TU Dance Premieres Work by Icelandic Choreographer Katrin Hall

This weekend, TU Dance premieres a new work by Icelandic choreographer Katrin Hall for a commission by the O'Shaughnessy. The evening will also include a work about Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell, choreographed by TU's co-artistic director Uri Sands; a duet by Sands, called High Heel Blues; and a full-company contemporary ballet piece, titled If and Or, choreographed by Dwight Rhoden.


Hall's connection to the company stems from her early days, when she danced with Toni Pierce-Sands in Germany with the Tanz Forum. Their careers went off in parallel directions, with Hall going on to run the Icelandic Dance Company from 1996 to 2012, and Pierce-Sands forming her own company with her husband, Uri, in 2004. 

Over the years, Pierce-Sands says, Hall's name kept coming up in things that had read or heard about, and she and Uri would discuss the possibility of bringing her in to work with the company. This year, they were finally able to make that happen. "Sometimes you put things out in the universe, and they eventually line up," Pierce-Sands says. 

The piece, "Andrými," is inspired by the country of Iceland, and "how we deal with space," Hall says. The work explores the idea of space in groups, in relationships, and how much space an individual takes up. 

The title of the work literally means "the space you need for breath," but there's a more layered meaning in Icelandic that doesn't fully translate. "It means spirit and breath," she says. "So the word means 'the breath you need for your soul to rest.'"


Working with choreographers who offer unique cultural perspectives falls under TU Dance's mission. The process for this piece involved Hall getting to know the dancers. On the first day, she had them take 10 minutes to create a piece showing who they were. "That was challenging for the dancers," Pierce-Sands says. "It takes time to come back to the true self. [Hall's process] really was a lot of collaborating with the dancers, and seeing who they really are." 

Like much of the work that TU Dance does in its repertoire, Hall uses a lot of physicality in her choreography as a way to interpret drama and character. But "without being over-acting or over-physical," Pierce-Sands says. Hall would work to always bring the dancers back to themselves. 

The piece incorporates video projections, designed by Martin Gwinup, featuring photographs that Hall took in Iceland. The movement is set to Icelandic music, including the work of award-winning composer Johan Johansson. 

Also presented as part of the evening work is a piece based on the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who developed cervical cancer in the 1950s. She died, but her remarkable HeLa cells (named after her) were not only able to survive but multiply, and have been used in scientific research ever since. (Unfortunately, her family never gave permission, nor was Lacks even acknowledged publicly until decades later.) 

Sands created a piece inspired by Lacks's story for Dance St. Louis a year ago, but their plan was always to re-stage it with TU Dance. "Uri captured an incredible forgiveness in the work [that reflects] our ability to go through extreme challenges and somehow rise above it," says Pierce-Sands.

The piece moves away from a literal interpretation of Lacks's story. "He wanted to create the work as if her family was sitting in the audience." The HeLa cells multiply through the female dancers in the piece, and the stage multiplies as well. "It's quite extraordinary," she says. 

Sands's other piece in the program is "High Heel Blues" (2005), which Pierce-Sands says is "really about how we feel about men and women's relationships in a quirky way."

Also scheduled is "If and Or" (2013), choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, one of the artistic directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Pierce-Sands says the piece has a bright physicality that uses a neo-classical vocabulary. 


TU Dance

The O'Shaughnessy

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday