The Institute of Dance Scholarship (IDS) is devoted to locate the brilliance of dance at the center of academic disciplines as well as local and global communities. IDS includes the Dance Studies Colloquium, Reflection: Response Choreographic Commission and the Scholar-in-Residence Program, and is planning on developing five more programs including a fellowship program, conferences and workshops, an awards program, and a journal and book series publication program. Earlier this month, Dr. Sherill Dodds hosted a launch party for the IDS.
I recently performed in the Temple University faculty concert. I was performing an improv piece that noted New York artist, Ishmael Houston-Jones created on a group of Temple students during his January residency at the school (the group included BFA’s, MFA’s, and a PhD). During the week that we worked together we did our best to understand his vision, but because it was an improv piece the vision remained nebulous. When reflecting on the performances there was no yard-stick against which the performance could be compared. A successful performance wasn’t measured against mistakes. The difference between good and great wasn’t an accounting of mistakes but whether we had embodied his vision and created magic in the process.
Unlike with set choreography where I had a better sense of the piece when I was on stage, I had a better sense of the piece when I was off-stage. Standing in the wings was no longer a passive act, waiting for the proper time for one’s next entrance. Standing in the wings was instead an active act of watching and thinking.
I had the freedom to be onstage or off. This meant that while watching from the wings I was constantly asking myself the question of whether my presence would add to the piece. I was constantly asking myself the questions of composition. Questions regarding positive/negative space, dynamics of energy, diversity of movement. I asked these questions of myself continuously, whether onstage or off, but was able to get a better sense of the whole piece, and therefore make a more informed answer when I was watching from the wings.
Watching in the wings is a different experience from watching from the audience, because of the different perspective; from the wings I am usually watching at an angle perpendicular to that of the audience. This means I only have an approximation of what it looks like from the audience, but my dance and choreography training means that I can fairly accurately transform the side view into the front view in my head. Even still, standing in the wings gives me the distance to allow that transformation to occur. That meant that when a friend asked me how the performance went my answer was “all I can tell you is that the parts I wasn’t in went really well”. There was a reason I had decided to stay in the wings, and that’s because magic was already being made.
All in all I learned a lot from this special opportunity to work with an established New York choreographer. The piece itself was co-created during a one-week residency at Temple during the winter break. Temple dance students of all levels were invited to audition for the residency. The opportunity was then provided for free. We had the opportunity to taking the residency for credit, but it wasn’t required.
New York City-based choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones was present in several ways on Temple’s campus this year: as guest artist, educator, and the subject of scholarly research. Dance students from all degree tracks were invited to participate in his creative process and learn about the numerous contributions this Bessie-award winning artist has made to the field of concert dance over the span of his thirty-plus year career. I personally had the pleasure of participating in and reflecting on Houston-Jones’ work from several angles.
As an invited guest artist, Houston-Jones spent an intensive week over winter break creating a new work with fifteen students. Beginning with the late November audition and continuing through the first half of the intensive week of 9am-5pm rehearsals, Houston-Jones offered improvisational structures and somatically-driven performance exercises. These practices were intended to deepen our skills as compelling performers and spontaneous dance-makers. Like the majority of Houston-Jones’ work, the spoken text and choreographic material in the dance was developed from the cast’s personal contributions and shared collaboration: as individuals, we responded to the prompt “In a perfect world…” and created movement phrases as a group. Houston-Jones’s emphasis on process over product meant that even after the structure of the dance was “set” the cast practiced techniques that would assist us in seeing compositional opportunities and react as a group in accord with a set of rules. In a Perfect World was performed February 3rd and 4th in the Faculty Concert in Conwell Theater.
Houston-Jones is also a subject of dance and critical improvisation scholar Danielle Goldman’s current research project. Goldman, author of the book I Want To Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom (2010), is a professor at The New School in New York City. Her January 24th Dance Studies Colloquium lecture focused on several artists featured in the Danspace Program Platform 2016: Lost & Found that Houston-Jones co-curated. The following day in the Directed Study in Dance Research doctoral seminar, Goldman presented her research about Houston-Jones’s THEM, a 2012 reprisal of a 1985 work on the AIDS crisis. Akin to her Colloquium address, Goldman’s engagement with THEM centers on themes of community, lineage and history, and intergenerational mentoring in the New York City postmodern/contemporary performance dance scene.
