The University of Utah Department of Modern Dance Blog

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

New Faculty Spotlight Interview: Daniel Clifton

This interview was conducted by Marissa Mooney 
Marissa is a senior in the Modern Dance Department and is a dancer in Daniel's PDC piece.

What drew you to the University of Utah?
I had been to many festivals and the students from the U of U stood out. I knew it had a good reputation. I didn’t really know anyone from here, but knew that the school had a reputation as being a place of research among the students and for the teachers and artists that were here. That was really exciting to me. I also knew about some of the faculty and that was a big draw to me. I wanted to be able to work with the amazing faculty here and hopefully learn something from them as well.

When coming to the U of U was there a clear aesthetic within the department’s movement vocabulary or choreography that you recognized? If so, do you believe you have strived to meld that with your own aesthetic or have you, rather, tried to give the U of U a taste of your own choreographic and movement aesthetic?
 I haven’t been able to see much of the other faculty’s aesthetic while I have been here, but have been able to see a lot of the students. I haven’t seen a clear aesthetic among the students, which is exciting because it means that everyone is getting well-rounded training. They are able to make their own choices and find ways into work that isn’t just about fitting into one specific aesthetic. I am also seeing this in the creative work coming from the students.
By being in your technique class I have felt a demand for movement versatility and a demand to be open to different ideas. How important do you think versatility or change is for training?
Versatility is something that I very much focus on and think about. I try not to impart one aesthetic or my own movement “style” onto my students. I avoid this because even in my own performance I have had to be able to access many different aesthetics at a time. In teaching that has been very important to me to not impart one particular aesthetic onto my students, but to instead give them the ability to interpret many different aesthetics. This seems much more beneficial for the work place now because it is much more common to work for a variety of choreographers at one time rather than working with just one.

As a dancer in your piece for the upcoming PDC performance, it has been made clear to me that music and sound is integral in your choreographic process. Has this always been an important part of your choreography? How did this come to be important for you?
Music has always been very important. Getting into art I really started with painting (I’m an awful painter), I did sculpture (I’m really awful with clay), but what did connect with me was photography and music. So I have always been into images and sound and I thought I would be a musician until I found dance (I was in bands out of high school and college), but then I decided to be a dancer and planned to always continue to play music. I have continued to do that and it has been important for me to do that for my own projects. For me, incorporating not only music but also text, and the sounds coming from people’s voices has been important for me too.  I often feel like the negotiation of these things is where the choreography ends up being- it’s not always in the steps but in the moving from one thing to another. Sound has always been very important to me and I feel like in this particular piece (“Someone Drew a Cat” for PDC) I have been very lucky to have so many talented musicians and people who are good with sound…so we have really been able to do something interesting with it.

On that same note, you also have quite a few dancers in your piece with varying backgrounds and specialties. However, a sense of community was developed within the large cast of your piece. Do you like working with large groups? What do you think has made it possible to create a unified cast?
I really do like working with large groups but don’t typically get opportunities to do it. Doing something like that is usually expensive (especially in a big city) and difficult to coordinate with all of the dancers’ schedules. Usually when I make things outside of a university setting I work with smaller casts. Being able to work with a larger cast here has been something I have really liked being able to do. I don’t know that I would always want to work with larger casts because that can often make it difficult to see each dancer in the piece. But, because the cast has had to work together in so many things I really feel like I’ve been able to see the whole group together and also as individuals, which is important for the work itself. Everyone has specialized talents and personalities and it is a mixture of these things that has made this process really enjoyable.

What are some inspiring things you have seen thus far here in Salt Lake City? Is there anything you are looking forward to within or outside of the Department?
Since I have been here most of what I have done has been within the U. So far, I feel like I have just been adjusting to being here and enjoying being here. The two most inspiring things about being here has been 1) working with a group of people that are really excited about what they are doing (the rest of the faculty) and 2) working with the students because they are all really invested, want to be invested, and are very excited about dance. I’m looking forward to working with these people more. Something completely opposite of all that but also inspiring is being out to the west. I have never been around mountains and have always been near the ocean. It is very beautiful and I’m looking forward to seeing more of that.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Faculty Spotlight :: Pamela Geber Handman

“My research is in three different areas but each informs the other.” Associate Professor Pamela Geber Handman is telling me about her research. “Dance Science, Choreography/Performance, and Community Involvement are the three categories that I use to describe my work.” I asked some more questions to find out what is new in these areas and - wow! Summary: a lot. Check it out.

