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Rita Kohn
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Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
United States
Urbana, IL

Dance at Illinois Celebrating 50-Year Legacy of Sustained Innovation

by Rita Kohn
May 30, 2018
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
500 S Goodwin Ave.
Urbana, IL 61801
(217) 333-6280
Rita Kohn, member: Dance Critics Association, Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild

Click on the PDF below for Krannert Center of Performing Arts' 2018-19 full season line-up
2018-2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of Dance at Illinois as an integral part of Krannert Center of Performing Arts and of the Department of Dance as a unit in the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois.

“Dance at Illinois has a history of hiring high-profile working choreographers and dancers, with the goal of being known as a place of sustained innovation,” said Jan Erkert, head of Dance at Illinois, in a news release announcing the upcoming celebratory year. “Margaret Erlanger, an early department head, wanted to keep faculty connected to the professional dance world. She was very adamant, and that belief kept us always connected to what was going on in the professional field.”

The news release went on to say: “The academic-professional connection is maintained by both faculty and graduate students, who consistently present creative and scholarly research nationally and internationally, thereby keeping the UIUC [University of Illinois/Champagne-Urbana] dance community in dialogue with what is happening in the larger dance scene. Both undergraduate and graduate students are expected not only to develop their technical training and artistic voice, but also to gain a clear insight into how they situate themselves within dance’s historical evolution.”

Audience members attending public programming at Krannert Center have been coming with the expectation that they will engage with professionals in the dance world, alongside students whose training at UI will lead them to professional careers in performance, choreography, academic research and teaching.

”With a focus on contemporary modern dance, undergraduate students are immersed in a rigorous, comprehensive curriculum of study, including somatics, composition, pedagogy, improvisation, history, production, theory, kinesiology, technology, and additional movement techniques (jazz, ballet, African),” summarized Erkert. “The three-year MFA program, which invites a maximum of four candidates each year, is intended to foster choreographic research, enable close mentoring by faculty, and integrate creative inquiry into physical and pedagogical practices.

“UIUC’s dance faculty keeps a thoughtful, self-reflective eye on the program’s format and curriculum to ensure students continue to graduate with the skill sets needed to pursue careers as performers, choreographers, scholars, or educators. Many alumni are actively contributing to the field by working as artistic directors, university professors, dancers, or dance critics, or in professions such as dance therapy and dance science.”
[see: dance.illinois.edu & www.dance.illinois.edu/about/news]

Founded in 1968 with a straightforward philosophy, “Locate center and go from there,” students over five decades have been “invited to take charge of their education, experiment, immerse in the creative process, and lead dance into new territories.”

I was living in Central Illinois in 1968 and totally embraced this bold approach as a connection that would transform perceptions from the outside as well as from the inside. Ever since, it has been the larger gestalt of Krannert Center, with theaters for overarching public programming and classroom and rehearsal spaces for students and visiting artists, that has grown a loyal audience, now in its third and fourth generation, with parents, grandparents and great grandparents bringing the youngest children to programs. Equally, new generations of dancers and choreographers within established companies continue to ‘headline’ at Krannert and gain affirming insights through on-campus references to preceding residencies and appearances.

Krannert Performing Arts Center on the University of Illinois campus, with its location abutting ‘The Town,’ became a blueprint for other campus initiatives housing performance spaces and classrooms under one roof; thus affording opportunities for distinctive arts genres to seek ways to grow collaboratively and for audiences to gain affordable access to an ever-increasing variety of nationally and internationally-known and emerging groups. Of particular reference to dance has been the connections with the department of music, enhancing both entities.

The stages at Krannert include Foellinger Great Hall, considered as one of the world’s premier acoustic environments, Tryon Festival Theatre, Colwell Playhouse, Studio Theatre, the Lobby’s Stage 5, and the outdoor Amphitheater.

According to the website, “Each venue was designed for a particular style of performance, with features that enhance the audience experience with impressive views, fine-tuned acoustics, and exquisite beauty. Since its opening, the Center and its resident academic departments of the School of Music, Illinois Theatre, and Dance at Illinois have welcomed hundreds of thousands of patrons from all walks of life—embracing the University of Illinois’ mission of education, research, and public engagement to establish itself as a classroom, laboratory, and public square for the exchange of ideas, the creation of new artistic work, and the life-affirming power of live performance.” [more at: www.krannertcenter.com/about-center/our-story]

“Through five decades, Dance at Illinois has uniquely contributed to academia by integrating the academic and professional worlds, and today, the department continues to lead the field,” pointed out Rebecca A. Ferrell, Assistant to the Head, Director of Public Relations and Engagement, Lecturer Department of Dance, University of Illinois, in a news release, adding, “Indeed, The New York Times has called the department “…a hotbed of choreographic innovation.”

The University catalog points out, “Four department concerts per year are produced in the theatres of the Krannert Center, including two concerts of student choreography. The resident lecture-demonstration company performs in community schools, and additional performing opportunities are provided in concerts presented in the dance studio/theatre, in operas and music performances, in University and community musicals, and in regional and national college dance festivals.”

Dancing 50: Moving Forward/Looking Back will be a yearlong celebration of Dance’s 50th birthday,” points out Ferrell. “In the 1960s, Dance hosted the first collegiate dance guest artist residency—with Merce Cunningham and John Cage.

