Saturday, October 25, 2014
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New dance company creates its own personality
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Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands are the co-founders of TU Dance, a new company that seeks to meld the best of ballet, modern, jazz and ethnic dance. (Photo by Ingrid Werthman Photography)
What is dance? Ballet? Modern? Jazz? Ethnic? A new dance company in the Twin Cities is attempting to bring together the best of all these forms.

St. Paul, Minn. — Walking into a rehearsal of TU Dance is like walking into a party. Dancers fill the floor while others watch from the sides, shouting encouragement and laughing. Solos become duets, or duets become ensemble pieces, as people flow on and off the dance floor.

In this opening group piece, each dancer has an individual style. Co-artistic director Uri Sands says the piece serves to introduce the company to the audience.

"Not so much as dancers, but as people with personalities," says Sands. "It's almost in a way to say to everyone, 'It's OK. We're all here together and this is ours -- yours, hers, his. We all envelop this.'"

Uri Sands and Toni Pierce-Sands are the founders of TU Dance. They met as members of the internationally acclaimed Alvin Ailey Dance Company in the mid 1990s. Toni eventually returned to her native Minnesota, and Uri followed soon after. They've only been married for a few years, but are so in sync they often finish each other's sentences.

For the past two years they have been working on a shared dream -- to create a dance company and a school that combines multiple styles and brings together the best talent in the region.

"We really are in love with the dancers in this community," says Toni Pierce-Sands. "Minnesota has so much. ... Coming from Minnesota I never thought it did have so much to offer, but it does in terms of art, and giving people that are starting out opportunity."

This year marks the professional company's first full season. They hope to have the school up and running in St. Paul in the next two years.

Uri Sands is the company's choreographer and his signature style will permeate the school's classes. He says it's a reflection of his own training in ballet, modern, and African dance.

"You have to be very well-versed in all of those languages in today's dance world to have a chance to be able do some of those works that are in the upper echelon of things," says Sands. "We feel in order to train children to be able to be a part of the professional environment, they need to have those things be accessible to them."

This is an exciting time for the couple, but they readily admit running a company with your spouse isn't easy. Toni Pierce-Sands says they get to share both the burden and the joy of a dream, and are still learning to trust each other along the way.

"We come up against that constantly," says Pierce-Sands. "Especially as we're sharing this dream together, we need to trust that it's not just an individual dream, or it's not just your way or it's not just my way."

"Yeah," agrees her husband. "There's always going to be compromise and it's always going to be a work in progress, but the art should always be a work in progress. Life is!"

TU Dance is rehearsing a new piece for a series of performances at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. It's a duet between a man and a woman that's at times playful, at times seductive, but always sensual. Depending on the night, different pairs of dancers will perform.

At the rehearsal, after each pair runs through the dance, they compare notes. The dancers also critique Uri and Toni's performances. Uri Sands says he and Toni want to give the dancers as many opportunities as possible to learn from one another. He says what they don't want is to simply create a company that's all about them.

"That's not what we're trying to build," says Sands. "What we're trying to build is a company that's full of incredible personalities and excellent artists. Those are the things that we want to present. It's more about showcasing what's already present here in the Twin Cities."

The couple says they've received the support of the community, and they have the attention of local dance enthusiasts. They know people will be watching the company's first year closely to see whether it was worth it. They're eager to show it was.

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