MISSOULA – The University of Montana Dance Program bolstered its standing as one of the nation’s most decorated institutions with another stellar showing at the recent American College Dance Association (ACDA) Northwest Regional Conference.

UM student Tsiambwom Akuchu performs his solo “EveryMan (Alright).” (UM Photo by Terry Cyr)
UM student Tsiambwom Akuchu performs his solo “EveryMan (Alright).” (UM Photo by Terry Cyr)

In addition to having both UM dance pieces selected for the conference’s gala concert, the adjudicators chose one of those performances – graduate student Tsiambwom Akuchu’s stunning solo “Every^Man (Alright)” – to represent the entire region at the esteemed John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on June 7-9.

The regional conference attracted over 500 students, artists and educators from throughout the Northwest, offering college dance programs the opportunity to showcase 43 original works and receive constructive feedback from nationally and internationally renowned adjudicators.

“This is the second consecutive year the UM Dance Program has had both of its pieces selected for the event’s gala concert,” said Nicole Bradley Browning, a UM dance professor. “UM’s recognition is notable in light of the presence of much larger institutions such as the University of Utah, University of Oregon, Brigham Young University and University of Colorado Boulder, which hosted the conference.”

One adjudicator compared ACDA to a modern dance version of basketball’s March Madness, and Bradley Browning said, “UM’s overall strong showing, and especially with its Kennedy Center selection, amounts to a Final Four appearance by a program with a reputation for overshadowing bigger schools.”

Akuchu’s solo received raves from the adjudicators, who wrote: “‘Every^Man (Alright)’ is an evocative and stirring piece, representative of the African-American experience from slavery to the present. The work is deeply embodied, solid in its canonical foundation, eminently relevant and critically necessary; an injection of survival.”

Akuchu’s performance stood alone as the only one to receive a standing ovation.

The UM Dance Program is no stranger to performing in ACDA’s National Festival hosted by the Kennedy Center. In 2012, “MEAT,” an original work by Icelandic choreographer Steinunn Ketilsdóttir and UM dance alumnus and Missoula native Brian Gerke, featured 11 dancers who were enthusiastically received at the Kennedy Center that May.

In 2010, the National College Dance Festival featured UM’s performance of “Prey,” a piece created by internationally acclaimed choreographer Bebe Miller.

The adjudicators at the regional conference also recognized UM’s second piece, “On Jasper’s Farm,” with placement in the event’s gala concert. Also choreographed by Gerke and featuring eight student performers, the piece was described by adjudicator Onye Ozuzu as a strong vision that, as it unfolded, reminded her of watching “a child at their own funeral.”

“Our dance students are committed to the practice of making meaningful, relevant and empowering works of art,” said Bradley Browning, who is the ACDA Northwest Region director. “ACDA affords students an unmatched opportunity to discover how their choreography and performance translates to diverse audiences.

“This year, our program received the ultimate honor when Akuchu was offered an official invitation to perform at the Kennedy Center in June. We stand affirmed, knowing that our Dance Program continues to cultivate a space for our students create important and valued work.”

The UM Dance Program is one of the few programs in the Northwest offering undergraduate degrees specializing in choreography/performance and dance education. The program also offers a dance minor, as well as a diverse array of dance classes open to students of all abilities, backgrounds and levels of curiosity.

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