March 2017

Blue Moves Crafts Experimental Dance with a Message

by Stephanie Stewart-Howard

Video still from Refracting, an underwater dance film by Amanda Cantrell Roche and Ashlyn Cianciolo

On March 11, the Looby Theater plays host to Muse: Inspired by Nashville Artists, a production layering dance, film, spoken word, music, visual and multimedia art by Blue Moves. The performance showcases dance premieres, live and on film, of all the work of the democratically operated company. Blue Moves used an open call to artists—musicians, poets, visual artists—across Middle Tennessee to build the components for this remarkable show.

Born on the MTSU campus and lately moved to Nashville, Blue Moves celebrates modern dance in original and thoughtful ways. Amanda Roche, one of the founders, relates the organic growth of the troupe, starting as an ever-changing collection of university dancers. She says the founders hoped to make something more long term and were fortunate enough to have a faculty member, Anne Holland Cole, provide ready access to her dance studio to rehearse.

Photograph by Brittany Deanna LeBeau | Blue Moves Modern Dance Company members Kevana West, Katherine Tyler, Holly Cannon Hesse, Amanda Cantrell Roche, Valerie Hackworth, Ashlyn Cianciolo, and Lakota Jernigan

Photograph by Blue Moves | Lakota Jernigan and Ashlyn Cianciolo rehearsing Valerie Hackworth’s dance Somewhere in Between

The group started with no budget and worked with the university for years, building as the dance program grew. When Roche and some of her fellow dancers and choreographers eventually moved to Nashville, the commute to MTSU got longer, and the result was a partnership formed with DancEast in East Nashville. They worked together to create a symbiotic relationship, serving each other in turn, with Blue Moves doing everything from cleaning the studios to teaching free workshops for DancEast’s students. It has grown into a healthy partnership, and the collaboration, Roche says, has made them stronger.

Both companies focus on the joy of dance, acknowledging that this is not a competition but a celebration of movement. Blue Moves still remains a collaborative effort with no artistic director, where company members share an equal voice. This, says Roche, allows dancers to remain more invested in the company and performance than they might otherwise be.

Muse promises to challenge and inspire viewers, bringing them into works with rich, layered themes and even enabling the audience to act as participant. If you’re looking for art— and specifically dance—as a method of speaking truth to the needs of social justice, this performance will likely reach out and take hold of your heart.

Roche suggests that the audience shouldn’t expect a traditional performance. Rather, in tackling themes ranging from depression and mental illness to the mythic relationship between the dance and the flow of water, to the exploration of the family tree through the metaphoric portrayal of the growth of trees, Muse promises to upend expectations and delight in wildly original ways.

The underwater piece, created by Amanda Roche and Ashlyn Cianciolo, uses film as a medium for dance, providing a narrative that varies deeply from traditional dance performance. Audience members can participate through the use of a looping station in the lobby to help create sound for one of the performances, which adds to the viewer’s investment in the show.

If you want to be surrounded by layer upon layer of art of every variety, you couldn’t do better than to check out Muse.

See Muse: Inspired by Nashville Artists by Blue Moves on March 11, at 7 p. m. at Looby Theater, 2301 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard. For more information, visit

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