Smile Politely was lucky enough to catch up with two of the three accomplished, very busy MFA candidates whose work will be featured in Studio Dance I, the first of two yearly spring thesis concerts that showcase the work of graduating Dance MFA students at the University of Illinois. We met earlier in February to talk about their research, their upcoming concert, and the necessity of dance.

Dancemakers Kendra Portier and Charli Brissey both expressed some surprise at being back in school so soon to do their MFA degrees. Finding themselves at the University of Illinois completing their field’s three-year terminal degree was a bit of serendipity for both artists.

“I thought I was about a year away from going and instead I ran into [UIUC dance professors] Abby Zbikowski and Jennifer Monson — and they convinced me to audition right away,” Portier said. “So, this was actually the only school I considered in the short term.”

“I similarly didn’t expect to go back to school right away,” Brissey said. “I’d been working as a video artist and a filmmaker for a few years, and I wasn’t curious about going back to school for dance specifically. And, so, I just happened to stumble upon the website.”  

Portier has also been a member of the New York-based company David Dorfman Dance. She received her BFA in Dance from Ohio State University and has a history with mathematics and the military.

“The work I’m doing here I imagine will carry me through the next couple years of my research,” Portier continued. “Currently I’m working on color theory. I have my own take on it; I have a visual practice that has sort of been resurfacing in my choreography. Today, I’m in a phase of what-does-color-mean-rhythmically.” 

Brissey completed a BFA in Dance and MFA in Kinetic Imaging, respectively, at Virginia Commonwealth University. Their video work has been screened at festivals including Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center; their choreography has been performed in venues, including Movement Research at Judson Church in New York.

“Similarly to Kendra, I think this particular project will extend for the next several years. So, I feel like I’m actually just at the beginning of it with what I show for thesis,” Brissey said. “So far, this dance is about an hour long. We’re working both improvisationally, working through movement scores, and also some set choreographic sequences that are difficult to memorize in terms of the patterning and mathematics of them. We’re looking at a lot of things, but one of them in particular is quantum physics.” 

Chloe Nagle is the third artist whose work will be shown in the Studio Dance I concert. She received her BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has performed her work at Danceworks Milwaukee and the Young Choreographer’s Showcase at the Bates Dance Festival. In 2016, she danced in Ping Chong’s Baldwin/NOW. Like Brissey and Portier, Nagle is a University of Illinois dance department graduate assistant.

“I just love dance,” Brissey said by way of explaining why they chose to dedicate their life to dance.

“We’re considering what kind of energy we’re listening to and what that does for us socially,” Portier said. “How do I listen better? How do I show up for somebody better? How do I put my body near somebody in different ways other than just making a bunch of bizarre rules about no touching? People need to be touched, so there’s gotta be something going on that we don’t understand about the body. Choreography and dance is a perfect way to get at it.” 


Studio Dance I will be at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts from March 1st to 3rd in the Studio Theater. For tickets and more information, click here.