November 10, 2021

University Dance Festival at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre

DANCE FESTIVAL IS BACK: Choreographer Omari Wiles (center foreground) with Princeton University students in rehearsal for his new work to be featured in the 2021 Princeton Dance Festival. (Photo by Jonathan Sweeney)

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Dance at Princeton University presents the 2021 Princeton Dance Festival November 19-21 at McCarter Theatre Center’s Berlind Theatre.

Princeton students in the program will perform new works by faculty members Tina Fehlandt, whose work is inspired by Mark Morris’ choreography on the 40th anniversary of the founding of his famed dance company, and Rebecca Lazier. Additionally, students will perform new works by guest choreographers Kyle Marshall, Larissa Velez-Jackson, and Omari Wiles. Repertory works in the festival will include Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, staged by Michael Breeden; and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Germaine Acogny’s Woman’s Resistance, staged by Samantha Speis. 

Performances will take place over three days, beginning on November 19 at 8 p.m. They will continue with two more performances on November 20 at 2 and 8 p.m., and finish with a final performance on November 21 at 2 p.m. Currently under the direction of choreographer Susan Marshall, Princeton’s Program in Dance is now in its 51st 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. 

Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes by Justin Peck, acting resident choreographer for New York City Ballet, will be staged by Michael Sean Breeden, a repetiteur for the ballet, in a way that reimagines the piece’s gendered roles. Rodeo is Peck’s abstract take on Aaron Copland’s well-known Americana score and pairs a lone woman with “a cast of 15 jocular energetic and charming male dancers for a fresh and thrilling adventure.” In its Princeton premiere, excerpts of the ballet have been re-envisioned with gender identity no longer a prerequisite for any of the roles. Peck has created more than 40 ballets, won a Tony Award for choreographing the 2018 Broadway revival of Carousel, and choreographed Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming film, West Side Story. Breeden has danced with Miami City Ballet, Boston Ballet, and Pennsylvania Ballet, where he performed principal roles in works by George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, Christopher Wheeldon, and Alexei Ratmansky. He has taught at Yale University, Kent State University, Ballet Tech, Ballet Academy East, the Vail Dance Festival, and Mark Morris Dance Center, among many others. 

Samantha Speis is co-artistic director at Urban Bush Women (UBW) and the 2017 winner of a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for Outstanding Performer. UBW is a critically acclaimed contemporary dance-theater company that seeks to bring untold and under-told stories to light through dance. As members of the African Diaspora community, UBW strives to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond. Speis will be staging Women’s Resistance, an excerpt from les écallies de la mémoire (Scales of Memory), originally choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of UBW, and Germaine Acogny of Compagnie Jant Bi (Senegal). Women’s Resistance vibrantly embodies Women+’s power, resilience, and relentless pursuit for liberation and justice. 

The Dance Festival premieres five new works: Caesura is a collaborative work created by choreographer Rebecca Lazier and composer Ryan Wolfe, with contributions from the student cast. Studies on Onyx is a new work created by choreographer Kyle Marshall as an examination of white rock musicians studying, imitating, and copying direct songs, styles, and techniques from Black musicians without their permission. Star Pû Method ~ Care, Freedom and Partnership is a new work created by choreographer Larissa Velez-Jackson based on her research on the healing properties of her improvisation practice, the Star Pû Method. A new work by Tina Fehlandt will lead Princeton dance students in an exploration of 40-plus years of dances made by choreographer Mark Morris. A new work by choreographer Omari Wiles explores both masculine and feminine energy through dance and expression.

All guests are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, to wear a mask when indoors, and to show proof of vaccination and a photo ID at the door. (Princeton students, faculty, and staff only need to show their PU ID card.) Dancers will be unmasked while performing on stage. Tickets are $12 in advance of show dates, $17 purchased the day of performances at the box office, and $10 for students. Tickets are available online at