Reflection Response: kNots & Nests

Photo by Matthew Altea

 

By Mijkalena Smith

My time performing and creating in the Reflection:Response Commission, kNots & Nests, by Marion Ramirez was undoubtedly one of the most meaningful experiences I have ever had. kNots & Nests is a multi-disciplinary creative project celebrating the duet as the smallest unit of community (https://www.knots-nests.org/gallery). This project’s artistic collaborations include Marion Ramirez (project’s director/ dance department, Boyer) Adam Vidiskis (music department, Boyer School of Music and Dance), Kris Rumman (visual art, Tyler School of Art and Architecture), and Jungwoong Kim (dance, Boyer School of Music and Dance). Student Participants included artists from Temple dance, music, journalism, film, and visual art departments.  Never before have I been surrounded by such a diverse, creative, and genuine group of people.

I think sometimes at Temple we become stuck inside our own departments, constantly working and improvising with the same people day after day. Having the opportunity to work with artists from different Music department and Tyler school of Art brought a fresh, new atmosphere of creativity that allowed for the success of this project across various art mediums. Apprehensive about working with improvisation for the first time, Marion Ramirez facilitated a connection among us artists that helped me learn that this work was more about our relationship to each other and the concepts surrounding the piece, rather than exact movements or choreography.

 

Photo by Matthew Altea

 

An emotionally raw and vulnerable experience; I learned that pushing past one’s comfort zone with other artists creates the purest art. I learned how to reach out and express myself to people in a way I never would have imagined. It was a rich experience I am eternally grateful for and will certainly never forget.

 

Mijka Smith BFA Dance Student

Tapping into Confidence

Photo by Brian Mengini.

By Kaitlyn Miller

Dance has always been a passion, from the stage to the classroom to my home, it always generates so many emotions for me. I have participated in many styles including ballet, jazz, modern, tap, ballroom dance, but there was something about tap that draws me closer. At a very young age, I knew tap would take me somewhere, if I continued to work hard at it.

Tap is the style of dance to which I feel the strongest connection too and I was able to continue that connection during my time at Temple with a Studio Research piece in the Spring semester of 2019. I decided to create a piece, set for two dancers using portable wooden floors. I created the piece to embody a machine, with the natural wooden floors, rusty orange lights, and simple costumes- jeans and a black t-shirt. The style of tap I was working with concentrated on the intricate, rhythmic patterns and phrasing of the footwork. This is an unfamiliar form to me, but my time in the studio and creating this piece allowed me to become more accustomed with it.

With my confidence boosted, I decided to audition for the Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, a Philadelphia-based, all-women ensemble which “produces original works of choreography while preserving the tradition of improvisation in American rhythm tap” (http://www.ladyhoofers.org/). After the audition process, I was pleased to learn I was an apprentice company member for the 2019-2020 season. We are currently working on pieces for our Tapcracker performance in December, and I am learning more and more about the percussive side of tap. Even after tapping for twenty years, I am learning so much each rehearsal, because I come from a musical theatre/broadway style tap background.

I am looking forward to my time with the company as we continue to learn choreography, improvisational skills and take class. Within my future Studio Research choreography at Temple and in my Thesis, I plan to apply these newfound skills.

 

Kaitlyn Miller MFA Student

Carpentry and Dance Collide

Dr. Onye Ozuzu, Dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Florida.

By Muriel Peterson, MFA Student

Dr. Onye Ozuzu; is the Dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Florida; in Gainesville, Florida. She came to Temple University for the “Dance Studies Colloquium” lecture on September 10th and is known as a performing artist, choreographer, administrator, educator, and researcher. Her most recent work, “Project Tool,” unites the world of construction with the world of dance. The result, several hexagon shaped floors that can be easily transported and performed on, as well as an examination of “the inter-relationships between body, task, and tool” (http:// ozuzudances.com/).

Project Tool image courtesy of http:// ozuzudances.com.

Ozuzu explained the process of building the floors and choreographing based on that experience. She describes it as arduous, meticulous work, yet satisfying and humbling. However, the most interesting aspect of this project, in my opinion, is the appreciation it elicits from the performers/builders for the floor itself. Dividing each rehearsal between construction and choreography, Ozuzu and her dancers are able to develop a relationship with each floor they build. Although at times the performers do not enjoy the tediousness of the building, a sense of gratitude and protectiveness emerges for the floors regardless.

As a practitioner of both break dancing and tap, I find it surprising that it took the actual construction of the floors to elicit appreciation for them. More often than not, dancers like myself have to fight for the floors of our choice and in many cases settle for less. With tap, I remember my teacher explaining the importance of the floor and how it connects to the music we make as we dance; in order to hear it at its best, it must be played on a wood surface because it generates a high quality sound and it is not too harsh on the dancer’s body. Similarly, break dancers appreciate its smooth surface and gentleness on the body as well.

All-in-all, “Project Tool,” is an intriguing piece of art. It combines real life carpentry with the art of dance. In addition, it challenges both the audience and the dancers to recognize the value in ordinary things; in this case the value lies in the floors themselves.

Muriel Peterson

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

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.

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.

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.

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

Dr. Dodds’ Trip to France

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. choreomundusClermont-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

 

Parsons Dance- Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

 

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.

 

-Meghan McFerran

B.F.A. Dance

B.A. Journalism

Meghanmcferran.com