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.

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

 

MA Program: Student Perspective

My name is Shannon O’Hara, I am a native of New Jersey and am currently working towards my Master of Arts in Dance. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree I felt that graduate school would be an integral part of my growth and development as a professional in the field of dance. After graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in Dance Education I felt that I was equipped with a solid foundation of information and experience but sensed that my research and participation in academia was just beginning. During my time at Temple I hope to continue my research in dance education while also exploring and developing my voice as a creator and scholar. As I continue through my own education I am presently most interested in developing ways to utilize multiple roles of dance to better educate and influence how I approach all experiences I have with this fine art form. Research topics I am also interested in investigating during my time at Temple are the representation of pedagogical courses in higher education as well as the content of dance teacher preparation programs in the academy. Thanks to Temple’s graduate school programs, I am able to continue my own education while working to contribute to the dance community as a whole.

 

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Scholar-in-Residence Program 2016: Q and A with Dr. Harmony Bench

Temple University 

INSTITUTE of DANCE SCHOLARSHIP

Scholar-in-Residence Program 2016: Q and A with Harmony Bench

Harmony Bench is Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance at The Ohio State University, where she is also affiliated faculty with Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Translational Data Analytics. Her writing has appeared in numerous edited collections, as well as Dance Research JournalThe International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital MediaParticipations, and Performance Matters, among others. Projects underway include a book in contract with University of Minnesota Press, tentatively entitled Dance as Common: Movement as Belonging in Digital Cultures, as well as Mapping Touring, a digital humanities and database project focused on the performance engagements of early 20th century dance companies.

M.F.A. candidate Amanda Keller had the opportunity to ask Dr. Bench, a few questions about her experience as a scholar and artist and her upcoming residency at Temple.

Q: What has surprised you most about the field of dance?

This is such a huge question! One thing that has really surprised me is the extent to which amateur and professional dancers and dance-makers have taken to the Web to promote themselves and share their work through studio videos, clips of performances, and even entire films. There is such a strong academic narrative of dance being “of the body” or about “liveness” or the centrality of oral transmission of dance histories that one might have been led to believe that social media would not have a profound impact on the broader field of dance. While I’m not surprised that this has proved to be untrue, I am surprised at the extent to which it has been refuted. I think dance scholars must now go through the work of deciphering what this treasure trove of continuously updated movement content means for movement and cultural literacies, for dance education, and for practices of transmission.

Q:  As a faculty member in the Department of Dance and in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at Ohio State, how are these fields related to each other? Do you think there is a wide gap between the two fields that need to be addressed?

I think dance and feminist studies are highly complementary fields of investigation. If we look at the beginnings of what some now call critical dance studies, we see feminist inquiry as a fundamental component of that work. I’m thinking here of Susan Leigh Foster, Ann Cooper Albright, Cynthia Novack, and Jane Desmond. Of course there are many others, but these were the scholars I first encountered as an undergraduate student majoring in ballet and women’s studies. They made me feel like there was something both useful and urgent in bringing these fields together. As both areas of scholarship have continued to evolve, I think they have found even more common ground in their mutual interest in (mostly human but also non-human) bodies, and how culture shapes what bodies do and what they can be said to mean—including but not limited to questions of representation. Further, more scholars are thinking aesthetics and politics, and aesthetic practices and political practices, together. Colonization, global migration, and protest, for example, are pressing concerns for dance scholars as well as political theorists, and concepts such as choreography, technique, practice, and performance enable scholars to think about how movement emerges from or is organized in contexts other than dance. As for whether or not there is a gap between the two fields, I think that’s the place of investigation—whatever choreographic, written, or other form that inquiry might take. The point is not to seal the gap shut, but to see what previously unthought possibilities arise in trying to bridge it.

Q: How can dance fit/remain current in an ever increasing digitized world?

I hear some version of this question a lot, and I think there’s an underlying fear that dance is losing its cultural relevance, and by extension, its economic viability as a career path. But I think we really need to examine what is meant by “dance” in questions like this. If we can expand our definition beyond artistic works crafted for a theatrical context and the training systems that have developed to support those types of productions, then I think the question we need to ask is not how dance remains current in a digitized world, but what dance or movement practices have currency within a digital norm, and what digital practices facilitate access to and cultivate fluency in dance or other movement practices? Then we can also ask how dancers, dance-makers, dance educators, and dance scholars position themselves in relation to technological change, and how we individually and collectively navigate aesthetic commitments and ethico-political responsibilities under new circumstances of mediation.

