Dance Gala Celebrates 40 Years of Student Experiences

Photo of dancer in red costume peaking between black curtains.
Thursday, September 30, 2021 - 08:00

The University of Iowa Department of Dance celebrates 40 years of Dance Gala this season, with more than 40 students performing on the Strauss Recital Hall stage in works by faculty choreographers, as well as in José Limón’s 20th century modern dance masterwork, The Moor’s Pavane.

The Dance Gala tradition began in 1981, showcasing the best talent of UI dance faculty and students with full technical and artistic support of costume, scenic, and lighting design, giving students the opportunity to participate in work produced on a professional level.

As part of this experience, students work directly with faculty and guest choreographers in rehearsals and often create movement, in collaboration with their choreographer, that becomes part of the final work seen in performance.

“This is my first performance in the dance department and it’s been such a learning experience to be exposed to different choreographic processes, says Ashley McKim, who is performing in Armando Duarte’s On the Verge…. “Our piece incorporates inspiration and choreography from each dancer, which not only challenged our performance, but also our creativity and open-mindedness.”

In addition to being challenged creatively, McKim, a second-year dance and history major on the pre-law track from Bettendorf, Iowa, also credits Dance Gala with the opportunity to grow closer to her peers and choreographer, further engaging her in the close-knit community of the Department of Dance.

Students are also working in collaboration with faculty choreographer Melinda Jean Myers in creating the new work threshold. Using an original sound score created by Ramin Roshandel, a PhD candidate in music composition, and three poems written by Donika Kelly, assistant professor of English, the students were tasked with creating movement inspired by words and phrases drawn from Donika’s poems.

“Thinking about what the poem means to me and how these interpretations can be translated into movement has been an exciting journey from me,” says Jenny Fairman, a third-year dance and enterprise leadership major from Lincolnshire, Illinois. “With the movements that we created, we have explored ways to relate the movement to one another, bringing life to the space that we are moving in, through our physical representations of the poem’s words.”

This year’s Dance Gala also provided a unique behind-the-scenes learning experience for graduate students Michael Landez and Juliet Remmers, who will have the opportunity to perform José Limón’s masterwork, The Moor’s Pavane during the live performances of Dance Gala. Created in 1949 and originally performed at the Joyce Theater in New York, the piece remains one of the classics of modern dance.  

Landez and Remmers originally chose to recreate The Moor’s Pavane for their thesis, but quickly discovered they would need additional professional assistance and funding outside of their thesis budget despite the Limón Foundation’s discounted fee in celebration of the company’s 75th anniversary. Performing the work required licensing for the dance and music, the recreation of period costumes, and the cost of hiring an approved dance reconstructor to set the piece on the students in Iowa City.

The students applied for and received internal and external grants to help cover these costs. They also worked closely with staff in the Division of Performing Arts to facilitate the business end of the performance.

“Commissioning a reconstruction of The Moor's Pavane has been one of the most multi-faceted and intricate projects I have done in my time here at the University of Iowa,” says Landez, from San Antonio, Texas. “What started as a pipe dream has become a reality through the generous support of the Department of Dance, the Division of Performing Arts, and the Performing Arts Production Unit (PAPU). After spending approximately the same amount of time at my computer constructing emails, writing grants, composing budgets, securing choreography and music licensing rights, and meeting with folks at the university I had never even met before, it feels amazing to be in the studio reaping the artistic benefits of labor I didn't realize went into getting dancers on stage. This experience has given me skills I never knew I would need as a dance maker and performer, and I am so grateful for the faculty and staff that nurtured Juliet and I along the way as we learned well beyond the stage, dancing through contracts, licenses, and meetings.”

Dance Gala performances for a very limited audience have sold out, but everyone is invited to view the livestream performance at 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 12 at

The livestream performance will feature the following works by UI dance faculty:

On the Verge…
Choreography by Armando Duarte, in collaboration with the performers

Our Body in Interval
A collaboration by the performers with Tony Orrico

Choreography by Melinda Jean Myers, in collaboration with the performers

Pesach 2021
Choreography by Christopher-Rasheem McMillan

*Due to licensing restrictions, José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane will not be a part of the Dance Gala livestream on October 12.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the Department of Dance in advance at 319-335-2228.