Capturing CADD

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From February 16-19, 2018, the third bi-annual Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) conference will convene at Duke University in Durham, NC. This year’s conference, themed Dance Black Joy: Global Affirmations and Defiance, will feature Drs. Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Melissa Blanco Borelli and Marianna Francisca Martins Monteiro as keynote speakers and a variety of breakout sessions, movement workshops and film screenings. There will also be a remembrance of the late Baba Chuck Davis and a performance of CANE, a responsive environment dancework by Thomas DeFrantz, SLIPPAGE: Performance/Culture/Technology and Wideman/Davis Dance (DeFrantz 2018).

 

Founded by a powerhouse of artist-scholars in the field of African diaspora dance studies, the conference is committed to “exploring, promoting and engaging African diaspora dance as a resource and method of aesthetic identity” (Duke University  2016). Since its inception in 2012 as the African Diaspora Dance Research Group at Duke University, the conference aims to facilitate interdisciplinary inquiry that challenges and expands the field of Black Dance Studies.  

 

I attended CADD in 2016, where I presented a lecture-demonstration on corporeal memory and Germaine Acogny’s Modern African Dance Technique. I enjoyed the networking and stimulating academic discourse one would typically expect at an academic conference. Even the dance workshops in which I participated blended an unusually high level of theoretical discourse with kinesthetic engagement. However, there was one aspect of the experience that I found unique to CADD. Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin, one of the founding members of CADD, summed it up during her opening speech:

 

Welcome back home.

 

As Dr. Amin explained to the room of rapt listeners, who nodded and clapped in agreement, CADD is more than place of ideological exchange. It is a meeting ground for a unique group of thinkers and movers—those of us whose research centers on the methods, aestheticism and theories of African and diaspora dance practices. As a first-year PhD Dance student, I found myself in a safe space where my ideas had room to stretch and breathe. Before offering my theories on Acogny Technique, I did not feel the need to first qualify WHY Acogny Technique should be taken seriously as a contemporary dance practice “despite” its African aesthetics. There was a shared acknowledgement in the room that movement forms of Africa run the gamut from traditional-based social dances to urban dances to neotraditional and contemporary dance forms (that’s what makes them so cool). The idea that a dance practice can be simultaneously of African origin and expressed within a Euro-American paradigm is a common understanding we have here at Temple (we have Umfundalai, after all). But, as many CADD attendees could surely tell you, our work is sometimes met with resistance by well-intentioned (and sometimes not) but misinformed academics who believe otherwise.

 

This is not the case at CADD.

 

I was at home, amongst pioneering scholars and scholars-to-be who supported my work. The questions my audience proposed and suggestions they offered me were critical but not antagonistic—they were seemingly interested not only in the success of my work but with our collective forward movement as African Diaspora (and Black) dance scholars.

 

This year I’ll attend the conference, not as a presenter, but as a lowly, overwhelmed (and possibly underwhelming?) third-year PhD student who desperately hopes she won’t mess up her elevator pitch while donning a thinly veiled facade of nonchalance to hide her newbie excitement at being in the room with some of the most groundbreaking scholars in the field but worried that she will talk too fast or say too much like she always does when discussing her research that unfortunately spins her around in circles that never produce enough AH-HA! moments.

 

So back to CADD I go. Because in the process of babbling nonstop with kindly indulgent artist-scholar-strangers and sharing war stories with other Dance PhD students, somehow clarity descends and I realize that I’m on the right track after all.

 

 

Omi Davis, M.F.A.

Third Year PhD Dance Student
Boyer College of Music and Dance
Temple University

 

“Collegium for African Diaspora Dance (CADD) Conference, February 19-21, 2016: Call for Proposals.” Duke University. Last modified 2016. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://danceprogram.duke.edu/news/collegium-african-diaspora-dance-cadd-conference-february-19-21-2016-call-proposals

 

“Dance Black Joy: Global Affirmations and Defiance.” Collegium for African Diaspora Dance. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://www.cadd-online.org/2018-conference.html

 

DeFrantz, Thomas F. “African Diaspora Dance conference focuses on themes of joy and defiance.” (press release) Facebook. Accessed February 2, 2018. https://www.facebook.com/thomas.defrantz/posts/2014733948767498

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That One Time I Got Paid

This past summer I scored my first professional contract. Yes, that is right, I (finally) got paid! And it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that Temple is one of the reasons for that.

