SpringDanceFest virtual showcase to feature dance works by nationally recognized artists, ASU students

April 16, 2021

Wrapping up the School of Music, Dance and Theatre’s 2020-2021 virtual performance season for dance is SpringDanceFest, and the lineup is set to move audiences beyond just the physical. 

The concert will feature eight works, three of which were created by nationally recognized artists Vanessa Sanchez, Adam McKinney and Liliana Gomez.  Jorge "House" Magana. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU News Download Full Image

Sanchez is a San Francisco-based Chicana Native dancer, choreographer and educator who focuses on community arts and traditional dance forms to emphasize voices and experiences of Latina, Chicana and Indigenous women and youth. Her work “Lxs Ancestrxs” pays homage to ancestors of all forms who have paved the way and continue to guide.

"The piece honors the Orixa, deities originating in the Yoruba culture, as forces of nature that are our earth ancestors and ancestral rhythms that bring both cries of resistance and collective joy," Sanchez said. "It draws on elements of Afro-Brazilian Orixa tradition including Ogum, Oxum, Iansa and Xango, Afro-Cuban Oricha tradition Yemaya, and the rhythms of Afro-Cuban rhumba."

During a 10-day residency, Sanchez choreographed this original work for a group of nine ASU dance students. “Lxs Ancestrxs” aims to take the audience on a beautiful journey through time and place through imagery, physicality and communal spirit.

McKinney is a former member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and the Milwaukee Ballet. He has led dance work with diverse populations across the U.S. and in Benin, Canada, England, Ghana, Hungary and many more. 

McKinney’s new work, “Our Yearning Adrift in Original Location” is an original contemporary ballet commissioned for and created on a cast of nine ASU dance students. Exploring themes of collective memory and love and loss, this piece reveals the physical, emotional and creative strengths of these dynamic student artists.  

Gomez is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. She is a mother, dance maker, producer, arts advocate and a proud Phoenician. Gomez said she is passionate about sharing dance with the community, and so she choreographs for dance to happen in unique public spaces such as Park Central Mall, Phoenix Art Museum, outside Mesa Arts Center, Desert Botanical Garden and more.

“Fire Work!” by Gomez celebrates life and its journey — its ups and downs and its rituals. It discusses honoring the work, and how we show up and arrive to its challenges. Gomez said the piece speaks to the spark, joy and struggle that coexist in all of us. 

“This piece was originally choreographed in February 2020 on nine dancers,” Gomez said. “I was 8 months pregnant and had two assistants with me to help teach movement: Shaniece and Steven. Because of COVID-19 safety restrictions, the work did not get to be performed onstage.”

Today, the piece has a new title and has only four dancers performing it, yet still has the same movement.

“We did a lot of cut, add, subtract, paste. What a journey! And that is exactly what the work is about — the journey!” Gomez said. 

ASU graduate and undergraduate dance students will also present pieces and dance films, highlighting a wide range of aesthetics from Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Cuban dance to contemporary modern, and from salsa and Afro-Latin forms to hip-hop fusion. 

MFA candidate Kathy Luo will showcase her piece “A Little Boy and the Moon,” which she created in collaboration with pianist and composer Nicholas Turner. She discussed the piece on a recent episode of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre’s “Tunes at Noon” podcast. 

“A Little Boy and the Moon” brings together live music and dance; inspiration came from portraying the abstract object of moonlight. 

“We created a pure, graceful, and light-poetic mood for this piece,” Luo said. “The embodiment of the music composition was a goal for my choreography, and my composer reciprocated my choreography through his musical interpretation.”

At SpringDanceFest, expect to see several more pieces including Tiffany Fox’s new dance film “DEADicated Eye,” created in collaboration with filmmaker and alum Lawrence Fung, as well as “A Little of You, A Little of Me” by Jared Moreno and Xochilt Huitzil, featuring a new genre of dance informed by salsa and Afro-Latin movement forms. 


When: 7:30 p.m. April 16-17 and 2 p.m. April 18.

