Rebecca Bagley

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

When more than 270 girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, earlier this year, dance senior Tawny Garcia was shocked to see how quickly the story left the media spotlight. 

This story, as well as other stories of violence against women, became the inspiration for Garcia’s dance production, “Gone,” which will debut Friday as part of the Department of Theatre and Dance’s annual “Fall for Dance” program. 

“Initially, I had heard the story on social media,” Garcia said. “It was one of those stories that had a couple days notice, and then everyone was on to the next thing. I had a baby in January; I think that gave me a different outlook on it because, for the first time, I was seeing this as a mother rather than just as something that happened over there.”

Garcia said she found inspiration for her choreography from images her professor showed in a history course that covers the Holocaust. 

“I felt like the isolation and the mistreatment was all very similar as far as the motion behind it,” Garcia said. “I knew I needed to somehow recreate the emotion that I felt when I saw these images in my piece.”

One movement Garcia based off these images involves the dancers clustering together while one tries to reach out through them. Garcia said this reminded her of images of people trapped under rubble, trying to escape.

The dancers’ costumes were picked with these themes in mind as well. Rebecca Bagley, a dance senior who is one of the dancers representing the Nigerian girls, said she will wear two costumes during the performance. She will begin dressed in a blue top and gray skirt — similar to that of a schoolgirl in Chibok — but will change into a nude-colored dress to represent being taken and stripped of her identity. 

Bagley said she enjoyed seeing how the production evolved.

“It was cool to be included in the process because, sometimes, a choreographer can come in and give you a movement, and you don’t know where it is coming from,” Bagley said. “We were very informed about everything, so that definitely influences how we perform it because we are so invested in where this piece came from and what it is inspired by.”

Garcia said she learned a lot about violence against women during the creation of her dance.

“I think [these stories] are in the news,” Garcia said. “But I think we don’t really know how to take it in and change it because the violence is almost too much to expect — that people could do that. But we need to accept it for what it is and make it a larger story.” 

Holly Williams, theatre and dance professor, began dancing as a child and continued the art throughout her life. Williams has worked with various dance companies and operas such as The Austin Lyric Opera and the Mark Morris dance group. 

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

For dancer and choreographer Holly Williams, dance is a lifelong process of exploring creativity and continuing perseverance.

Williams, a professor of dance at UT since 1995 and the associate dean of Graduate Studies and Accreditation in the College of Fine Arts, trains her students in contemporary and modern dance, ballet technique and choreography. 

Williams first began dancing as a child and pursued it through college and her career.

“It’s a long, evolving process and there was no ‘Eureka’ type of moment,” Williams said. “It’s a difficult profession so you are constantly evaluating yourself — whether I’m good, whether I’m going to be good enough, you are always asking those questions. For me, it was a long process of peeling off layers to get to the center of ‘this is who I am.’” 

The Austin Lyric Opera, Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Mark Morris dance group are just some of the dance companies and operas that Williams has worked with. She also served on the board of directors for the American College Dance Festival.

Yoav Kaddar, assistant director of dance at West Virginia University, met Williams when they both served on the board of directors. Williams has since choreographed a piece for Kaddar’s students. 

“We come from a somewhat similar modern dance background, so we share similar pedagogical as well as creative philosophies,” Kaddar said.

Williams gives her students the freedom to suggest their own approach to the dance narrative. 

“It’s what makes them different from just being a dancer,” Williams said. “It’s about interpretation, it’s about bringing personality to the performance.”

Rebecca Bagley is one of Williams’ students who is training in contemporary dance and ballet technique. Bagley began dancing when she was in middle school and she is now in her third year in UT’s three-year dance program. She will perform in Williams’ latest piece, “Orchid,” premiering Friday. “Orchid” is one of five major works presented at the event, organized by the department of theatre and dance.

“It was really inspiring for her to ask us to create our own narratives for this piece because a lot of times professors will say ‘here’s the story and this is how you portray it’,” Bagley said, “For me, the first movement is more happy and joyful, it’s a tropical island and the movement is more about me exploring the community and the people around me.”

Williams said “Orchid” evokes feelings about community, loss and wistfulness. She recreates the Hawaiian landscape through traditional music and special projections on stage.

“It’s culturally really interesting and beautiful and evocative,” Williams said. “These are traditional Hawaiian songs and they are sung in Hawaiian. It wasn’t something I was familiar with, but I’ve been to Hawaii and it captured my imagination.”

Williams finds her inspiration for dance in everything around her. She never strives to tell a definitive story through her dance. 

“My experience as a dancer was always one of fascination, curiosity, passion for it and dedication to the incredible work it takes,” Williams said. “That’s what I help our students try to understand and experience themselves.”