The multiple opportunities afforded by Temple University’s Department of Dance to engage with the work of Houston-Jones is a reminder about how interconnected the professional worlds of dance-making and performance, dance education, and dance scholarship are —and that studying dance and dancing are critical practices that call for on-going curiosity, attentive contemplation, and responsive action.
Read about M.F.A. student Alissa Elegant’s experience participating in the residency here!
–Elizabeth June Bergman is a second year doctoral student with a research focus on the dance work of Michael Jackson. She holds a MFA in Dance Performance from The University of Iowa and a BA in Dance from DeSales University. Elizabeth’s improvisation-based performance work incorporates her training in hatha yoga, ballet, modern dance, and somatic techniques and her interest in history, cultural memory, and critical theory.
Congratulations to our Temple Dance students who performed at ACDA at the University of Maryland College Park on March 8-11 2017! M.F.A. student Muyu Yuan presented her duet, Trio, and senior B.F.A. student Meghan McFerran presented her work, Vignette For You, at the Adjudicated Concert. M.F.A. Chrissy Eltvedt presented her work, L’Angelus, at the informal concert.
Both adjudicated pieces were chosen to perform at the Gala on Saturday night! Each piece received excellent feedback and impressed many students and faculty members from other universities. Temple was the big name all around the conference! Congratulations to the dancers, choreographers, and Temple Dance!
Congratulations to Professor Merìan Soto for being awarded the 2016 Leeway Transformation Award and for her feature in Contact Quarterly! Read about Soto’s commitment to the Philadelphia dance community and her recent artistic explorations HERE!
Soto’s work Todos Mis Muertos (1996) is inspired by life, death, and memories of her treasured Mamita. The piece was recently reconstructed and performed for the Fleisher Art Memorial. Read more about Soto’s choreographic process and spiritual endeavors HERE!
Photo Credit: Bill H
I was lucky enough to spend the past two weeks at Blaise-Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, France. I was invited to teach on the Choreomundus MA Program in Dance Knowledge, Practice and Heritage. This distinctive program is delivered across four European universities and attracts a diverse array of international students. I had the pleasure of meeting a cohort from Italy, Columbia, South Africa, Uzbekistan, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, China, Finland and the US. The international breadth made for lively discussion and I enjoyed working with them specifically in the areas of popular dance, screen dance, and dance ethnography. In addition to my teaching, I had the opportunity to work on some of my own research, and this included participating in a wonderful breaking class led by Dimitri Manebard. Although I worked hard during the day, I could not resist sampling some of the wonderful French food, and have eaten enough croissants, bread and cheese to see me through until the new year. Clermont-Ferrand is one of the oldest cities in France and I loved wandering through its intricate network of narrow streets sparkling with Christmas lights and the dramatic sight of its gothic cathedral. I feel incredibly fortunate that dance has been a passport both for international travel and for meeting students from across the world who share this mutual passion.
-Dr. Sherril Dodds
Professor of Dance
Imagine the feeling you get when you take that first sip of coffee on a sunny morning, excited and ready to conquer the day. This is Parsons Dance.
Artistic Director David Parsons has created more than 75 works on the New York City born modern dance company, three of which made their premiere in Philadelphia at the Prince Theater last week. Even after 32 years, Parsons Dance does not show one wrinkle or gray hair; the company is more energized and youthful than ever. Parsons Dance revitalizes modern dance with a shot of espresso, a splash of positive vibes, and a breath of fresh air.
Thursday night’s performance included robots, floating, and partying.