Admission: Tickets are $10. 

Details: The show will be streamed online. Tickets are available for purchase here.

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre


ASU grad uncovers a love of archaeology

April 16, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Nearly two decades after graduating from high school, Nicolas Hansen went back to school as an investment in his family’s future — discovering a passion for archaeology along the way. ASU graduating student portrait Nicolas Hansen Nicolas Hansen and family. Photograph courtesy of Nicolas Hansen. Download Full Image

Hansen is graduating from Arizona State University this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and as a student with Barrett, The Honors College.

Hansen met his wife at a writing workshop for aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers. He said being a pair of “starving artists” together was fun, but once they were expecting their first child, they decided to invest in education to provide more stability for their growing family.

Starting at a local community college, Hansen was majoring in English but took an elective class called “Buried Cities and Lost Tribes: Old World Archaeology.” He found it so interesting that he changed his major to anthropology.

Once Hansen transferred to ASU, he took two more courses that helped him realize his love for anthropology and archaeology. One was about hunter-gatherers taught by Foundation Professor Curtis Marean, and another was a lithic analysis class taught by Assistant Professor Kathryn Ranhorn.

Now, Hansen is on a path to learn everything he can about stone tool technologies used by our human ancestors. He’s learned a lot already.

He took the initiative to learn flintknapping and completed a research project about heat treatment in jasper, a local gemstone commonly used by past peoples to make tools. The study compared how the stone fractures differently before and after being heated.

The extensive research involved obtaining proper legal permissions, best practices for ethically collecting raw materials here in Arizona, and heating the stones then measuring how they fracture. He presented his findings at the Society for American Archaeology conference this spring.

While parenting and keeping up with schoolwork, Hansen also gains experience by working part time as a field technician with a local archaeology company.

After graduation, Hansen will work full time this summer and return to ASU for graduate school in the fall. He plans to earn a PhD in anthropology and wants to continue his career in academia studying human origins and stone technologies.

Hansen received the Transfer Achievement Award and Nita Siegman Scholarship.

He shared more about his academic journey and experience at ASU.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I have been continuously surprised by the level of mentorship and support I have received as part of the SHESC community. Both my professors and the graduate students I have met have been generous with their time and expertise, offering guidance and assistance that has allowed me to exceed my own expectations and achieve success on a level that would not have been possible on my own.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the Sun Program that guarantees admission for community college transfer students who maintain a certain GPA, and because I was accepted to Barrett, The Honors College. It wasn’t until I arrived and began taking courses that I narrowed the focus of my interests and realized how lucky I was to be at one of the top institutions for studying human origins.

Q: Did you experience a challenge or overcome an obstacle in pursuing your course of study?

A: Aside from being a nontraditional student returning to school after a nearly 20-year hiatus, my first child was born in the first semester of my freshman year. Keeping up with all my courses as a full-time student while also being primary caregiver to an active little boy has not been easy. The challenges of balancing school and family responsibilities has been extremely difficult, and I could not have managed it without the support of my wonderful wife.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Get involved. Don’t just show up for your classes and turn in your work. Talk to your professors, go to office hours, ask how you can participate in research, ask if you can be part of journal clubs (informal research discussion groups), get to know the graduate students in your field and look for special lectures and presentations outside of class. I was able to complete several research apprenticeships in my time as an undergraduate and I cannot overstate how valuable it has been for me, both in terms of learning experience and in connecting with mentors who have provided guidance and support in countless ways.

Q: What about advice for someone considering returning to school?

A: My advice for anyone else considering a return to higher education is to not be afraid to reach out and ask for help. I could never have navigated these last few years without a community of people out there to guide and assist me through the process. A graduate student named John Murray has really taken me under his wing and been an amazing mentor. He has taken the time to help me with so many things — from my own research project to grad school applications. There are great people out there like John who are willing to support and guide you because they had someone do it for them when they were starting out. I only hope I can be as good a mentor to someone else when my turn comes around.

Taylor Woods

Communications program coordinator, School of Human Evolution and Social Change