as almost comedic, where the music shifts dramatically in tone and the dancing goes from slow and dreamlike to faster-paced jazzy movement reminiscent of musical theater.
“It’s one of my favorite parts to perform,” O’Connor said. “It’s lighthearted and playful, and also serious and dramatic at times. I’m excited to see how an audience reacts to the range of emotions.
“I enjoy the fact that we get to do this with live music. With the pandemic, that’s something a lot of people haven’t heard in so long. Getting the privilege of being able to dance to it is really special,” she said.
Henss, O’Connor and Aliah Teclaw, a junior dance student, will dance “A Rhapsody in Blue” as a trio at the Thursday and Friday performances, and Henss and Teclaw will dance a duet at the Saturday performance.
Henss co-choreographed another piece for Studiodance with graduate student Sarah Marks Mininsohn. “Menagerie” is an experimental, avant-garde piece that imagines a world of hybrid animals and how they would move, Henss said. It is set to a live trumpeter improvising during the performance.
Junior Noa Greenfeld explores ideas of specificity, inevitability and failure in “Anamnesis.”
Junior Jason Brickman’s “Project Unity” features six dancers grappling with a deceptively simple improvisational score.
Sophomore Genesis Medious examines pain, feeling stuck and mental health struggles in her work “Shame.”
Senior Laini Gorgol made the short dance film “Restless Silhouette” in Krannert Center’s Foellinger Great Hall. It combines a Romantic-era ballet setting with eeriness and voyeurism.