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The Unity Movement

MADCO dancers Darrell V. Hyche II (front) and (from left) Gabriella Billy, Taylor Nash and Austin Grigg rehearse "The Unity Movement." Photo by Scott Shy 

St. Louis boasts a wide range of neighborhoods, distinguished by their diversity. Sometimes that brings about conflict, but a common sense of community can often lead to understanding. And art can play an important role in that process.

In that spirit, the dance ensemble MADCO came up with its latest presentation, “The Unity Movement.” The program includes “Middle of the Road” by Dallas-based choreographer Joshua Peugh, “In the Meadow” by Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez and “miles(dia)logged” by MADCO dancers Belicia Beck, Darrell V. Hyche II and Natalie Williams.

Recently, Go! Magazine spoke with artistic director Nicole Whitesell about the show, which explores the connections that make St. Louis what it is. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q • What are some of the themes that inspired “The Unity Movement”?

A • One of the first questions we started off with was, why do people in St. Louis feel like they can tell so much about a person by where they went to high school? Do you really know anything about people just because of where they grew up? There are more things in this city that divide us than just race — it’s also religious background, it’s gender, it’s sexual orientation, it’s what sports teams we support. It goes from stuff that’s very deep and heavy to things that are a little bit lighter.

Q • What’s involved in translating such ideas into dance?

A • Some of it is literal; some of it is more abstract. There’s a lot of variety and openness, where people can kind of interpret what they want to interpret. A lot of the movement (in the program) was formed specifically by the choreographers, but there’s a good portion of it where the choreographers wanted input from the dancers, so the dancers also had a voice.

Q • Are you concerned that the program might only attract people who are already open-minded regarding the issues it raises, but not reach those who might benefit from it?

A • We’re trying to work with different groups to get people who aren’t like-minded in the same room, so that we can facilitate a conversation.

Q • You’ve been MADCO’s artistic director since January of last year, succeeding Stacy West. Was “The Unity Movement” your idea?

A • It started when Stacy was still (with MADCO). But I was rehearsal director and associate artistic director prior to being artistic director, and for the last five years or so I’ve been part of the artistic vision of where the company is going and the projects we’re doing.

What MADCO: “The Unity Movement” • When 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday • Where Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge Road • How much $30 for evening performances; $15 for Saturday matinee, with sensory-friendly modifications in sound and lighting • More info touhill.org