The Machines (world premiere) – Eight small green lights reflected on the cyc like laser pointers. Darkness came next, followed by a large flash of light. The light illuminated two floating drones in the middle of the stage. The dancers moved with caution around these unfamiliar objects. With each swift directional change of the robots, the dancers lost control of their own bodies through pushing and pulling, rising and falling as though they were being manipulated by the drones. Red lights, screeching sounds and frantic interweaving suggested an alien invasion. The piece concluded with the movers running in circles under the drone, unable to escape from it’s reign, or possibly unable to escape from technology that is taking over society. Parsons collaborated with Dr. Youngmoo Kim and his team of engineers from the ExCITe Center (Expressive and Creative Interactive Technologies Center) at Drexel University. Following the piece, the team explained some of the technological secrets behind the movement and tracking of the drones. Parsons and Kim hope to have just as many drones as dancers on stage one day. “Great art inspires technology,” Dr. Kim said passionately as he explained that this project is just the beginning of something groundbreaking in both art and science.
Hand Dance was both an intricate and simplistic piece that explores various human activities using only hands. The lighting by Tony award winning Howell Binkley largely contributed to the success of the piece. The floating, body-less hands that disappeared and reappeared into blackness created clever images such as a man walking down a hill, twiddling thumbs, rowing a boat, and dancing to country music.
Finding Center- Inspired by the artwork of Rita Blitt, this playful piece explored feelings of falling in love, being youthful and having fun. The music guided the Paul Taylor inspired movement displayed seemingly effortless swinging, wrapping, under curves and spiraling in and out of the floor, one melting right into the next. Partner work displayed beautiful lines and shapes that oozed into the next flawless turn, topped with refreshing smiles and expressions of genuine happiness. I felt that mid-morning buzz of coffee hit me.
Ian Spring majestically performed the famous 1982 solo “Caught.” Although I had seen this piece a few years ago, I was equally as enchanted by the snapshot imagery and evolution of each image displayed by Spring in the air as he disappeared and reappeared around the stage with each flash of the strobe lights. “It is really a duet between the lighting designer and the dancer,” Spring said when an audience member asked him the secret to his “floatation powers” during the talk back. The most impressive part of this piece was Spring’s silent landings.
In The End- “It’s a piece about partying,” Parsons said with a snicker. The work was casual appearance and movement, “chill” as the millennials would call it. As a dancer I know how difficult it is to remain “chill” while constantly turning in different directions, flying through partners, falling to the floor and springing back up again, and sharply accenting the music while making it look like I am at a party being careless and fun…not to mention in jeans and with my hair down.
Parsons delivered the perfect length of diverse repertory that entertained us with some original classics and some new refreshing work that excites the future of the company. David Parsons continues to passionately drive his work forward; he recently launched GenerationNOW fellowship, in which young choreographer’s enroll in a one-year mentor program with Parsons and then joins the company on tour the following season!
Parsons dance breeds refreshingly effortless, athletic, and delightful movers that inspire not just dancers but all people to take a deep breath, smile and get moving.
Rudolf Nureyev is quoted stating, “my feet are dogs”. It got me to think about what this means in terms of play in dance, more specifically improvisation. In one study, scientists in Sweden tested over 15,000 dogs to determine personality traits. Dog’s personalities can be broken down into five categories: Playfulness, Curiosity/fearlessness, Chase-proneness, Sociability and Aggressiveness.
In looking at the body as the feet being the “leader” or “initiator”, what does this mean in terms of what Nureyev is saying, that our feet are like dogs? In Merian Soto’s Corporeal Improvisation class, we are always challenged to find new ways of moving through various exercises, modes and entry points. If we are to play around with this idea of the feet being dogs within class, what could it in fact produce?
I played around with this concept in class and this is what I in fact found. Playfulness and curiosity, for me, are quite fruitful. Taking something so simple as the feet being the initiator to movement, can actually lend itself to be quite complex. I started off really small and built from there. I tried to move an inch at a time. I kept coming back to the same questions: what can the body say that isn’t “technique” focused? What does the body want to release and let go of?
Perhaps man’s best friend can teach us a lot in dance through the lens of Nureyev’s quote. Dogs are creatures that are very much in the moment and present in that. In improvisation, my most fruitful explorations have been when I have been so immersed within the moment; I lost sense of time and even space. Like a dog frolicking through a field, we can find much of that same curiosity and fearlessness found in this study. So I leave you with this question to answer through your exploration: How can your dancing change in an instant by taking off your tired worn out lens and putting on that of another?