Dance Science
“I am co-authoring a chapter for a new book on Dancer Wellness, to be published via the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science Membership.  My co-author is Emma Redding, faculty at Trinity Laban in the UK.  The chapter we will be working on is focused on conditioning for dancers.  We'll be discussing an overview of physical conditioning, effective warm-ups and cool downs, strength and flexibility training, and an overview of bodywork techniques, cross-training, and a few dance specific systems.”

Pamela continues to coordinate meetings for the Dance Kinesiology Teachers Group (recently renamed Dance Science and Somatics Educators). In 2002 she co-founded the group with colleagues across the US to share teaching strategies and resources as well as host conferences for in-depth workshops and discussions. Pamela has hosted these conferences at the U three times (2003, 2007, & 2013). She co-organized the most recent gathering in 2014 at Linwood University in Missouri, featuring honored guest, Karen Clippinger. Pamela's recent presentations include "Designing a Contemporary Post Modern Dance Technique Class: A Teacher's Approach to Infusing Science" at the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science 2013 conference in Seattle. 

Pamela’s choreography was part of the Department's Fall 2014 Performing Dance Company concert. Her piece, Regarding Last Night, was an ironic take on Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Talking Heads, Lawrence Welk, polka and Yma Sumac. Together with her cast of 10 dancers she challenged herself to ask – Where does sincere tip to funny and how? (My answer: sincere tipped to laugh-out-loud funny pretty early on in the piece.)

Community Involvement

“Jump Start (2013) was a creative community project for individuals with Down Syndrome and their families, designed to explore dance and word play. I co-taught it with writer & poet Melissa Bond. Melissa and I worked with siblings, parents/children, cousins and caregiver/child, all ranging in age from 8 to adulthood and from diverse backgrounds.  There were 8 modern dance majors who served as teaching assistants in the studio and one Screendance Certificate student who assisted Alex Lee and his team of filmmakers from Twig Media Lab.  As a means of soliciting for community involvement, I advertised and connected through the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation, Utah’s Early Intervention Program (DDI Vantage), Tanner Dance, Imagination Place (Music Together), online parent newsletters focused on families with children with special needs, special education teachers in the Salt Lake valley, Utah Valley University and the Department of Special Education at the University of Utah.

Jump Start has had a myriad of unexpected rewards and further developments simply through new personal connections among participants and the various organizations involved. As I’ve connected with many special education teachers in public schools, my next step is to take a similar workshop into some of these schools next year and guide university students to do most of the lead teaching. Just recently, I was selected to develop this idea further in collaboration with a Professor in Special Education at the U, Kristen Paul. We received generous funding through the Utah State Office of Education to bring dance students together with Special Education students and to go to several off-campus sites for a larger scale community involved project. The documentary film of Jump Start will serve as an advocacy tool, promoting arts education for special education as well as greater integration (rather than segregation) of those with special needs. Also in the works is another family involved project like Jump Start, co-taught with Melissa Bond, and supported by the local non-profit, Arts Access.”

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Alumni Spotlight - Graham Brown

This week we're spotlighting alum Graham Brown, just in time for the premiere of YOU, January 29 - 31 at the Rose Wagner Black Box Theatre. 

Check out this article on YOU by Kathy Adams for the SL Tribune. 

Graham Brown (BFA: U of UT; MFA: U of MD) has spent the past four years invested in creating choreography that engages various theatrical modalities to convey deeply emotional narratives within a highly athletic and rhythmically specific physicality. His work has been presented by Queen’s College (NY), The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (MD), and The Sugar Space (SLC). Next January his evening-length work You will be presented at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center through RDT’s Link Series. Graham founded the SLC based improv company Movement Forum in 2004 and and co-directed it until 2010. He has freelanced with many choreographers and currently tours with PEARSONWIDRIG DANCETHEATER (NY/DC). Graham is on faculty in the Department of Dance at BYU. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Michael Crotty on dance in the academy.

