MTSU's Tucker Theatre to present Freed Voices

“Freed Voices: A Dance Concert Featuring Choreography and Performance by African-American Guest Artists,” a concert to explore and celebrate diversity in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 and at 2 p.m. Jan. 20 in Tucker Theatre on the MTSU campus.

More than 30 members of MTSU Dance Theatre, as well as four internationally and nationally known guest artists, will be featured in the upcoming performance.

The production’s featured guest artists—Zelma Badu-Younge, Erica Wilson-Perkins, Ursula Payne and Travis D. Gatling—were individually commissioned to create works for the student performers, as well as perform solos during the upcoming concert event, said Kim Neal Nofsinger, director of dance at MTSU.

“The dances created encompass a myriad of views and perspectives on the African-American experience,” he explained, “(and) following each concert there will be a feedback session featuring the four choreographers that is moderated by Dr. Maura Keefe, a nationally recognized dance scholar.”

Guest artist Badu-Younge, for example, “created a commissioned work for ‘Freed Voices’ based on the oldest North American slave narrative known,” Nofsinger commented. “It is the story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, commonly known as Angélique, who died June 21, 1734.”

A Portuguese-born black slave in New France, later known as the Province of Quebec in Canada, Angélique was tried and convicted of setting fire to her owner's home, burning much of what is now referred to as old Montreal.

“In creating her solo, Badu-Younge used issues of race and gender as key components to the development of movement material,” Nofsinger explained, “(and her) lecture and master class focuses on her creative process and learning excerpts from the culminating solo.”

Nofsinger said the residency program that brought each of the African-American guest dancer-choreographers to campus to create works for dance students took place between July 2007 and January 2008, with each artist spending a week at MTSU working with student performers.

Additionally, during their respective residencies, each choreographer taught master classes, presented lectures and staged choreography based on their understanding of the black experience in the United States and how it has been shaped by slavery and issues of discrimination, Nofsinger said.

“For the creative process of their choreography, each artist has or will use slave narratives and personal experiences as primary sources,” he noted. “The choreography created by each of these artists will be performed by local professional dancers or by members of MTSU Dance Theatre.”

The MTSU dance director said that in association with the guest artists’ return for the Jan. 19-20 concert, each choreographer will teach additional classes, present lectures and workshops and participate in a panel discussions and audience-feedback sessions.

“The focus of these events for the community and university will be on their creative process, research and the resulting work,” Nofsinger said, regarding the dance-related, education events, which are free and open to the public.

Tickets to the Jan. 19-20 performances are $10 per person, with group rates available. MTSU students will be admitted free with a valid university ID.

For more information about the upcoming dance performances or master classes, panel discussions or workshops, please contact Nofsinger via e-mail at or by calling 615-494-7904.

Schedule of dance-related events:

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008
• 4:20-5:45 p.m.—Master Class—Modern dance, featuring Travis Gatling, MTSU’s Fairview Building, Room 140.

• 6-8 p.m.—Workshop No. 1—"Claiming and Denying Identity: The Obligation of Cultural Identity and the Desire for Individuality in the Creative Process of Today's Artist," featuring Erica Wilson-Perkins, MTSU’s Fairview Building, Room 140.

    This experiential workshop will explore how today's artist integrates issues of self-identity based on ethnicity/traditions/culture while simultaneously striving to find individuality within one’s work. Participants will use their own movement vocabulary to create works that embody who they are as defined by race, religion, gender or sexuality. Additionally, this experience will investigate through discourse, reflection and the creative process, the participants’ beliefs on the responsibility of the artist to “give back” to society versus freedom to self-express. 

Friday, Jan. 18, 2008
• 9:10-10:05 a.m.—Lecture titled “Beyond the Footlights: The Impact of the Female Dance Soloist on Perceptions of Women,” with dance scholar/moderator Maura Keefe, MTSU’s Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building, Room 106.
    This lecture traces the history of modern dance from early pioneers such as Ruth St. Denis to contemporary choreographers such as Elizabeth Streb as changing responses to women's place in culture during the 20th century. This lecture and discussion will integrate a series of solos—St. Denis’ “Radha,” Martha Graham’s “Lamentation,” Trisha Brown’s “Accumulation with Talking Plus Watermotor” and Elizabeth Streb’s “Little Ease.” Explored will be how the solo form performed by choreographer gives voice/agency to the female in ways that have had an impact on the way audiences perceive women off of the stage.

• 10:20-11:15—Panel Discussion titled “Issues of Performing Race and Gender,” moderated by Maura Keefe, MTSU’s Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building, Room 106.
The guest artists will present a panel discussion on their perceptions of race and gender and how it influences and defines their work. Key within this will be their links to and knowledge of historically, well-known people in the field of dance and the evolution of dance in the United States during the 20th century as it began to acknowledge and embrace issues of race, gender and sexuality.

• 1-3 p.m.—Workshop No. 2—“Womanist Theory in Performance,” featuring Ursula Payne, MTSU’s Fairview Building, Room 140.
    A creative process that includes inner dialogues about cultural and gender oppression will fuel this workshop. Participants, through guided movement experiences, will explore their own perceptions and responses to components of these issues. This experience will serve as a vehicle to bring greater awareness and understanding of the complex nature embedded within these issues and will serve as a springboard for action and a gateway to alternative strategies for building empowerment from within the individual. Participants will grasp the potential role of the arts in promoting empowerment and healing within the bodies and lives of women of diverse communities.

Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008
• 7:30 p.m.—“Freed Voices: A Concert Featuring Choreography and Performance by African-American Choreographers and Dancers,” with a panel discussion/audience-feedback session moderated by Maura Keefe, MTSU’s Tucker Theatre, Boutwell Dramatic Arts Building.

Sunday, Jan. 20, 2008
• 2 p.m.—“Freed Voices: A Concert Featuring Choreography and Performance by African-American Choreographers and Dancers,” with a panel discussion/audience feedback-session moderated by Maura Keefe, MTSU’s Tucker Theatre, Boutwell Dramatic Arts Building.

Monday, Jan. 21, 2008: Martin Luther King Holiday
• 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m.—Master Classes, MTSU’s Fairview Building, Room 140.
***Participants of all backgrounds and experiences are invited. No dance training is required.

Reminder: All events are free except for the “Freed Voices Concert.” Master classes and workshops have limited capacity; to register for these, please contact Nofsinger at

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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