Princeton Dance Festival 2023: A Diverse Showcase of Artistry

Tuesday, November 28, 2023 

Pictured Above: The 2023 Princeton Dance Festival will be presented on December 1-3 by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance at the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center. Photo Credit: Maria Baranova.



Princeton, NJ – The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance at Princeton University presents the 2023 Princeton Dance Festival. Princeton students in the program will perform new and repertory works by nationally and internationally recognized choreographers Brian Brooks, Amy Hall Garner, Bill T. Jones staged by Catherine Cabeen, Ishita Mili, Shamel Pitts, and Donna Uchizono. The works to be performed include contemporary ballet, Indian/hip-hop fusion, and contemporary dance works from a multidisciplinary perspective. Performances are December 1 at 8:00 p.m., December 2 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and December 3 at 2:00 p.m. All performances will be at the Berlind Theatre in the McCarter Theatre Center.

The Berlind Theatre is an accessible venue with wheelchair and companion seating. An assistive listening system is available, and headphones can be requested from ushers. The December 1 performance will be open-captioned. The December 3 show will be a relaxed performance. Four works in the festival were staged or created during fall semester courses in the Program in Dance.

Brian Brooks’ Closing Distance is set to a Pulitzer Prize-winning score by composer Caroline Shaw and features the eight-voice ensemble Roomful of Teeth. The piece was originally commissioned by the University of Washington’s Meany Center for the Performing Arts supported by a Mellon Creative Artist Fellowship and premiered on January 30, 2020. Shaw has said the music was partly inspired by Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 305 and “our basic desire to draw a line from one point to another.” Visual artist LeWitt provided written instructions describing “the location of 100 random specific points” to each gallery, directing drafters to install the piece to their own interpretation. The choreography, too, insists on the convergence of points in space, drawing dancers together in episodes of impact, rebound, catch, and redirection. Imagined as a duet that is fractured between eight bodies, fluid arcs of movement are divided and shared between multiple dancers. The Boston Globe noted the “invisible threads between the dancers, the emotional and physical trust, are as strong as a ship’s ropes.”

Brooks, a Guggenheim Fellow in Choreography, recently completed a Mellon Foundation Creative Artist Fellowship at the University of Washington and three years as the inaugural Choreographer-in-Residence at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance, creating dances for Hubbard Street Dance, Miami City Ballet, and others. His New York City-based group, the Moving Company, has been presented by venues including The Joyce Theater, New York City Center, Jacob’s Pillow, the American Dance Festival, and BAM’s Next Wave Festival. He created multiple duet productions in which he performed alongside New York City Ballet Associate Artistic Director and former principal dancer Wendy Whelan. He has choreographed several Off-Broadway productions including A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Julie Taymor and Pericles directed by Trevor Nunn.

D-Man in the Waters (Part 1) was choreographed in 1989 by Bill T. Jones. The work was originally commissioned by the Saint Luke’s Chamber Orchestra and performed by the nine dancers of the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company to Mendelssohn’s Octet in E Flat Major. Jones’ initial inspiration for the work came from the vigor and optimism of Mendelssohn’s composition. However, as the company was working on the piece, one of the dancers, Damien Aquavella, nicknamed D-Man, began to grow sick with AIDS. Aquavella fought back with every possible method available at the time, but it was a losing battle. While witnessing the dancer’s struggle, Jones had a vision in which he saw a huge body of water, containing everyone he had ever known. The water was moving towards an unrelenting waterfall and everyone in the water was fighting against the current. Some had already drowned, some were reaching out to help their friends, and others were swimming happily, almost enjoying the effort. Jones tied this vision to Mendelssohn’s music, and D-Man in the Waters emerged. The dance involves robust teamwork and partnering that embodies the collective strength of community being an essential tool with which to process grief and transform pain into strength and joy. Jones has said on numerous occasions, “D-Man is not about AIDS. It is about life throwing down the gauntlet, and you rising to the occasion.” D-Man in The Waters (Part 1) was reconstructed on Princeton students by Catherine Cabeen who danced with the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Company from 1997 to 2005.

Bill T Jones and his late partner Arnie Zane (1948-88) are the recipients of numerous New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Awards) and National Endowment for the Arts grants. Jones has been awarded multiple MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grants, Tony Awards, and Emmy Awards. In 2005 he was given an American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 2011 he received a Kennedy Center Honors.

Shamel Pitts describes his new work bubbles as an eerily emotive dance experience of magical realism that merges memories that impact the body of the dancers and the inflatable objects in a color-filled atmosphere, an evocative electronic soundscape, where the intersection between embodied stillness, aliveness, and multi-layered rhythm overlap, combust and deflate.

Pitts is a performance artist, choreographer, conceptual artist, dancer, spoken word artist, teacher, and 2020 Guggenheim Fellow. He began his dance career in Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Hell’s Kitchen Dance and Ballets Jazz Montréal. Pitts danced with Batsheva Dance Company for seven years under the artistic direction of Ohad Naharin and is a certified teacher of Gaga movement language. He has created a triptych of award-winning multidisciplinary performance art works known as his “BLACK series” which has toured extensively to many festivals around the world. Pitts is the choreographer of the play Help by acclaimed poet and playwright Claudia Rankine, directed by Taibi Magar, and commissioned at The Shed in New York. He is the recipient of a 2018 Princess Grace Award, a 2019 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship winner, and a 2020 Jacob’s Pillow artist in residence. Pitts is the founding artistic director of TRIBE, a New York City-based multidisciplinary arts collective.

