TU Dance guest choreographer Ronald K. Brown on new work “Where the Light Shines Through”

Kristina MacKenzie, Ordway 4/20/17
Ronald K. Brown
TU Dance guest choreographer Ronald K. Brown

Founded in 2004 by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands in Saint Paul, TU Dance is a contemporary, 10-member dance company acclaimed for its diverse and versatile artists; and performances that draw together modern dance, classical ballet, African-based, and urban vernacular movements.

The Ordway is thrilled to have TU Dance back on our stage as a part of the Target® World Music & Dance series—this time, with guest choreographer Ronald K. Brown who will premiere a new work called “Where the Light Shines Through”—a performance that includes a special guest appearance by TU Dance Artistic Director, Uri Sands. 

In anticipation of the world premiere of this new work, the Ordway chatted with Ronald K. Brown about the genesis, process, and origins of “Where the Light Shines Through.”

What is your role in the upcoming April 29 TU Dance performance and how did you get involved with the Company?

I first became familiar with Toni and Uri Sands as dancers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I worked with Uri on my first piece for that company, “Grace,” in 1999 and a year later created a solo, “Clear As Tear Water,” for Toni when she was awarded a fellowship in Minnesota. Each time I’ve seen TU Dance, I’ve admired the company’s work. When Uri mentioned that he would like me to create something for the company we looked at dates and saw how we might make it happen. I’m happy to work with two amazing and generous Artists/Directors, who I’ve admired for over 15 years and the ensemble of talent that is TU Dance.

The new piece premiering on April 29 is titled “Where the Light Shines Through.” What was the inspiration for this new work?

I was thinking of the work that Uri has done in creating a space for dancers to train as well as perform. His artistry as a dancer and choreographer made me think of how one’s purpose is often directed by their perspective. I thought the piece would look at those ideas.

As a guest choreographer with TU Dance, how did you go about creating a brand new piece with a dance company that is not based in the same city as you?

“Where the Light Shines Through” will use traditional music recorded by Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba and other world music artists to tell a story of solidarity and perseverance. I create movement in the studio with the dancers. I don’t come in with set movement. I have the ideas for the piece—images that I believe belong to the piece— and I go in the studio and improvise to unearth the ideas and set phrases, chapters, and compose until I’ve completed the work.

Which came first: the music or the choreography? And how does one influence the other?

The music and ideas come first. I look for music that will help me dance the images out. In the development process I create phrases that have a specific rhythm and timing that I then “marry” to the music, allowing for a discovery in the relationship between the dance and the music.

What do you hope audience members will take from this piece?

I want audiences to go on a visceral journey with the dancers. Sensing how the dynamics of focus and clear and deliberate intention creates space for possibility. I hope viewers leave the theater believing that anything is possible when you align your lens and purpose.

You’re a very familiar name on the Ordway stage, having been here several times before. What else will Ordway patrons recognize you and your work from?

I’ve been on the Ordway stage as a dancer and Artistic Director of Ronald K. Brown/ EVIDENCE, A Dance Company and I also came to the Ordway a few years ago to talk about my work as a choreographer for The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, during the national tour, after it had closed on Broadway.

TU Dance will perform on Saturday, April 29 at 7:30PM in the Ordway Music Theater. Tickets are available on the TU Dance performance page


The Ordway’s World Music & Dance Series is sponsored by Target. This performance is presented by Sit Investment Associates with additional support from the Patricia A. Mitchell Fund for Dance.

Support to TU Dance for its engagement at the Ordway is provided by the City of Saint Paul Cultural STAR Program. The world premiere of “Where the Light Shines Through,” with special guest appearance by TU Dance Artistic Director Uri Sands, is co-commissioned by the Ordway and the Rosemary and David Good Family Foundation.

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