Dancers from MTSU interpret artist's 'visceral undercurrents' in 'powerful' performance at the Frist

Jul 30, 2021 at 09:10 am by WGNS

MTSU dance alumna Jordyn Hill, center, and professor Jade Treadwell, left, concentrate on their performance Saturday, July 24, in the auditorium at Nashville's Frist Art Museum while their fellow dancers strike poses behind them. The five-member troupe presented "Visceral Undercurrent," a dance routine Treadwell independently choreographed for the Frist that was inspired by its new exhibit, “Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick.” (photo courtesy of the Frist Art Museum)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Assistant professor Jade Treadwell and an ensemble of MTSU dance students and alumnae brought their artistry to a Nashville audience last weekend, presenting a special performance at the Frist Art Museum inspired by a new exhibit by artist Kara Walker. 

The July 24 dance, which Treadwell choreographed as an independent project for the Frist and titled “Visceral Undercurrent,” featured sophomore Jasmine Dillon of McMinnville, Tennessee; May graduate Jordyn Hill of Knoxville; and graduate student Jennifer James and senior Tika Smith, both of Murfreesboro, dancing alongside their professor in an ensemble. 

Treadwell incorporated both rhythmic tap and contemporary modern dance movement into "Visceral Undercurrent” to reflect Walker’s images of the painful legacies of slavery, sexism, violence, imperialism and other power structures in in “Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick,” on exhibit at the Frist through Oct. 10.  

“I’m honored to be sharing my work in Nashville,” the professor said shortly before the performance. “Most importantly, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my love for choreography and performance with a trusting cast. They went all the way on this creative journey."  

The museum called the dancers’ tribute to Walker’s work “magic” and “powerful” in its social media. A brief video of the MTSU dancers from the Frist’s Twitter account is available at

The display marks Walker’s first solo exhibition at the Frist and features more than 80 of her works, including prints, drawings, paintings, sculpture, film and the large-scale silhouette cutouts for which she’s most often recognized. 

Her collection of silhouettes layered over illustrations reproduced from Harper's Weekly magazine’s 1866 “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War” aims to expose the racial injustices of the period. Another series, “An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters,” captures the horrors of the slave trade from multiple perspectives. 


The dance troupe’s performance “explored the various layers of turbulence captured in the stirring imagery in Walker’s etching, ‘An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters: no world,’” Treadwell said. 

The professor noted that her choreography also made use of “the visual landscape” of Nashville poet Ciona Rouse’s “The Slave Ship Gets Nowhere without The Sea to Carry It.” Rouse borrowed the title of her poem, which also is included in the exhibit, from Walker’s notes.  

Treadwell, who earned her Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts degrees in dance performance and choreography from Florida State University, has performed with Staib Dance and ClancyWorks as well as freelancing throughout Atlanta, the Washington, D.C., area, and Florida.  

She’s currently working toward her doctoral degree in exercise science at MTSU and researches movement screens and injury protocols in undergraduate dancers. Her choreography is inspired by historically informed storytelling of African American culture, music, community and spirituality and by elevating the significance of women in those spaces. 

The Walker exhibit, which is part of the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, also includes her complete “Emancipation Approximation” series interpreting the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and images from her “Porgy & Bess” series on the controversial 1935 opera. 


More Information:

MTSU's dance program offers the only Bachelor of Science degree in dance at a public university in Tennessee. For more information about the program in the Department of Theatre and Dance in MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts, visit  

For more information about the Walker “Cut to the Quick” exhibit at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, visit

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