LU Dance Series review: Kenneth Herrera

Lawrence’s dance program allows students, faculty and guest artists space for unabashed innovation. Throughout every dance event I have attended—class performances, guest artists, even outdoor odysseys across the Fox River—not once have I witnessed an unmoving experience. I leave with some essential part of me affected, my inner child satiated with a newfound wonder. 

This carries over especially to their Guest Artist Series. Esch Dance Studio, the nexus of the program, hosted Kenneth Herrera ’16 and Sonu ’20 on Monday, Sep. 25, 2023. Their return to Lawrence came with a collaborative performance alongside various faculty musicians and movement artists, culminating in an experience entitled “U.F.O (Untitled Forms of the Occasion).” 

Do not let its alien title deceive you; the event evoked a strong sense of connection from its advent. Sonu, a recording artist, introduced the night with poetics detailing love, acknowledgement and recognition — values they said society needs to embrace. “Someone always needs a helping hand, even if it’s you,” they affirmed. Instead of tabooing our innate fascination with the world, we need to foster intimacy with the communities that encourage us to question everything. 

As part of the LU Dance Series, guest artist and Lawrence alum Kenneth Herrera (’16) performed with fellow alum  Sonu (’20) and various Lawrence faculty members, including Ann Ellsworth, Loren Dempster, Mauriah Donegan Kraker, Margaret Sunghe Paek, Matt Turner and Mark Urness. Photo by Billy Greene.

By setting the tone, Sonu naturally ignited Herrera’s delicate yet simultaneously jagged motion. Herrera’s hip-hop background informed his improvisatory practice in a powerful way, digging within himself and expressing his spatial connection. Between vignettes of contact and windows of tension, the other movement artists joined in, enrapturing me in their unapologetic intimacies and distances. 

The instrumentalists mirrored these tugs of alienation. Metallic bass passages, soaring strings, grooves against the brass of a horn. Their work pressed more weight into the sharpness of isolation. Spurts of laughter came and went, as did silence — leaving only the breaths of the performers to fill up the space. At times, it was haunting; at others, introspective.

Once the movement began to slow down, the musicians droning on the same handful of notes, what took center stage was my mind. What I kept returning to was the staying power of love by contact throughout the performance: hands held together, heads nooked in shoulders, arms entwined and blooming.  

As they wrapped up, a question-and-answer session with Herrera validated the impact his artistry left on me: movement, in short, proves the story of self. Collaboration, despite being assimilatory in nature, nourishes your soul. I left Esch Studio that night with a smile on my face, and—yes—a newfound, grounded warmth.  

Lawrence University has declared dance as an interdisciplinary program with a new minor open to all students. More information about the minor can be found at Lawrence’s website.