This penultimate installment in my series on local dancemakers’ upcoming projects attempts to put three certain women on pause for just a moment, just to take their pulse, which isn’t easy, as you’ll see….

Jessica Vokoun

Jessica Vokoun

Between curating the Oklahoma Dance Film Festival (which she founded), choreographing musicals, making beautiful dance for camera, and teaching the next generation as Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Tulsa, Jessica Vokoun is a steady, bold force in Tulsa’s dance scene. In January she directed TU’s bi-annual dance concert, this year on the theme “Dance in the Digital Age.” The program included a staging of “Pupil Suite” by Andrea Miller of Gallim Dance, which was in residency at TU in November. She’s creating a site-specific piece for the eMerge Dance Festival (the one in the downtown tunnels) with Rachel Bruce Johnson and me, and even more site-specific work for an OKDFF event at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in June. I’ve had the pleasure of observing her interacting with her students at TU, dancing with her, making dance with her, and talking film and life with her — like her art, she is clear, genuine, and overflowing with good ideas.

Nina Madsen (photo by Rachel Bruce Johnson)

Nina Madsen (photo by Rachel Bruce Johnson)

Nina Madsen returned this past fall from a hiatus and started anew as an independent freelance choreographer under the name Nina Madsen Dance. Nina is one of Tulsa’s best modern dance teachers, offering a twice-monthly safety release technique class at the Flyloft that’s full of deeply valuable information from her training in Laban Movement Analysis, and equal doses of fun. She’s had a busy season resetting “Fighting” and “Between Us 2” (originally created for TuMM’s Confessions in 2012) on Portico Dans Theatre for their upcoming Mob Mental.ity show; making a fascinating new duet (I’ve just seen excerpts) called “Spoken … Far from Finished” for herself and Portico co-director Jen Alden, which they’ll do together for eMerge; and creating a new ensemble piece for Portico called “Gener/o.” Nina Madsen Dance will present the duet and “Fighting” before the May 8 performance of “Creations at Studio K.”

Rachel Bruce Johnson (photo by Megan McKown)

Rachel Bruce Johnson (photo by Megan McKown)

I can’t imagine what the Tulsa dance community would look like were it not for the influence of Rachel Bruce Johnson. Her organization The Bell House does it all: presents the Exchange Dance Festival, curates and supports photography and film projects (like Edition #28 of the Dances Made to Order film series), hosts residencies (a downright life-changing one last summer with Melody Ruffin-Ward, for instance), and organizes workshops (most recently a superb CounterTechnique/Gaga doubleheader). Rachel is also the one responsible for all the gorgeous preview films Tulsa Ballet releases before its performances. And she’s always making dance, improvising, sharing her tools and her gutsy spunk and laughter with the rest of us. She’ll perform with me and Jessica Vokoun at eMerge on April 12 and open Tulsa Ballet’s “Creations in Studio K” with a solo piece on May 10 at 7:30.

Rachel has also been a member of the Out on a Limb Dance Collective, based in Waco, Texas, for several years now. OoLD does things the Texas way: big, rangy, let’s-give-it-a-whirl-and-see-what-happens. It puts on the annual {254} Dance Festival in Waco, at which I was honored to perform Rachel’s solo for me called “Imprint” last fall. This year the collective has two projects going that involve Tulsa dancers. The first is resetting a work from 2009, choreographed by OoLD director L. Brooke Schlecte, for restaging in Tulsa in 2015. Se Morte (Self-Death) deals, Schlecte told me, “with an exodus from self-overindulgence to self-acceptance through a series of movements meant to take away and dissolve the selfish desires. But these desires naturally need to be replaced with something; they always are, this is the journey.” It’s been “an adventure to remake,” she said; “it’s a piece that is quite personal, therefore, it has been a bit hard to step outside and see as separate from my life. With [a] new cast it quickly came to life again, this time with more depth and energy. I am still learning about it and hope the experience is fruitful for the performers and the audience.” Se Morte will be restaged, Rachel tells me, “along with a full baroque-inspired suite of humorous and quirky commentary about over-opulence,” excerpts from which you might have seen at Exchange in 2012 and eMerge in 2013. The second OoLD project is a long-distance dance game I get to play with Schlecte, Johnson, and Texas dancer Sarah Newton. It involves index cards … lots and lots of index cards. And FaceTime. I’ll write more about that process soon here on the blog!

That’s a lot of dance for just a few women to be making. And there are more of these rangers, like TU student Anna Bennett, for instance, who’ll present an original piece at eMerge next weekend, and the many young choreographers like Christina Woodrow graduating out of the ORU dance program and moving into the world to learn and share new tools and inspirations. Then there’s Tulsa Ballet’s Ma Cong, launching into an international career (I’ll be talking with him here in the next few weeks) … and Gavin Stewart, originally from Tulsa, now making work in Richmond, VA … and Jennifer Mellor, now living in New York, whose work we’ve seen at “Creations” … and Amy Morrow, who’s really “from” everywhere but keeps a fire warm here, teaching Gaga and making dance from Mexico to Tel Aviv … and Troy Herring, studying at Juilliard … and Stephanie Miracle, another Tulsa native now working on her MFA at the University of Maryland, who just won a Fulbright to study Tanztheater in Germany…. Fodder for Tulsa Dances for years to come (thank you).

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