The University of Utah Department of Modern Dance Blog

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Panama Exchange

Last spring, Assistant Professor Juan Carlos Claudio realized a longtime goal of taking modern dance out of the studio and into the international community.  Partnering with Anna Pasternak, director of Movement Exchange, a dance service organization based in Panama City, Professor Claudio launched an International Community Service Learning Program that allowed modern dance students to use their art form to meaningfully engage with another culture.  

Building on content in Prof. Claudio’s courses, Dance in Culture, Service Learning: Modern Dance, and Dance in Community, eight students from the Department traveled to Panama City for a weeklong residency that emphasized teaching, community engagement and intercultural exchange.  Envisioned as a sort of “dance without borders,” the Movement Exchange provides underserved populations with meaningful arts experiences that foster the cultivation of teamwork, self-confidence and trust, while offering college students an opportunity to augment their teaching and service experience.  

U students attended and taught classes at the University of Panama and The National School of Dance and conducted dance workshops for hundreds of at-risk youth in orphanages and elementary schools, putting in twelve-hour days. But, rather than coming home run-down from their exhausting schedule, the dancers returned with a vigor and passion that infused the Department over the remaining weeks of the spring semester.  They inspired everyone around them with stories of their amazing experience.  Encouraged by this success, Prof. Claudio will return to Panama for another exchange this spring with over double the number of students accompanying him. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

International Partnership/Berlin State Ballet School

In the spring of 2012, the Department of Modern Dance again participated in a cultural exchange with the Berlin State Ballet School in Germany.  This two-part program brought students, teachers and musicians of both schools to each others’ institutions to engage in creative inquiry, investigation and intercultural dialogue on dance and dance pedagogy.

For two weeks in April, members of the Berlin State Ballet School visited the Department.  Berlin faculty members Olaf Hofer (ballet) and Assohoto Jean-Hughes (modern) taught multiple classes to University of Utah students with musician Winni Rogel playing accompaniment on piano and djembe.  Berlin State Ballet students also had the opportunity to take class from University of Utah faculty and observe many classes across the curriculum.

In May, faculty members Sharee Lane, Rob Wood, Eric Handman and Donna White along with nine modern dance students from the Department traveled to Berlin for two weeks.  The University of Utah faculty members taught classes and showed choreography, while Utah students trained alongside dancers from the Berlin State Ballet School.

With each exchange, the partnership has grown, expanding to include more teachers, musicians and faculty, deepening relationships already established, and providing a more fertile ground for creative development.  Plans for the next exchange are already underway and may include the creation of a collaborative performance work between the two institutions.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Meet the New Faculty!

This fall, the department of modern dance welcomed two new full-time faculty members to our program, Shaun Boyle and Jessica Pearson.  Shaun replaces I-Fen Lin who returned to Taiwan last spring to have a baby and pursue a career in her home country

Part of the department’s mission; to promote student and faculty growth as professional dance artists, critical inquirers, and community members, includes a commitment to diversity.  In filling these new positions, the department not only sought artists and teachers of the highest caliber, but also individuals who would increase the diversity of the faculty and the course offerings.

Shaun and Jessica stood out as exceptional candidates, for their excellence in the field as professional dancers and scholars, and for the new aesthetics, perspectives and personal experience they each bring.  Jessica comes to the Department as a College of Fine Arts Morales Fellow.  The Raymond C. Morales Fellowship Program was created to hire Post doctorate/Post MFA fellows for 2 year positions that serve to bring diversity and additional expertise to our college.

Shaun Boyle

Assistant Professor/Lecturer
MA in Choreography, Trinity Laban Conservatoire, BFA in Dance, NYU Tisch School of the Arts
Activities: Ballet & Contemporary Technique classes, Freshman Composition, Co-director of PDC (Fall), Rehearsal Director for PDC guest artist John Beasant III, Choreographer for PDC (Spring)
Background: Shaun’s work mines the overlap between ballet and modern with specific attention to movement quality.  Drawing on her professional experience with companies such as BalletMet in Columbus, OH and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in New York City and her undergraduate studies at NYU, Shaun emphasizes precision and clarity in technique class.  She feels this brings a different kind of challenge to University of Utah students, but insists “they’re ready for it.”  Shaun has enjoyed the new challenges of being a new member of such a big and busy department.  She confesses it can be overwhelming at times, but that the students great energy and interest in growing make each day rewarding.  She values being in an environment where students and faculty all learn from and support each other, and she looks forward to the opportunity for her own professional development.