As a freshman, I had the pleasure of auditioning for my first winter residency. I was thrilled when I found out that I had been selected to perform the work of Atlanta based choreographer, T. Lang. I had no previous knowledge of her but once the program started, I fell in love with her movement, ideologies, and process. She was unlike anything that I had ever seen before.

At the end of our week together, we had constructed not just a piece but an experience. An emotional ride through the stages and challenges of loss. She taught me about intention and why it was important to create a story for your movement. She told me that “If you don’t believe it, no one will”. As the residency concluded, I realized that I needed more. More of T. Lang, more warm ups to Erykah Badu, and phrases featuring Al Green. Come to find out T. Lang, along B-Girl Teena Marie Custer, hosted a summer intensive.

So, I saved my money to attend the program in Atlanta. I went to the week-long intensive and grew in more ways than one. One thing that was really enforced was the concept of community. T. and Teena fostered an environment that was safe, lacked traditional judgement, and emphasized working together. It was a very different experience from intensives that I had attended in the past.

This awesome program culminated with an audition to perform with T. Lang ATL at the Atlanta High Museum of Art’s Summer Kick Off Party. I decided at the last minute to audition and I got it! Within the hour I was signing a contract committing to 3 weeks of rehearsals, a show, and agreeing to pay rates. I couldn’t believe that it happened so fast. We all wait for the day to say that we have “gone pro”. It was a strangely satisfying feeling.

I lived in Atlanta for a month. I spent time with family, made friends, rehearsed extensively, and got to close it out with a fun-filled show. This job really made everything come full circle for me; it reinforced that I picked the right program. Without Temple and our faculty’s dedication to our success, I probably wouldn’t have come into contact with T. Lang. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

 

 

If you are interested in seeing what T. Lang is all about click here. I highly recommend her summer intensive. Go and experience T. and all her wonder.

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Learning the FUNdamentals of Hip Hop

Over the winter break, I participated in the January Residency with Kyle and Dinita Clark. The husband and wife team have their own company called Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company. Both Kyle and Dinita are extremely passionate about the history and culture of Hip-Hop dance. One of their major goals is to teach the next generation the true roots of the art form. Throughout the week they taught us about different the aspects of creating and running your own company. We learned a lot about the obstacle that they had to go through to get to where they are now.

The program consisted of both B.F.A and M.F.A students. we  explored the fundamentals of hip hop; Studying styles like house, whacking, popping, locking, and breaking. Kyle and Dinita taught us the history of each style through fun new routines. Each day they taught a new style. We learned about different eras, the music, and the people who created a popular style of hip hop dance during that time.

We also got to experience being a part of one of Kyle and Dinita’s piece’s for the Faculty Dance Concert. We learned a 12-minute piece in less than two days. It was a lot of choreography that required a lot stamina. We would run the piece multiple times a day so that every time we did it, the movement would feel more comfortable in our bodies. By the end of the residency, the steps were already inside of us and we got to dance, feel the music and have fun.

Overall, it was one of the most inspiring dance experiences I have ever had. It was a week filled with hard work, a lot of sweat, and many inspirational quotes from Kyle. Their love of dance exudes out of them so much that it allows you to grow in your own artistry.

 

— Talia Montone, B.F.A. Student

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Temple Dance Alumni News 2016-2017

2014 B.F.A. alumna Rachel Hart is cast in the 2017 National Tour of Pippin!

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2013 M.F.A. Alumna Shaness Kemp performed with Deeply Rooted in the Fall of 2016!

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2015 B.F.A. alums Julian Darden, Sophiann Moore and Danzel Thompson-Stout choreographed and danced for Black Nativity at the Freedom Theatre in December 2016! Read a review about their performance here.