Michael Crotty is a graduate student with the Department of Modern Dance. He studied dance and choreography at the Ohio State University and the Rotterdamse Dansacademie (NL), where he received his diploma. He has performed and shown his own work throughout the U.S., The Netherlands, and Belgium. His choreography has been featured on the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company, including the opening of the BROAD Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA (LA County Museum of Art) and NowNext Capri In Las Vegas, NV.

In addition, Michael has been developing movement research in improvisation, and choreography by exploring how a heightened sense of awareness can allow movement vocabulary to be shaped by the environments performed in. He is inspired by the instant dynamics that are built with other dance artists and how these relationships influence the approaches to decision-making and performance styles.

Tell me more about your pre-professional training and dance career prior to coming here to study at the U.
I was at Ohio State University as a dancer, but not for very long. This was because the graduate coordinator of Rotterdam Conservatory came to Ohio State and she showed videos to introduce some of the dance students there to Western European contemporary dance. I saw a video of Netherlands Dance Theater and I completely fell in love with it. I fell in love with the form and the aesthetic. Two months later, I had gotten in. I then transferred to Codarts.

I started working as a stagiaire (which is an apprentice) with Jerome Meyer and Isabelle Chaffeuad who had a company that they ran as co-artistic directors, called “MCDance”. That really also changed my approach to training significantly. They were both from Netherlands Dance Theater and Batsheva Dance Company, so their style was a fusion and interpretation of those contrasts of classical sensibility and contemporary sensibility. I had to find a middle ground within their vocabulary.
I worked in Europe for a while with choreographers Vaclav Kunes, Machteld Van Bronkhorst (both in the Netherlands). I then reconnected with a choreographer, Kate Hutter, that I had met in 2001. I had become very interested in the work that she was creating in the States and she coincidentally was starting a company called the Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company. When I was home visiting for the holidays, I went to LA to watch one of the rehearsals, which I really liked. I auditioned and was offered a fulltime position in the company from 2007 – 2014.

What drew you to this department at the University of Utah?
I was drawn to this department initially because of the geographical location. Ultimately, I wanted to be in an environment that was stimulating while offering me what I need creatively. I was drawn to Salt Lake City because it is beautiful. I wanted to be in an environment that inspired me outside of dance because I feel that it feeds my work in a very positive way.

What are some inspiring things you have seen thus far here in Salt Lake City?
I think the volume of dance here is very inspiring, as well as the diversity of the type of work that is being created. When I was in LA there were all these dancers from Salt Lake City who were so emotive and powerful. There is something about Salt Lake City that produces wonderful dancers. Salt Lake City feels up and coming. There is a lot of dance and a lot of things to see here. Just the fact that you can pick and choose each week what to see is a luxury.

What do you look forward to doing in these three years in the graduate dance program?
I would like to focus on creating theatrical and dynamic work. I am also interested in creating work that makes use of the interpersonal relationships that develop in the process. I am interested in how dancers grapple with material and how they interpret the material, which in turn shapes the final work. I looked at graduate school as some sort of test kitchen to play with the ideas relating to my work.

Interview by Allison Shir for the College of Fine Arts, edited by Jennie Nicholls-Smith.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

If a Snake Should Bite

This Friday and Saturday graduate students Molly Heller and Sara Parker will be presenting If a Snake Should Bite” at the Ladies Literary Club. In an alternate space, both Molly and Sara will have an opportunity to have their thesis work seen somewhere new. Molly Heller also collaborated with Netta Yerushalmy to create a duet that will also be presented in the performance.

Below is an interview with Sara Parker explaining her research process.

Can you tell me a little about your research?

I’m really interested yoga philosophy as well as the mysticism of Carl Young, storytelling, imagery, and ritual. Specifically what I am really interested in is “tapas”, which is the heat or resistance required for transformation. In yoga philosophy doing the physical practice would be a really heated practice that is used to burn impurities from your body. It isn’t used in a way to create self-harm, but more of going through struggle to realize the depth of possibility.

