During two years of mask-wearing, as we were often unable to communicate with facial expressions, we experienced how important it was to express ourselves with our bodies. In a way, we were exploring modern dance’s trademark qualities: the focus on interpretations versus rote steps—the outward expression of inner feelings and creative exploration. 

After two years of being unable to perform before large theater audiences, the University of Nevada, Reno, Department of Theatre and Dance is back with four performances of its Spring Dance Concert in its 260-person-capacity Redfield Proscenium Theatre, presenting a celebration of modern dance, now a century old, and its power to express what words often cannot.

The concert is composed of four works, which, when taken together, could be seen as a sort of brief history of modern dance. Importantly, the show will feature “Heretic,” a groundbreaking work created by the mother of modern dance, Martha Graham. This haunting work, which premiered back in 1929, has been described as a sort of metaphor for Graham herself and her role in the dance world: At the time, she was an outsider.

The cast of 13 university dance students will perform under the direction of a Martha Graham Dance Company official regisseur, Elizabeth Auclair, to ensure it is an accurate representation of the original work.

“It was a really intense experience, so the students are sort of dancing in dance history onstage in ‘Heretic,’” explains Rosie Trump, associate professor of dance and concert coordinator for this show. “A soloist has sort of betrayed the others. She’s the heretic. She stands out, unyielding, with her idea that differs from the ensemble. It’s very strong and geometrical, and a bit of a precursor of what would become the iconic Martha Graham look.”

Bookending the show as its entire second act is the Rosie Herrera Dance company of Miami, performing its acclaimed piece “Dining Alone.” Under the direction of Herrera, a Cuban-American dancer and choreographer, the company is known for its dance theater, which Trump describes as “a subgenre of dance that combines dance with theatrical elements, such as props, text and complex costumes.” Company members hail from a multitude of backgrounds and dance/musical styles, from drag to theater, opera, breakdance, ballet, modern dance and film.

In “Dining Alone,” the piece that put Rosie Herrera Dance on the map for contemporary dance theater, a troupe of five company dancers and Herrera herself explore our complex and often conflicted relationship with food, and its ability to amplify life experiences, both comedic and tragic. A 40-minute piece, it features vignettes such as a trio of women at a table getting pies forced into their faces as Snow White sings about her prince, and a woman delicately walking on a lonely path of plates laid out before her. As Trump explains, the work is literally a feast for the eyes, with surreal scenes involving food and dancers interacting with it in surprising and comic ways.

A scene from Rosie Herrera Dance’s “Dining Alone.”

Sandwiched between these acclaimed works of past and present are original pieces choreographed by Trump and her colleague, Nate Hodges, an assistant teaching professor of dance. Trump’s piece, “After, Party!” encapsulates the collective joy we all feel at returning to in-person, live performances.

“It’s about celebrating the joy of movement, the reverie of all the things that we’ve missed and also the way in which dance can sort of speak to the larger universal experience of humans,” Trump said.

Additionally, opening night will feature the one and only performance of a piece called “Contemporary Native American Powwow Dance Styles,” with dance by Michelle McCauley, a Paiute tribe member and powwow dancer from Wadsworth, and music performed live by Cree Confederation.

“This is a program with a lot of variety,” Trump says. “It’s rare to have these guest artists in Reno, so this is a great opportunity. It’s high energy, with a lot of work that makes you think and respond to it viscerally. There’s really something for everyone.”

The University of Nevada, Reno, Department of Theatre and Dance presents the Spring Dance Concert, featuring Rosie Herrera Dance, at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, April 21-23; and 1:30 p.m., Saturday, April 23. Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 seniors; $10 students and university faculty/staff; $5 university students with ID; and $5 to livestream. For tickets or more information, call 775-784-4444, or visit unr.edu/theatre-dance.

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