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Jumping Into Dance at the Wilson Center

Upcoming dance troupes perform at the Wilson Center

Urban Bush Women performs at the Wilson Center on February 13.

Urban Bush Women performs at the Wilson Center on February 13.

Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Center recently renamed its dance residency program, formerly the Immersive Dance Series. Going forward, it’s now known as MOVE! with the hope that a less starchy, more dynamic name will make the audience feel a little more comfortable with the idea of going to a contemporary dance performance. 

The WILSON CENTER box office has also rolled out a new Choreographer’s Club program, which gives fans a chance to buy tickets for all three upcoming, visiting dance troupe performances for $60 plus fees.

The fact is, no matter what CFCC calls it, this program is a hidden gem that Wilmington should be paying attention to.

MOVE! is the brainchild of Wilson Center Director SHANE FERNANDO , and it holds a special place in the hearts of the Wilson Center employees, especially for TRACY WILKES,  the facility’s community engagement specialist.

The program’s goals are simple: to provide CFCC students, underserved Wilmington populations, and the community at large with exposure and access to international and national dance, through artistically and culturally diverse programming.

Above: CFCC’s Wilson Center holds outreach dance programs with visiting performers, such as when Gaspard & Dancers did workshops for students at DREAMS of Wilmington. (photos c/o Wilson Center) Below: Sidra Bell Dance New York performs April 5. Tickets for Urban Bush Women, Sidra Bell, and Hou Ying (performing March 23) are included in the Wilson Center’s new Choreographer’s Club to highlight contemporary dance troupes.   

Wilkes has been with the Wilson Center over three years, since it first opened. She admits that before the residency program started, she wasn’t exactly a contemporary dance fan.

“I knew very little,” Wilkes says. “I mean, I knew the big names, I knew Alvin Ailey and Paul Taylor, Trisha Brown, and some of the bigger companies. I’ve had an incredible education, and I love it. These companies are pretty well known if you’re into contemporary dance, and I have been immersed and submerged in it now for the last three years.”

Wilkes’ job is to help design the residencies with the incoming artists and figure out how best to connect them with students and groups in the Wilmington community.

The dance troupes usually come for two to three days each time, with three groups each year.

They run master classes for advanced dancers in the area, giving local dancers exposure and networking opportunities. In addition, there are community workshop classes that Wilkes sets up for local groups such as DREAMS of Wilmington or Pender County Schools.

When a Korean dance troupe came through, she partnered through a local church to connect the local Korean-American community. All the classes and workshops are invitation-only and made possible through generous foundation grants. And, of course, it means Wilkes usually has to be at the workshops herself.

“The idea was terrifying for me because I’m not a dancer,” she says. “The first time, it was with a company called Daloy. They’re a (Philippine) company, and they do this kind of movement workshop aimed at nondancers. It’s like taking a yoga class basically, and I felt really accomplished afterwards. I said, ‘Wow, yes, I can move without falling down.’

“It is a very healing, empowering experience. Dance usually has themes that the choreographers are dealing with. Daloy dealt with marginalization and vulnerable populations, and that part of (Philippine) society, so there’s issues of sex trafficking, prostitution, living on the streets, drug addiction. It was pretty heavy stuff, and it was all through movement. I started to think about what community groups would benefit, would really understand the messages and I hope be uplifted. We had guests from Good Shepherd come, and we worked with LINC, the program for folks coming out of jail. I love doing the work; it’s like putting together a big puzzle and figuring out who will benefit most.”

This upcoming season promises to be just as interesting.

First up, in February, Brooklyn-based URBAN BUSH WOMEN will debut its piece Hair & Other Stories, a history of African-American women through hair. In March, contemporary Chinese dance troupe HOU YING graces the stage, and in April, SIDRA BELL DANCE NEW YORK presents Monster Outside.

“Sidra Bell Dance have collaborated with a Swedish composer and his chamber orchestra, and the theme is the nature of outliers. It has chamber music, projection mapping, vocal scoring, scene, and lighting design. I think we have to call it dance theater, cause it’s really going to be spectacular,” Wilkes says.

The biggest draw of belonging to the Choreographer’s Club is that not only do members get tickets to all three performances for less than they might spend at lunch, the audience is seated right on stage with the performers. If you’ve never been “into” modern dance, this is the way to be introduced to it.

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