By: Alana Melene Yost
- Your body is your instrument. You need it for your career, so you need to respect it and take care of it. If you are injured or sick, which will most likely occur at some point with all of the new changes in your life, allow yourself time to rest and heal so that you can get better and get back on your feet.
- Sleep. SLEEP. I cannot emphasize this enough. I know that college is exciting and you will have major fears of missing out on everyone’s 3am activities, but when you have 8am ballet the next morning, those 5 hours are just not going to cut it. One night of that is bad enough, but trying to do that week after week? You’ll crash. Get into a healthy sleeping pattern ASAP.
- Your food is your fuel. Say it with me. Your food is your fuel. You need it to dance, to perform, and to live. Don’t get caught up on what’s “good” and what’s “bad.” It is all doing the same thing: powering your body. Yes, some things are better for you than others, but that is where balance comes in. Foster a healthy relationship with food and stop feeling guilty for fueling your body.
- People always tell you how important “networking” and “building your network” is, but they don’t always tell you what that means. What you will come to realize is that your network is everyone you come into contact with, especially your friends. That’s why you should…
- Make friends of all shapes, sizes, ages, levels, techniques, and backgrounds. The person next to you at the bar could be choreographing on Broadway someday. Even if you’re not best friends for life, make sure they know you for your friendly face and positive attitude.
- Perform in class. No matter if it’s tendus in ballet, fortifications in modern, or 40 straight minutes of jacking in hip hop. STAY PRESENT and make people want to watch you, even if no one is watching. The people who are always performing are the ones that get noticed.
- You cannot attain perfection, so let go of that concept before you even step into your first class. You can work towards perfection, but just know that there are always new ways to improve and to explore in your own body and in the field of dance.
- Understand that when your teacher gives you a correction, or seems to “pick on” you, it does not mean you are always doing something wrong or they have something against you. In fact, it means two very different things. 1) Your teacher is watching and paying attention to you, and 2) He or she believes in you and knows you can do even better.
- Strive to never receive the same correction twice. Once you are given a correction, apply it and get ready to work on the next one.
- The only way to fail is to stop trying. No matter how many times you mess up, if you keep trying, you will get the results you’re looking for.
- Go to every possible audition for every possible thing within the dance department. If you hear about an audition that same day and are completely unprepared, go anyway. Show them your talent and passion and drive and who knows, you might be exactly what they were looking for.
- On that same note, don’t be afraid to show your heart. That is what really makes a dancer. Anyone can learn to do 15 pirouettes (ok, not everyone) but if those 15 pirouettes don’t make the audience feel something, then you’ve lost the point of dance entirely. Show them what you have inside of you and let it shine, so that by the time the audience walks out, they’re changed from when they walked in.
- Don’t ever let fear keep you from trying new things and expanding your horizons. If you’ve never taken African and the idea terrifies you, take it. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.
- You define what “success” is for yourself. If you always give it everything you’ve got, mentally and physically, you will always be succeeding, even if it’s just in small ways. Acknowledge those moments and give yourself credit for each and every one.
- The only person you should ever try to be “better than” is the dancer you were yesterday.
- Find your voice as a dancer. It may not happen in your first semester, or year, or even your entire time at college, but always continue to explore yourself and your body and how you can give your gift to the world. That, my friend, is what dance is all about.
1st Year B.F.A.
January Residency 2017 with Ishmael Houston-Jones
Monday through Friday, January 9 through 13, 2017, 9-5 each day
Ishmael Houston-Jones is a choreographer, author, performer, teacher, and curator. His improvised dance and text work has been performed in New York City, across the US, and in Europe, Canada, Australia, and Latin America. Houston-Jones and Fred Holland shared a Bessie Award for their piece Cowboys, Dreams and Ladders. He also revived THEM, his 1985 collaboration with writer Dennis Cooper and composer Chris Cochrane for which he was awarded his second Bessie Award. He has curated Platform 2012: Parallels and Platform 2016: Lost and Found, both at Danspace Project. He is a recipient of the 2016 Herb Alpert, a 2015 Doris Duke Impact and a 2013 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Artists Awards.
Audition: November 30, 2016
4:30 – 6:00 PM in Pearson 221
To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This may be taken for Repertory II or III but that is not required