UI grads return to dance department for performance


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For dance majors preparing to start a career, the fear of “making it or breaking it” may cloud their vision of the future. But graduates who have experienced these feelings themselves — and “lived to tell their story” — can offer worried students valuable encouragement and advice.

This is the idea that sparked the University of Iowa Dance Department to invite eight of its alumni back to campus for the third-annual Alumni Week and Concert. The featured alumni, which include choreographers, performers, and studio owners from cities across the country, all have a success story and a set of knowledge; they will present classes, panels, and a free concert on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in North Hall’s Space/Place.

“It’s great for students to see a different palette of perspectives and aesthetics,” dance Professor Armando Duarte said. “And it’s a wonderful opportunity for our department to see the things we teach come to fruition.”

Sabetha Mumm, a studio instructor and choreographer who graduated from the UI dance program in 1997, said she has found former peers easy to relate to, sometimes even more than teachers.

“Professors were so untouchable and amazing, it seemed impossible to be them one day,” said Mumm, who will present two original modern-jazz pieces at the concert. “I think bringing some of us that aren’t who far removed from that would make it seem so much more attainable for [students].”

2008 graduate Rain Ross, who will perform the original solo “Composition 43 Section B” at the Alumni Concert, has gone on to perform contemporary ballet internationally and has started her own dance company in Seattle. Ross said the alumni program presents students with a networking opportunity as well.

“It’s a continuation of a heritage that also brings a stronger sense of community in these programs,” she said. “I think it’s important that they realize there are a lot of different paths they can take with a dance degree, and that the education that they’re receiving at the University of Iowa is top-notch.”

Alumna Kristen Kaschock said the UI dance program facilitates numerous interests. Although she had earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Yale and is a published novelist and poet, she was able to experience her love of dance by earning an M.F.A. from the UI in 1998.

“I would really like to show them how to take different interests that they might have and use those as sources for their choreography,” said Kaschock, who will perform the modern contemporary piece “Thrown.” “Be imaginative, and make it something unique, rather than trying to live as a divided person. Embrace your convoluted self.”

Eleanor Goudie-Averill, a 2007 UI graduate working in Philadelphia who will perform a nostalgia and pop-culture solo and duet this weekend, said the work ethic she developed in school helped shape her career.

“Iowa was so great for me,  and it helped me figure out how to have momentum in my dancing and my life — how to sort of get something started and barrel on through,” she said. “I’d tell the students not to give up. Perseverance is the most important thing.”

Beyond the classroom discussions, Durante said, he hopes students — some of whom will assist in the production of the alumni’s performances — as well as community members can learn from and enjoy the work presented by the former students at the one-hour concert, which is open to the public.

“The experience and knowledge we have acquired make us who we are today, and the concert is an artistic expression of these experiences,” he said. “I hope the community gets as much as possible from it. Nothing speaks louder than alumni.”

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