How have you explored this with your dancers?

At the beginning of our rehearsals we did a lot of work with the chakras. Some of which was inspired by a workshop that I did with a yoga master, Rod Stryker, and he talked a lot about how our insecurities and fears are held in the bottom three chakras; I was weirdly inspired by that.  In Kundalini yoga it is all about reversing energy lines in your body so you actually create a fire pit in your core that then opens up everything. This inspired me to create movement that was initiated from the bottom three chakras to generate heat within the body…from there we would allow everything to move outward. Doing this created movement that seemed formless. The challenge then became creating formless initiated movement that had a sense of form to it.

How did you and Molly decide on using an alternate space for the performance?

Molly had initially pictured her thesis being presented somewhere off of the University of Utah campus. I was also very interested in showing my work in a space that wasn’t a traditional performance space. I wanted something more intimate with a sense of closeness. Molly was also very interested in the history of the space.  For me, I find that incredibly interesting too because my work (and most everyone’s work) has to do with creating some sort of world and I think that is what is so beautiful about using a space that has such a rich history…that so many worlds have existed there.  Molly and I loved the aged look of the Ladies literary club, the history, and the intimacy of the space.

Below is an interview with two of Molly Heller’s dancers Breeanne Saxton and Florian Alberge:

How long have you worked with Molly? Is this your first time or do you have prior experience?

B: I started working with Molly in the fall of 2013 on a salon piece that she was choreographing. Now I have been working with Molly for over a year.

F: Well I haven’t worked with Molly as a choreographer before but I worked with her my first year [in the Modern Dance Department]. We were both dancing in a trio together.

What has Molly’s process been like?

B: Molly’s process is very rewarding because she asks a lot of you, which I find is something I want in a process…to be a collaborator not just a dancer.  There is a lot of investigation that is inspired by imagery and emotional states that is then kind of mashed and sewn together. We start with a bunch of different images and ideas and ways of relating as people and then as we dig deeper into what that sensation is and what those sates can be and they develop into something. All of the states we go through create a journey. Molly doesn’t start with a narrative, but for me, a narrative absolutely emerges through the process.

F:I really enjoyed the collaborative process with Molly. She brings things out of you that you didn’t imagine were there. It’s tedious; it’s a lot of tuning in and out with each other. It’s also never the same, which is the best and also most difficult part of it.

How does it feel to perform “This is Your Paradise”?

F: It is draining. It’s funny actually, when people approach me after a run of the piece I am in a place where I absolutely don’t know what happened. I don’t understand how to formulate what happened or how it felt. It is one of the only pieces that I have been working on that I have such a hard time wrapping my mind around…about what states I traversed. I always feel like there needs to be time to process what happened. It’s very draining, but in a good way.  We know that it didn’t happen when we don’t feel that way.

B: It feels like a task of surrendering into the unknown. If I try to control the situation too much or try to manifest something, then I stop anything from coming out of myself. I feel like Molly taps into all of these deep-seeded experiences or sensations through these movement exercises. It’s like a practice every time to go through the piece or to go through the different postures. They have been so carefully thought about and developed to create this emotional state. But, if you try to create the emotional state without going through the practice, it won’t happen…it is a full body/mind/spirit/rollercoaster journey.

What value do you see in working with graduate students?

B: Molly is one of the most incredible examples of how to be a functioning, working artist/human in the world, so to be able to work this intimately with her has been, I think, the most valuable collaboration I have had here [at the University of Utah]. She is so closely aware of the field I am about to try to navigate. The way she works is relevant to what I am interested in.  

What value do you see in performing outside of the University of Utah at the Ladies literary Club?

F: I feel very lucky to be a part of this concert. I think it is going to be very personal and I’m very glad to have an opportunity to perform outside of the Marriott Center for Dance…not just because it is a beautiful space, but also because it needs more crafting. Molly and Sara brought an entire evening of dance together and it feels a lot more personal. It is very fitting for the piece and it makes everything whole.  The lucky part for us is the opportunity to perform in something that feels much bigger than a “thesis concert”.

What is something you have gained from this experience thus far that you want to take away with you?