Pictured Above: Princeton students in a studio rehearsal for a new work fusing traditional Indian and house and hip-hop dance to premiere at the 2023 Princeton Dance Festival. Photo Credit: Pia Bhatia.

Students will also perform excerpts of Donna Uchizono’s State of Heads, a rumination on “waiting,” warping the perception of time with speedy moments interspersed. The title originated with the idea that the “heads” of states seem to be disconnected from the “body” of the country. Initially, the Donna Uchizono Company used this image, the separation of head from the body, as a springboard from which to dive into the exploration of disjointedness and the passage of time, waiting for a hero/heroine in a state of hiatus, unknowingly being moved by political tremors, where the line between spiritual disorientation and meditative calm are blurred, surprisingly creating a strange world of endearingly odd characters.

Uchizono’s company has performed throughout the United States, Europe, South America, Australia, and Asia. She has been recognized by notable commissions for Mikhail Baryshnikov, Paula Vogel, David Hammons, and Oliver Sacks. In 2011, Uchizono was identified by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and Dance Heritage Coalition as a master choreographer whose works require preservation; she is the first and thus far only American-born choreographer of Asian ancestry to have received this recognition. In addition to being a Guggenheim Fellow, United States Artists Fellow, and New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award winner, Uchizono has received an Alpert Award in Dance and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, New York State Council on the Arts, Creative Capital Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Arts International, Foundation for Contemporary Performance, National Performance Network, Harkness Foundation for Dance, the Greenwall Foundation, and New Music USA, among many others. She is one of three choreographers creating the tri-section piece March to premiere in the opening season of the Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center in December 2023

The remaining two works on the program were created and staged by guest choreographers outside of a course. Amy Hall Garner’s Run to the Edge is a bold new work made exclusively for the 16 Princeton student dancers in her cast and steeped in traditional ballet with the contemporary nuanced language of the choreographer. This work is the fusion of movement and music paying homage to the complexity and technical prowess of each dancer. The foundation of the piece is driven by the composition of Chiel Meijering and Duomo and Tomás Peire-Serrate. 

Hall Garner is an internationally known choreographer based in New York City creating works in the ballet, modern, and theatrical genres. Her work has been commissioned by numerous dance companies and organizations including New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Miami City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, BalletX, Ailey II, ABT Studio Company, Collage Dance Collective, Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, and The Juilliard School. Garner created a new children’s ballet titled Rita Finds Home for The Joffrey Ballet and reimagined Baltimore School for the Arts’ new production of The Nutcracker. Currently, Garner is the resident choreographer at Carolina Ballet. She personally coached Grammy Award winner Beyoncé, providing additional choreography for The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. Her theatrical choreography credits include The Color Purple (Milwaukee Repertory Theater), Choir Boy (Yale Repertory Theatre), and Dreamgirls (Paramount Theatre). Her numerous awards and fellowships include participating in Alvin Ailey’s New Directions Choreography Lab supported by the Ford Foundation, one of the first recipients of the Joffrey Ballet’s Choreography of Color Award (now titled Winning Works), and a Virginia B. Toulmin Fellow through the Center for Ballet and the Arts–National Sawdust Partnership.

Through the Dunes is a premiere work by Ishita Mili that travels through a (meta)physical storm using Mayurbhanj chhau, house, bharatanatyam, hip hop, and kathak-infused vocabulary. Through abstract projection and globalized movement, this piece emphasizes the power of collective strength to overcome individual obstacles. Mili is the director of IMGE Dance and has presented work at New Victory Theater, Lincoln Center, Battery Dance Festival, Seattle International Dance Festival, Broadway Bares, and more. She was awarded Artist of Excellent Merit by the Asian American Arts Alliance, featured in Vogue magazine, and her choreography has gone viral in 2023.

Professional designers for the Princeton Dance Festival are Aaron Copp for lighting design, costume design by Mary Jo Mecca, and music direction by Vince di Mura, with stage management by Mary-Susan Gregson. Relaxed performances ease typical theater requirements and welcome audience members to be comfortable and to move or vocalize freely, without judgment or inhibition. Audiences seeking to experience the Dance Festival in this environment are invited to attend the December 3 relaxed performance at 2 p.m.

Currently under the direction of Susan Marshall, Princeton’s Program in Dance is now in its 53rd year and has grown to include five full-time and nine adjunct faculty and offers 23 different courses and a curriculum that includes introductory courses, courses suited for dancers at the pre-professional level, as well as courses in dance studies and interdisciplinary contemporary practices. Faculty members co-directing the festival are Tina Fehlandt, Rebecca Lazier, and Marshall.

Tickets for Princeton Dance Festival are $12 in advance of show dates, $17 purchased the day of performances at the box office, and $10 for students. Purchase tickets online through McCarter Box Office.

Guests in need of other access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at least one week in advance at

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