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The trio also recently collaborated with the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia in the production of Honegger: King David at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. The dancers collaborated with Professor Jillian Harris to create the work.

 

2015 alumna Nia Shand is a freelance artist who collaborates with Ness White to tell stories of relationships and identity through spoken word and dance. Check out their Facebook page for more information!

 

2014 alumna Belle Alvarez was selected as one of two BrideNext residency artists at the Painted Bride!

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2017 Reflection:Response Commission

May 2, 2017 

Temple University Department of Dance

The Temple University Department of Dance, Institute for Dance Scholarship, is delighted to announce the sixth Reflection:Response Choreographic Commission has been awarded to

Lela Aisha Jones | FlyGround 

Building on her current series of episodic works, Plight Release & the Diasporic Body, Lela Aisha Jones will create Everyday SaturdayThis work traverses, through the body and movement, what a diasporic orientation offers us as a guide towards individual and collective restoration. The choreography remembers, archives, and excavates black/African descendent cultural retentions. The purpose is to sustain the practices of togetherness and solidatiry by centering lived experiences and movement as fertile resources. Jones is asking, “What if we continue to bring into consciousness that we, as people on this earth, remain and become tapestries grounded in histories and our own discoveries that collide, merge, diverge, and converge?  What if the body and artistry are the most ripe locations for these processes?”

Everyday Saturday works to capture the gestural, common, and less visible locations of black/African diasporic movement in the U.S. It is inspired by the Saturday morning clean up ritual that took place weekly in the Southern U.S., North Florida city of Tallahassee, in the Jones home. Dancing while cleaning makes work feel like family. Cleaning becomes a metaphor for bringing up the dirt and the stories only the body can tell—acknowledging them and making room for the new. Students of the Temple University Department of Dance will join Jones and her company in Everyday Saturday.  

In addition Lela Aisha Jones | FlyGround will perform the critically acclaimed trio Jesus & Egun (2016) a deemed by NYC Reviewer Eva Yaa Asantawaa as a choreographic world she would never want to leave.

Performances will take place in Temple University’s Conwell Dance Theater, on Friday and Saturday, September 22 and 23, at 7:30 PM.  Additional public programming includes a public Diasporic Movement Practice workshop on Sunday led by Lela Aisha Jones,  Sept 24, from  2-5PM and a roundtable forum titled Integrity and Imagination While Dancing Diaspora on Sunday Oct 1, from 2-5pm.

The Reflection/Response Choreographic Commission includes a cash award of $5,000 and access to rehearsal space at Temple University throughout summer 2017.  Past commission recipients include Laura Peterson, Charles O. Anderson, Tatyana Tennenbaum, Jennifer Weber, and Kathy Westwater.

Lela Aisha Jones is a native of Tallahassee, FL who resides in Philadelphia, PA.  She is a  movement performance artist that has come to understand dance as an “archival practice” and her body “as an artistic archive—a creative storage space for movement and culture derived from the individual and collective lived experiences of blackness.” Lela is the founder of FlyGround, her creative home, where she cultivates her artistry that intertwines personal history, diasporic movement, social commentary, and interdisciplinary methods.  Lela earned a Master of Fine Arts in Dance at Florida State University and is a current doctoral candidate at Texas Woman’s University.  She is a 2013 Dance USA Philadelphia Rocky Awardee, a 2015 Leeway Foundation Transformation Awardee and a member of the inaugural 2015 Innovative Cultural Advocacy Fellows designed by leaders at the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute in NYC. Lela is also a 2017 New York Dance and Performance Award – Bessie nominated choreographer and a 2016 Pew Fellow in the Arts.

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Institute of Dance Scholarship Launch Party

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.

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Title: Dancing with Ishmael Houston-Jones

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.

-Alissa Elegant

M.F.A. student

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Ishmael Houston-Jones Residency at Temple

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.

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Temple Dance at ACDA

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!

 

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Professor Merían Soto Awarded 2016 Leeway Transformation Award

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

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