B: Molly’s work ethic and the intensity with which we are committed to this work. Not only her work ethic, but also the process that we go through in her work is very inspiring and motivating to me. To create a very refined, specific, well-crafted piece of dance performance requires a lot of effort, but also a lot of personal research outside of the studio. When you go home and the piece is still lingering, that for me, shows that I am a part of something that is meaningful and that is valuable…something that I’m glad to be a part of. Molly has given me that in a lot of ways.

F: Work ethic, some of the things we talked about earlier in regard to the space, being able to put an event like this together…but a more personal take-away would be the struggle, the healthy struggle, that I have had throughout the process. It is not going to leave me soon after. Molly has challenged me in a very healthy way. It is an honesty that she [Molly] knows how to communicate. It is very transparent. That is something I want to try and aim for in my own work and in my relationships with people. Every time a process like this unfolds under the umbrella of honesty something deep can come out of it.

What do you hope the audience will take away from “This is your paradise”?

B: I feel like there is dynamic opposition throughout the piece and it creates an out of body experience for me. It takes me to a place of reflection. I hope that the audience will access some point of reflection. 

F: Any kind of experience. I Want them to feel something.

Interviews conducted by Marissa Mooney

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Faculty Spotlight on A'Keitha Carey

A’Keitha Carey is an artist and scholar who hails from the Bahamas. In addition to her degrees in dance, she also currently working to complete her PhD and a Certificate in Woman’s Studies from Texas Woman’s University. She has published the article “CaribFunk Technique: Afro Caribbean Dance, Caribbean Feminism and Popular Culture” in the Journal of Pan-African Studies and has a forth coming publication in the Association of Dance of the African Diaspora’s book Re: Generations. A’Keitha created CaribFunk technique, a genre fusing Afro-Caribbean, ballet, modern, and fitness principles. The technique addresses the politics of “identity” and “becoming” through the exploration of the hip wine (circular rotation of the hip). Focusing on Black feminist writer, Audre Lorde’s use of the term erotic, in the sense that women achieve empowerment and knowledge through an energy—a creative energy that provides an awareness of self, history, and our bodies, A’Keitha argues that the hip wine is a practice of erotic power. The technique is rooted in an Africanist aesthetic and Euro-American expression coalescing the vertical and horizontal. It embodies Caribbean performance and politics, Caribbean popular culture as a methodological and pedagogical practice and explores Jamaican Dancehall and Trinidadian Carnival as a reservoir of knowledge that investigates the sensual and spiritual. Her research attempts to redefine Black femininity, establishing the relationship between the technique and Caribbean popular culture, addressing why it is important to Women of Color in academia, and reinforcing the marriage between Caribbean dance, sensuality, strength, and the erotic as power. This futuristic philosophy and technique attempts to rupture “tradition and history—breaking the aesthetic of the institution—exhibiting a hybridized pedagogy and technology of (re) imagination through a Diasporic consciousness. Critical Race Theory, Black Feminism/Womanism, Popular Culture, Critical Pedagogy, Cultural Studies and Curriculum Studies are her areas of interest.

Why did you choose the U?

I chose the U because it demonstrated many of the ideas and interests that I have as far as creativity and scholarship. It is a research one institution which is highly of interest to me as a researcher/scholar/ethnographer. I also saw how my research interest and praxis could serve both programs (BFA and MFA).

What are your strengths as a teacher, artist and art-maker and how do you hope to bring those to the U?

My strengths as a teacher, artist, and art-maker are in the areas of research, ethnography and interdisciplinary approaches to performance, pedagogy and choreography. I am interested in providing tools for the dancer/scholar and in that tool box I am interested in having the students query “who they are” in the process of investigation and how they bring their own voice to the articulation to the manifestation of these discoveries. Identity is primary and essential to me. I hope to help students find the agency and empowerment of knowing who they are as (whomever/whatever) . . .

Tell me more about the "hip wine."

