October Dance features premieres of dances from diverse perspectives

First-year dance students rehearse “Un Recuerdo,” choreographed by new dance faculty member Alfonso Cervera. The work is one of the dances to be performed at October Dance, the dance department’s fall performance featuring premieres of works by choreographers from diverse backgrounds. October Dance is Oct. 13-15 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, with a livestreamed performance Oct. 12. Photo by Natalie Fiol

By Jodi Heckel

October Dance will feature the premieres of dances choreographed by three new faculty members, a graduate student and the head of the dance department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The performances will be Oct. 13-15 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, with a livestreamed performance available online Oct. 12.

The concert has an international feel, said Sara Hook, the head of the dance department.

“All the aesthetics are very distinct. Any audience member is going to find something they can really relate to. It’s an opportunity for the community to see really fine dancing from diverse perspectives,” Hook said.

Photo of a male dancer dressed in black leaping over two females sitting on the stage with their hands covering their heads.
Dancer Jason Brickman leaps over two other performers in “Dick and Janes,” by Sara Hook, the head of the dance department. Photo by Natalie Fiol

She will premiere a work, “Dick and Janes,” a continuation of her 2019 work “Janes” that explores gendered tropes in classical ballet and modern dance training. She named the work after the “Dick and Jane” early reader book series and also after her two dance trainers, both of whom were named Dick.

“Dick and Janes” considers whether there are differences in how male teachers train a female dancer.

“I’m interested in how stereotypes about the way women and men are supposed to move in real life, according to social construct, has affected how they are trained in a dance setting, and also in how certain aspects of technique get more attention in teaching a female versus a male – for example, a softness or coy twisting of the upper body versus a male dancer holding his back straighter and broader and doing a lot of jumping,” Hook said.

Her own teachers “very much emphasized being physical and definite, and moving in space in a very broad, large way,” she said.

The dancers will perform to live music by percussionist Brant Roberts, a doctoral student in the School of Music, playing an original score written by Illinois music school alumnus Ralph Lewis. The music pays homage to the music written for a 1953 Merce Cunningham dance work that was performed on campus. Hook said she also borrowed some structural aspects of the early Cunningham work, such as the sculptural placement of dancers in terms of ensemble and timing, as well as using some of Cunningham’s iconic gestures and lifts.

The three new faculty members with works in October Dance are Serouj AprahamianAlfonso Cervera and Roxane D’Orleans Juste.

Photo of a man in army green pants and a raincoat with the hood up leaning at a 45-degree angle toward the stage floor and casting a shadow beneath him.
New dance faculty member and renowned hip-hop dancer Serouj Aprahamian performs his solo work “Coded Language.” Photo by Natalie Fiol

Aprahamian is an internationally renowned hip-hop dancer of Armenian descent who will perform a new solo. Hook described the dance as detailed, poetic and intimate.

Cervera has a background in Ballet Folklórico, a traditional style of dance representing the culture of specific regions in Mexico, and in experimental dance. His high-energy choreography, to be danced by first-year students, celebrates his Mexican ancestry, Hook said.

Photo of a stage with abstract art projected onto the back wall, and with a male dancer to the left on one knee, with one leg outstretched to the side and his arms stretched above his head to the other side. Three female dancers to the right have their arms above their heads and are leaning toward center stage.
Dancers perform against a background of projected artwork in “Untied” by new dance faculty member Roxane D’Orleans Juste. Photo by Natalie Fiol

Juste, who is Haitian-Canadian, choreographed a group dance that invokes the resiliency of a community coming together in crisis. Projected images of artwork created by Juste’s nephew will give the appearance of dancers immersed in that environment, Hook said.

Photo of a male dancer dressed in a black suit coat and pants and a white shirt leaping above the stage with one leg bent behind him, his head thrown back and his arms oustretched behind him. A red scarf lies on the stage floor.
Dance graduate student Ricky De Jesus-Valentin performs in “Two Chairs” by graduate student Sojung Lim. Photo by Natalie Fiol

Sojung Lim, a graduate student from South Korea, choreographed a solo for a fellow graduate student, Ricky De Jesus-Valentin of Puerto Rico. He’ll dance to a 1926 score by Spanish composer Gaspar Cassadó performed live by cellist Keegan O’Donald, a doctoral student in the School of Music.

“It’s a special treat to have live music in this concert,” Hook said.