Jessica T Pearson
Raymond C. Morales Fellow
MFA in Dance Wellness, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder. BFA in Dance, Towson University
Activities: Conditioning for Dancers, Modern Technique, (Co-teacher) Dance in Culture, Co-Director PDC (Spring), (Assistant teacher) Kinesiology, Senior Capstone and guest lecturer for Movement in Culture and Dance History.
Background: The first recipient of the Morales Fellowship, Jessica was attracted to the University of Utah by Raymond Tymas-Jones’ mission to bring greater diversity and inclusion into the college of fine arts.  As a former company member with the Cleo Parker Dance ensemble, Jessica has been a part of the rich tradition of black dance in America and is excited to bring a different dance aesthetic to the program.  Her approach to technique and dance training combines her extensive experience in Horton technique with her research in dance wellness, which includes cross conditioning and somatic practices.  Jessica has also been developing a resource handbook for students looking for a greater sense of community.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Spotlight on Guest Artist John Beasant III 

John Beasant III is an independent dance artist regularly teaching, performing, and presenting his own work across the country.  Formerly a company member for Doug Varone and Dancers and Shapiro and Smith, John has also worked with a number of up and coming choreographers and been a guest artist for The Limón Dance Company.  His recent choreographic commissions include work for The Modern American Dance Company (St. Louis, MO), and the Juilliard School (NYC, NY).

As the first guest artist of the 2012 school year, John was no stranger to the MCD studios.  Like all our modern dance majors and grads, John Beasant III, spent countless hours here honing his craft before completing his MFA in 2009, though he did most of his graduate studies in the Department in the 1990’s.  This fall in the midst of his thriving career as an independent artist, he returned to the University of Utah to work with our current students.  His 3-week residency included daily technique class, teaching advance improvisation, choreographing for PDC and a brown bag lunch discussion.  Grateful for the mentorship he received while in the department, John also carved out time to meet one on one with students to chat, answer questions and offer advice. I took advantage of one of those meeting to ask John a few questions.  Here is what he had to say.

(A) What’s it like being back?
(J) Oh it’s great!

(A) What are your impressions of the current students?
(J) They have met and exceeded my expectations!  I enjoy their curiosity and questioning.  I prefer thinking bodies and inquisitive minds.   And, they’re real responsive to feedback.

(A) Do you find students here are unique in that respect?
(J) Yeah well, this department has such a focus on contemporary dance and study.  It’s special, the level of inquiry and the intelligent bright dancers.  There’s a real fostering of research development too.  

(A) What can you tell me about your PDC piece?
(J) Well, one constant in my work is the human element, relationships and discoveries about the human condition.  I am always looking for something true and honest.  In this piece each dancer has a unique personal journey traveling through intimate and environmental spaces, to ultimately find a common ground as a community of people. It’s really a celebration of the work and play of artists.

(A) If you could pass on just one piece of advice to the students here what would it be?
(J) Be yourself, find something true, unique, and special inside the process for you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

University of Utah Department of Modern Dance
Newsletter, vol. 2 (Fall 2012)

Much has happened since our last newsletter in 2010-11.  The fledgling initiatives of two years ago have become integral parts of the departmental architecture today, helping to set our current course and lay the groundwork for future growth.  SaltDance Fest completed its second successful installment last summer bringing international artists Marina Mascarell, Paul Selywn Norton and Vicky Cortes together for an immersive creative experience with participants from the dance dept. and guests from around the globe.  The Dance Minor and Screendance Certificate programs are now thoroughly ensconced and Steve Koester has dropped the interim label and officially become Department Chair.  

Formerly fresh faces, Sharee Lane and Rob Wood, have become familiar and join us in welcoming the new new faculty Shaun Boyle and Jessica Pearson.  Jessica comes to us for two years as the recipient of the Raymond C. Morales post graduate Fellowship.  Shaun takes over from I-Fen Lin, our fabulous ballet and contemporary dance teacher who left the department back in May.  I-Fen returned to her native Taiwan and gave birth to a baby girl in August.  We miss her dearly and wish her new family all the best.  

The announcement of the impending retirement of Abby Fiat sent shock waves through the department last spring.  The beloved faculty member, great spirit and a guiding light of the department will return for two more spring semesters before her official farewell.  Needless to say her absence augurs a period of transition for the department.   But, Steve Koester, not one to fear change, has embraced this time of ambiguity.  Seeing her absence not as a hole to be filled but as open space, he has not rushed to find a replacement.  Instead Mr. Koester has taken advantage of the time and space in the schedule to pilot an innovative approach to artistic exchange and staffing.

In the 2012-2013 academic year, a series of guest artists will teach through the curriculum for 3-6 weeks at a time. This approach offers a promising alternative to the traditional model of the guest artist, who teaches a few workshops, sets a work on a handful of students and then moves on.  Instead over these eight months, guests John Bessant III, Elena Demyanenko, Yannis Adoniou, Sidra Bell and Daniel Squire will teach technique classes and/or creative workshops as well as set choreography benefiting the entire student body.  

2012-2013 has gotten off to a rollicking start.  We can’t wait to share with you all the adventures, accomplishments and accolades already accrued by our faculty and students.  Many thanks to all who have contributed to our program.  Your support is invaluable to our students and our future.  We hope you will help keep us up to date, let us know about your current work and research.  

Please join us in two weeks for our next installment: In the Studio with John Beassant!

- Alysia Ramos