The anxieties that still surround digital technologies once accompanied other media such as print and cinema, and they will similarly greet whatever paradigm supersedes the digital era. As long as dancing continues to offer a vehicle for questioning and manifesting what it is to be human and have a body, experimenting with entering into and exiting from systems of relation among human and non-human parties, and offering a way to apprehend motional and emotional (affective) ideas, it will be current. Dancing will be current as long as people find reasons to keep dancing.

Q: What excites you the most about your upcoming residency at Temple?

Temple has a very impressive faculty, and I’m excited to exchange work and have conversations with such stellar scholars. There is incredible generosity built into the residency, and I’m looking forward to all the opportunities to share in an intellectual community with faculty and students. Additionally, every dance program has a unique profile. I’m interested to experience first hand the kinds of inquiry taking place at Temple, and the atmosphere and ethos of the program.

The Balancing Act of the MFA Dance Student

The Balancing Act of the MFA Dance Student

By Amanda Keller, First Year MFA Student

As a first year MFA student in the Dance Department at Temple, I’ve quickly found that a major component to this program is being able to balance the academic rigor of the seminar classes with the equally rigorous work of choreographing and making dance works. Even after only two weeks into this program, it has become apparent to my fellow MFAers that we are going to be pulled in various directions. There is equal importance placed on examining and discussing the theoretical dance research as there is on choreographing enlightening and engaging dance works. In a way, the strict line that exists between the theory and choreographing seems to fade away.

As someone who has a Master of Arts degree in Education, I’ve been able to compare my experiences in these different graduate programs and the major difference is that the MFA requires you to make the connection between the theoretical research we are reading and apply it in a performative and unique way to your choreography. The performative component in the MFA in Dance is what compelled me to return to graduate school. Having the opportunity to incorporate a theoretical framework by using research to inform your work and create a piece with multi-layers and a real depth to it is such a rewarding experience.

Finding the time to keep up with the readings and spend time in the studio rehearsing is tricky. I’ve found that playing music I’m thinking about using in my choreography while reading for my classes has helped with the integration of the theory into the dances I’m conjuring in my head. Another thing I’ve tried is jotting down notes in my notebook when something inspires me in the reading that I want to try out in the studio. I am looking forward to discovering additional techniques and tricks to balance the demands of the program.

Temple Dance Participates in Sustainability Week

Last week, Temple Dance Department participated in Sustainability Week, Climate, Sustainability & the Arts video festival.

The festival opened Monday April 11 in the Science Education and Research building with Program 1, exhibited on the giant SERC Video Wall.

Program 1 included Professor Merián Soto’s One Year Wissahickon Park Project: Summer, which documents the summer cycle of the award-winning year-long project of 16 branch dance performances in Wissahickon Valley Park in 2007-08.

Te program also featured Professor Peter d’Agostino’s World-Wide-Walks / between earth & water / ICE, and Prof. Michael Kuetemeyer’s Spilled Light.

Program 2 also took place on April 11 in Annenberg Hall 14,  2020 N. 13th Street. It included Temple Water Dances, a compilation of student dance and video works created and presented in celebration of World Water Day (2015-16). Temple Water Dances included excerpts of works by BFA, MFA and PhD students Kristen Bashore, Bonita Bell, Long Cheng, Leslie Cornish, Morgaine DeLeonardis, Angeline Digiugno, Marina DiLoreto, Amanda DiLudovico, Jessica Halko, David Heller, Kaylie McCrudden, Tyler Ross, Blythe Smith, Angelica Spilis, and Muyu Yuan.

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Pictured: MFA student Muyu Yuan in Temple Water Dances

 

Also on the program was Fishing for the Future, by Dede Maitre, and Superfundland, by  Daniel Kurtz, Christina Betz, John Tarquinio, Jesse Roehrer

-Merián Soto, Professor