“In this milestone birthday year, we shine a light on the extraordinary accomplishments of our alumni—artists who cultivated a passion for dance in the prairie of Illinois and then took their contributions across the globe,” said Erkert. “The project series Dancing 50: Moving Forward/Looking Back will bring alumni home to Illinois to share their dance research, teaching, and life’s travels.”

Included are a four-day Alumni Weekend festival surrounding November Dance; collaborative partnerships between faculty and alumni to create new dances for our current students to perform in November Dance, February Dance, and Studiodance I; and first-time performances on Krannert Center’s Marquee visiting artist series by the professional companies of Dance at Illinois faculty members Cynthia Oliver (2018-19) and Tere O’Connor (2019-20).
Tickets for the 2018-19 season will go on sale Saturday, July 14, at 10am on KrannertCenter.com, by calling 217.333.6280 (800.KCPATIX), or in-person at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 South Goodwin Ave., Urbana, Illinois. Single tickets for Dance at Illinois productions are $22 / Senior $21 / Student $17 / UI Student and Youth $10, Single Tickets for Studiodance events are $17 / Senior $16 / Student $16 / UI Student and Youth $10. Group and series discounts are available. Patrons who contribute at the $250 level and above will enjoy early ticket-ordering privileges.


November Dance: Dancing 50: Moving Forward/Looking Back
Colwell Playhouse: November 8–10, 2018

November Dance provides a unique historical perspective, as all four choreographers have a long and rich history with Dance at Illinois. Faculty members Rebecca Nettl-Fiol (BFA '75), Linda Lehovec (MFA '96), and Professor Emeritus Renée Wadleigh (MFA '91) are all graduates of the program, and the Head of the Dance Department, Jan Erkert, was a frequent guest artist at Illinois from 1980–89. Professor Nettl-Fiol will co-create a piece for Dance students with alumna Melanie Bales (MFA '83). Erkert will reconstruct a solo titled "Antigamente," originally built for alumna Juli Hallihan-Campbell (BFA ’84, MFA ’92), a member of Erkert’s company for over 10 years. Professor Lehovec will present work created in partnership with alumna Paige Cunningham (MFA '07), a former dancer with Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Finally, Professor Renée Wadleigh will return from retirement to create her 50th work on Dance at Illinois students.

February Dance: Dancing 50: Moving Forward/Looking Back
Colwell Playhouse: February 7–9, 2019

Continuing Dance at Illinois’ 50th anniversary celebration, Professor C. Kemal Nance will collaborate with three alumni—Rick Perry (BFA ’15), Grant Hill (BFA ’18), and Aaron-Raheim White (BFA ’11)—to create a men’s dance titled The Adventures of Antoine in Wonderland, performed to music by Stevie Wonder. Professor Cynthia Oliver will explore Afrofuturism with three alumnae—Leslie Cuyjet (BFA ’04), Jessica Pretty (MFA’16), and Angie Pittman (MFA ’15)—in collaboration with undergraduate and graduate students. Endalyn Taylor’s rich movement language will be performed by alumnus Aaron-Raheim White (BFA ’11) along with current students. Professor John Toenjes will work in virtual spaces with alumna Renata Sheppard (MFA ’07), creating a technologically complex work for the Krannert Center stage.

Studiodance I: Dancing 50: Moving Forward/Looking Back
Studio Theatre: February 28–March 2, 2019

In Program A, emerging choreographic artist and Master of Fine Arts candidate CharlieMaybee will present his contemporary explorations of the genre of tap dance. The program will include Dance alumni Isiah Asplund (BFA ’17), Lauren Mendelson (BFA ’18), Randi Townsend (BFA ’17), and Illinois alumnus Jon Faw (’17 MEDIA). MFA candidates Mauriah Kraker and Leah Wilks will join Maybee in an opening improvisation.

Program B will feature small works created by Dance faculty in conjunction with alumni. Professor Sara Hook will bring back alumnae Betsy Brandt (MFA ’13), Elizabeth Johnson (MFA ’03), Randi Townsend (BFA ’17), and Kendra Portier (MFA ’18) to the Studio Theatre stage. Professor Tere O’Connor will set the duet Double Flower Possibility on two alumni, and graduate Momar Ndiaye (MFA ’17) will create a physically demanding solo for Professor Abigail Zbikowski.

Studiodance I Extended
Bluestem Hall: March 8–9, 2019

MFA Candidates Mauriah Kraker and Leah Wilks will premiere their MFA thesis works in the stunning, newly renovated Bluestem Hall, located in the Barnhart Prairie Nature Preserve (1413 E. Old Church Rd., Urbana). For more information, visitdance.illinois.edu.
Studiodance II
Studio Theatre: April 18–20, 2019

Always expect delightful surprises in Studiodance II, when Dance at Illinois students present their dance-making investigations curated by a panel of faculty and students. Be sure to get your tickets early, as this is always a highly attended event.
'miraging' choreographed by Charli Brissey (MFA’18)

"miraging" choreographed by Charli Brissey (MFA’18)

'aesthetical feelings' choreographed by Mauriah Kraker (MFA’19)

"aesthetical feelings" choreographed by Mauriah Kraker (MFA’19)

Photo © & courtesy of Natalie Fiol

'Mountain Dew Honey Spring' choreographed by Grace Courvoiser (BFA’11)

"Mountain Dew Honey Spring" choreographed by Grace Courvoiser (BFA’11)

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