The hip wine is the circular rotation of the hip that finds its way all over the Afro/Latin diaspora—finding roots in Congolese dance and various cultures throughout the African continent. I am particularly interested in how this often-sexualized dance movement can be used to liberate those that are oppressed. I often discuss this idea and practice of “speaking through the pelvis.” The pelvis gives live—it is a life force. There is an immense power in the pelvis; it supports and centers our body. For me, in the technique, the hip wine connects all of the movement genres together that I am exploring. The circle—the circle of life and the pelvis is of essence. The curvi-linear movement which is certainly a characteristic of Afro-Diasporic, is central to the philosophy of CaribFunk. I am interested in how the body is engaged (the sensory/sensual), how the body performs, and also the experiential. The hip wine is a moniker of Jamaican Dancehall and Carnival performance in Trinidad, I am interested in how to transport and translate these Caribbean cultural performances in the classroom/studio. These are the two (dominant) cultures that I am exploring when discussing the hip wine as praxis.

How do you combine your choreographic technique of CaribFunk and your research in excavating the repressed, curious and awkward sentiments towards issues of love, death, success, disease, and sex? What does that look like in the studio in your creative process?

CaribFunk was created out of my own experiences with oppression, body and identity politics, colonialism, and the politics of respectability. As with most activists, our movements are birthed out of conflict. CaribFunk is my approach towards addressing the sentiments that you mentioned. I see CaribFunk as a physicalized expression of finding voice and agency, particularly for those that have been shamed and policed because of how they engage with their bodies. In the studio, I ask my dancers to allow their senses to be a part of the experience. Carnival and Dancehall culture is used as a metaphor in the technique class. I remind the students that I have given them the blue print (the phrase/sequence). From the next moment on, I am interested in how they are going to accomplish the task of traveling through space, life etc. I ask them several questions: where are they in the process; where are they on the journey and who are they? The hips and torso are free! CaribFunk is the language for them to express themselves—not only their pains but also their pleasures.

Are there any non-dance practices important to you as an artist for your emotional, physical and spiritual well-being?

As far as non-dance practices, I am an avid gym junkie, which is why the movement takes on elements of cardio, fitness, and kick boxing-esque type expressions. I am also very spiritual. I pray and read my bible and really try to connect with my higher power. I am very thankful to my God who has blessed me with tremendous talent. My prayer is that I see my vision come to fruition. Like the verse says in Habakkuk 2: 2-4, essentially write down your vision, pray and meditate on it, though it tarry, wait for it, and it will surely come. I believe that! I am woman of faith. I am walking this journey often times not seeing where I am going but I know that God has given me a gift and purpose that needs to be shared. I believe He will provide all that I need for that to manifest.

I see in your bio that you're still performing and I'm amazed and impressed! How do you do all that you do?

Ha! I’m impressed too! I performed a solo “Corporeal Discourse” choreographed by Carlos Jones and myself last year (2013). One venue was at the Association for Blacks in Dance Conference in Washington, DC and at the Black Existentialisms: Situating Black Existential Philosophy Conference in Pittsburg, PA. I do miss performing! I am only doing solo projects these days and the purpose behind the performances are to really present the technique to diverse communities. I am just trying to get the world to know about CaribFunk in whatever way possible!!

Is CaribDanco here at the U with you or is it still located at SUNY Potsdam? What is new with CaribDanco?

CaribDanco goes wherever mama goes! The company is on hiatus currently so, no it is not at SUNY Potsdam. The company was developed as a research and performance based company. I essentially wanted to provide students with the opportunity to engage in my process as an artist/scholar. I really wanted to provide training for those dancers who were interested in cultural anthropology and ethnography. The model was built for college students because that’s where I am situated at the moment. I also wanted to provide them with as much professional experience as possible as well. When the company was with me in New York, we performed all through the state performing. Every year I took them to Manhattan to study dances of the Diaspora. We researched and study these dances throughout the year and then we had an opportunity to take class in as many forms and styles as our body would allow. They students took classes in Haitian, Samba, Afro-Cuban, West African, Sabar, Afro-Caribbean, and Congolese! It was amazing. I do miss providing these experiences and opportunities to the students. I am also interested in taking the students on a research trip with me at some point. Finger, toes, and eyes crossed. I really need to secure funding! The work that I am interested in pursing is not cheap…I am hopeful that I will get what I/we need!!!