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Emory students excel at American College Dance Association conference

Emory College seniors Cherry Fung and Jessica Bertram perform at the prestigious ACDA South Conference. Photo by Lauren Lindeen.

For only the second time in 25 years, two choreographed works from Emory University students were featured in the American College Dance Association's South Conference.

Out of 46 entries from college faculty, guest artists and students across the region, “She fell, but felt no fear” by Jessica Bertram and “Two in one” by Cherry Fung were among the 12 works selected to be performed at the 2017 event, held at Auburn University last month. Bertram and Fung are seniors in Emory College of Arts and Sciences.

“This is one of the highest recognitions a university dance program can receive,” says Sally Radell, professor and interim director of the Emory Dance Program.

“She fell, but felt no fear" was inspired by research Bertram began conducting in the Rose Library in February 2016.

“I collected a lot of African American materials such as photos, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, books, poems, obituaries and music selections ranging from the late 1800s to the late 1900s,” Bertram says. “A lot of these archives were labeled 'unidentified,' because they contained locations and dates, but no names.”

Bertram spent months immersing herself in the archival material and developing movement phrases that voiced the untold stories of these “unidentified” sources.

“The piece consumed me — physically, spiritually and emotionally,” she says. One ACDA guest artist judge picked up on Bertram’s submersion in her work, remarking that watching “She fell, but felt no fear” reminded viewers “how important the relationship between the choreography and performer is.”

“Jessica Bertram is a brilliant performer who dances with deep abandonment and precision,” Radell says. “She fully embodies her personal history in all that she creates. She has been an exemplary example for our students of a mature, accomplished artist who is fearless in all she does.”

Cherry Fung’s “Two in one” (later named “two in one encounter”) is an excerpt from her honors thesis project, “众|从|人 Trilogy,” which explores personal identity within the context of a conflicted multicultural status. The duet, performed by Fung and Bertram, embodies the challenges of navigating between clashing identities.

“During the choreographic process, I focused on the concepts of confrontation, negotiation and attempted resolution,” Fung says. “I was interested in seeing how Jessica and I could use our arms and legs to intrude, retrieve and interact with each other and the space around us. To further emphasize the physicality of the dance, I decided to have the duet performed in silence throughout the whole six and a half minutes.”

“Cherry Fung has raised the bar artistically in all aspects of her dance work for our program,” Radell says. “She has dived deep into her Chinese culture and found ways to weave her heritage into her choreographic work in an authentic and deeply moving way.”

In their remarks, adjudicators described Fung’s piece as “powerful” and “refreshing,” and a work of “unselfconscious beauty.”

Following graduation, both students plan to stay in Atlanta and continue dancing and choreographing. Fung looks forward to taking advantage of the local connections she’s made at Emory to launch into her professional dance career.

“Atlanta has a very vibrant and supportive dance community, and I am excited to be a part of it,” she says.

Bertram will continue teaching dance at Atlanta’s nationally recognized youth development program, Moving in the Spirit. In the future, she plans to pursue a master of fine arts in dance and looks forward to a career as a dancer, choreographer and possibly an instructor in a university program.

“The Emory Dance Program has taught me the importance of dance and its powerful place in academics," she says. "I love the idea of coming into a space of curious minds that want to discover dance. I want to be a facilitator of that exploration in the future.”

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