In August and September, I had the pleasure of working with Awilda Sterling Duprey. She was Temple University’s featured artist for the annual Reflection and Response Commission. The Afro-Latina artist heralded as “a national gem to the people of Puerto Rico”. Her piece began a conversation exploring how Hurricane Maria devastated her homeland of Puerto Rico. As an improviser, she challenged us to re-create this feeling of hysteria. She asked: how do you honor the story of those lives affected by this natural disaster?
We entered the process by studying the traditional dances of Oya, an warrior deity whom is often represented through hurricanes. We also engaged in improvisational exercises to strengthen our awareness within the work and held critical discussions about these issues. Sterling Duprey recognized dancers as active participants in the creative process. This is an idea that I will ultimately take into my into future endeavors. Often times, choreographers ask dancers to perform movement without giving any context. Awilda’s process creates intentionality and dynamic performance quality for those involved.
This kind of teaching method fostered cognitive development as the dancers were also creators. This democratic approach was student centered and did not aim to make only Awilda’s voice present the work. However, this was overwhelming at times! There was not a clear structure until the weekend before the show. As a choreographer, I learned to incorporate a healthy balance of decision making and play. Not only in choreography and improvisation but also the creative process.
I also was able to witness Awilda transform Conwell Dance Theater to an imaginative space, catapulting you to Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria. She worked with a variety of disciplines such as photography, video, sound distortion, and props. This multimedia artist cultivated a nostalgic atmosphere. This presentation of the work was well received by the audience. She approached “space” beyond the standard of Laban’s Effort Actions often used to create textured qualities movement. Awilda abstracted physically space in order to reimagine the theatre past the normal visuals. She urged us not limit Conwell’s physically possibilities. This taught me how creating a space for the audience, is just as crucial as, how a dancer navigates space with their body.
Awilda is in her seventies, yet always has the most energy in the room. I believe her age gave her grace, style, beauty and wisdom in her movement. Rehearsals were filled with laughs and giggles. She greeted you with a warm hug at the beginning of every rehearsal and made sure each dancer was heavily involved in the process. This sensitivity encouraged me to work harder because I realized she cared about our general well-being. I believe Awilda’s expectation of creativity and freedom caters to a more seasoned artist. Over all, I am honored to have known and danced with this formidable women.
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.