The University of Utah Department of Modern Dance Blog

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!!!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Alumni Profile :: Michael O'Connor

Photo: Georg Scheu

Michael O'Connor is a choreographer, performer, improviser and teacher. Since 2007 he has been based in Vienna, Austria. He worked with cie. Willi Dorner from 2003-2010 and performed and assisted in creating the work 'Bodies in Urban Spaces' worldwide in over 30 cities.  His Deborah Hay adaptation of 'NEWS' was presented at ImpulsTanz festival and he was part of David Zambrano's 'Tierras Enamorades' which was presented in Bruxelles.  He was listed in BalletTanz Magazine as the 'young dancer to watch' in 2008 for his piece 'a waiting dog dies.'  Additionally, his own work has been supported through residencies at ImpulsTanz with the guidance of Keith Hennessy and Ivo Dimchev, leading to works 'You are the Subject of my Seeing' and 'A General Theory of Love.'  His work looks at the intersection of cognitive science and dance, and he is currently furthering this practice with the support of the MA Choreography program at the Amsterdam University of the Arts with the mentorship of Guy Cools.  Michael has been guest artist faculty at Arizona State University twice and has taught at ImpulsTanz, SNDO, SEAD, TanzQuartier Wien and with festivals like DanceUmbrella: London, Tanz im August: Berlin and Philly Live Arts:Philadelphia. He is also a Fieldwork facilitator who helps guide artists in methods of feedback.  He has been able to develop Fieldwork in Vienna as an established program as well as bring this method to Istanbul, Turkey in 2012. Since his time at the University of Utah, Michael has been a proponent of art as research, and he is currently interested in love-empathy-metaphor as a triad that when approached from a cognitive science perspective, can possibly address ontological questions of body, relationship and environment as a performance practice.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

UK Exchange & Ugurt

Before moving to Salt Lake City Modern Dance Assistant Professor Shaun Boyle spent three years in England studying, teaching and making dance. While an undergraduate student at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts she danced in Austria at the Salzburg Academy of Dance for a semester. These international dance experiences inspired her to think about dance on the international stage. “I want to create forums for international collaboration.” Shaun explained to me when we met. "How do we exchange dance across borders and nations?"

Shaun has collaborated with Janet Smith, Principal of The Northern School of Contemporary Dance (NSCD) in Leeds, England to build one such forum for dance exchange. The exchange is for 12 undergraduate dancers; six dancers from NSCD and six from the University of Utah’s Department of Modern Dance. The UK dancers will travel to Salt Lake City for Salt Dance Fest, and our dancers will travel to NSCD in the beginning of July for two weeks. The dancers have already begun connecting via Facebook and are looking forward to meeting in person soon.

Assistant Professor Shaun Boyle (left) & University of Utah dancers

“The NSCD is a good fit for the U because of their cutting edge, forward-thinking movement invention.” Shaun told me. She explained that in England dancers don’t know much about the emerging choreographers we are interested in at the U and vice versa. “This is a chance to broaden perspectives for students on our side of the pond and on their side of the pond.”


Support the UK Exchange by eating at Ugurt this weekend. Friday, April 18 from 6 pm – 12:00 am, Saturday, April 19 from 6 pm – 12:00 am. 20% of all proceeds will go to support the Exchange. The UK Exchange also has an online fundraiser here.