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Grad Spotlight – Naila Ansari invited to produce new work at Kennedy Center

First-year MFA in Dance student, Naila Ansari, has been invited to produce her new piece, Mine Eyes Have Seen, at the Kennedy Center this spring. The piece, set to Jon Batiste’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and Les Tambours Du Bronx’s “Black Bull”, is an “exploration of art as activism as a form to invoke change” according to Ansari. By using the embodiment of historical images of marginalized bodies in protest, Ansari seeks to show the correspondence of gesture, language, and image. Using questions as an impetus for movement, Ansari uses gestures of injustice to create a language of unity. Movement, narrative and choreographic composition have allowed her to create a performative space for the voiceless. Mine Eyes Have Seen is a piece that provides a space for discussion about race, injustice, and inequality through performance.


“I use dance and choreography as my form of activism.” Says Ansari, “This piece is a work that brings awareness to injustices placed on marginalized bodies. I wanted to research gestures of resistance and oppression to ask questions of both my dancers and spectators to help invoke change. If we all put on these gestures can we develop more empathy for the oppressed? While I can not measure empathy, I can measure the number of people that participate in putting on these gestures. This piece is a development of my practice as research. I look to use my research and inquires as a mechanism for movement generation. I used archival materials to (re) create images and choreographic composition to develop a narrative for our current social and political times.”


As a first-year student in the UB MFA program, Ansari notes how her education has impacted her choreography, “I am learning how to research, use theory and dance making as a catalyst for change. I take the lessons from my professors seriously and I try to apply each bit of knowledge to advance my artistry. If it were not for this program, I would not be able to make a clear line of inquiry for my works. I have learned that asking good lines of inquiry is the impetus for creating good work. I have also learned that the editing process and having the aid of a dramaturg is a necessity in artistic development.”


The Kennedy Center is the nation’s busiest performing arts center, hosting approximately 3,000 events each year for audiences numbering more than 2 million. Since 1971, the center has been bringing the world to Washington with magnificent performances of music, dance, theater, and more. “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities,” President Kennedy once said, “we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” This quote by President Kennedy is the essence of what it means to bring Ansari’s work to the Kennedy Center, “a contribution to the human spirit.”



A native of Buffalo New York, Naila Ansari Woods is a Cum Laude graduate of Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts program. She is an original and former principal dancer for the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble. The company was named “Top 25 Dance Companies to Watch” by Dance Magazine for the 2012-2013 season. Naila has also performed works for the legendary Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Camille Brown, Robert Battle, Kyle Abraham and a host of other choreographers. She is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Choreography at the University at Buffalo.