New Faculty Feature: Jennifer Weber

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By Luiza Karnas

Following the series of interviews with the new faculty members of the Dance Department, the third and last article features our ballet specialist, Assistant Professor Jennifer Weber. Along with her tremendous knowledge in ballet technique and pedagogy, Jennifer’s interests include dance community engagement, improvisation, creative process, and wellness practices.

Jennifer holds an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa and a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She performed as a member of Omaha Theater Company’s professional company for three seasons, with Ballet Quad Cities for six seasons, and Ballet Nebraska for one season. Jennifer has traveled twice to Les Ceyes, Haiti and Panama City, Panama, to conduct movement research with orphans and local inhabitants. Her research uses movement exploration as a tool for building agency and to communicate through language barriers. She is passionate about developing creative problem solving skills via movement to assist in the development of agency and personal development.

Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Jennifer is thrilled to have Brockport as her new home. During her job interview, she felt a strong connection with the student-centered philosophy of the Dance Department. Jennifer is fueled by the presence and power of the individual, which is evident in her teaching methodology. Ballet can sometimes be labeled as rigid and exclusive, but Jennifer’s pedagogical practice approaches ballet by prioritizing students’ singularities and individualized goals. She doesn’t believe that her ballet class should be less rigorous due to the emphasis on modern and contemporary technique that Brockport’s program offers. “I don’t water down ballet just because someone might be focused on a different movement style.” She has put her teaching philosophy into practice through different courses here at Brockport. Alongside the beginning, intermediate and advance ballet classes, Jennifer also teaches Career Seminar and Composition courses.

In addition to teaching classes, advising students, and engaging with departmental duties, Jennifer is the new director of Chamber Ballet Brockport (CBB). With the goal to build a bridge between the academic and professional world, Chamber is one of the touring dance ensembles of the Dance Department and develops multidisciplinary works that focus on contemporary ballet and collaboration. Charged with CBB in her first year, Jennifer wants to deeply understand how the ensemble fits within the dance department community. The exuberant student body, which composes CBB makes it exciting to plan for the future. She aims to expand Chamber’s repertory and outreach program in order to engage with the community, expand the student’s skills and experiences, and raise awareness of the department.

As part of the director’s role, Jennifer choreographed the newest piece on Chamber Ballet Brockport. Tenacity Abound will debut in Danscore (November 16-18) and is an investigation inside the language of contemporary ballet. Jumping into a new semester, in a new job, and in a new city brought opportunities to break some of her choreographic habits. “I tried to let my getting to know the students and their movement proclivities guide this piece. I’d like to think that their movement input in the piece combined with my inclinations are like a first date, where both parties dance around eager and inquisitive.” Thus, she allowed the presence of individual that appears in her teaching practices to inform this particular choreography.

Jennifer is extremely proud of the work Chamber’s dancers have put in and is excited to see the piece come to life on stage. As exciting as the first date is, she welcomes the deeper relationship that develops through time. She is enthusiastic about what the future holds for CBB and for the Dance Department.

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DANSCORE celebrates 50 years of Brockport Dance

The Department of Dance is thrilled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dance Department with a special DANSCORE that includes choreography by three new faculty members, performances by students, faculty, and guest artists, and the Rochester premiere of Trisha Brown’s iconic dance Set and Reset/Reset. Brockport is the only NY dance department outside of the NYC metropolitan area granted permission to perform this work! Performances begin at 7:30 in Hartwell Theater November 16 and 17 and at Hochstein Theater in Rochester, NY on November 18th.

Set and Reset/Reset was staged by Associate Professor and former Trisha Brown Dance Company member Mariah Maloney. Maloney was assisted by guest artists Irene Hultman and Vicky Shick who together, represent three generations of Trisha Brown dancers who previously performed the historic work. Receiving instruction from these primary sources of movement material was especially profound for the student performers. To build this iconic work, dancers first learned the phrase material, followed by five “rules” or guidelines that Brown used in the process of constructing the work back in 1983. These rules include: line up, act on instinct, play the edge, play with visibility/invisibility, and keep it simple.

Another New York City dance connection in DANSCORE is the premiere of Calving by Julia Burrer. Julia is a new Assistant Professor in the department who became familiar with our program during her time dancing with Doug Varone and Dancers. Varone regularly held his summer workshops at Brockport with Julia and other company members teaching classes throughout the day. It was, in part, that sense of familiarity, that drew her to this new full time teaching position at Brockport. Furthering the Varone connection in this year’s DANSCORE, another former Varone dancer (Adrianne Fang) will be performing as a guest artists in a duet with Assistant Professor Stevie Oakes. Finally, Stevie Oakes has restaged Fang’s trio Conflict/Resolve on students providing another multi-generational NYC dance company experience.

Rounding out the program are the restaging of Lovely by James Hansen which premiered at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2009. New Sankofa Artistic Director Jenise Anthony has created a new work entitled Rythmic Vocabularies, Chamber Ballet Director Jennifer Weber is premiering Tenacity Abound, and both Tammy Carrasco and Mariah Maloney will be performing in stunning self choreographed solos. This year’s DANSCORE has truly returned to its roots of providing the highest quality modern dance in western New York.

The legacy of dance training the department has provided over the last 50 years can be seen in every college and professional dance institution in the region and is present across the country. We are regularly recognized as a top training program nationally and one of the top four programs in NY state. In recognition of this milestone anniversary I encourage readers to support our program by donating $50 (tax deductible) to the Friends of Brockport Dance to fund student summer study at national and international dance festivals. As with athletes, dancers must continue to train throughout the year when school is not in session. Summer study activities are essential for the on-going development of necessary skills and often provide a platform for the successful transition into the professional world. Just recently, a student attended a summer festival which began the process for his acceptance into the prestigious David Dorfman Dance Company where he is now a full-time company member. Another student used her funding to pursue and arts administration internship which resulted in a job at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in NYC. Another student has been dancing with NYC’s Gallim Dance for eight years which began through a summer study opportunity. Please consider donating to the department through the “Donate” link on the home page or send a check made out to Friends of Brockport Dance to support our student’s artistic development and future careers.

James Hansen
Interim Chair
Associate ProfessorSet and Rest/Reset

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New Faculty Feature: Jenise Anthony

 

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By Madeline Kurtz

One of the hallmarks of Brockport’s Dance Department is the Sankofa African Dance and Drum Ensemble. This year, the Ensemble assumed new leadership under Assistant Professor Jenise Akilah Anthony. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Anthony brings a wealth of knowledge to the Department via her teaching, research, and choreography, and the Department is thrilled to see how Sankofa will continue to thrive under her direction.

Growing up in the Caribbean, Anthony was constantly told that dance was not a viable career option, so she planned to pursue science. However, in high school, an instructor asked her why she was not studying dance more seriously, and ended up driving Anthony and two other students to weekly pre-professional level dance classes. They started with jazz, and upon receiving distinctions on their dance exams, added in studies in other genres. Upon graduating high school, Anthony made her way to Coppin State University in Baltimore on an Honors College scholarship. A self-proclaimed “Brainiac,” she took school very seriously and garnered opportunities and accolades because of her diligence. Her sophomore year, she was named “Most Outstanding Dancer” by Coppin State’s Dance Department and was given the opportunity to continue honing her pedagogy as a Teaching Assistant and Community Dance instructor.  By her junior year, Anthony became founder and co-director of the Annual “MERCY” Liturgical Dance Conference and Concert, leaving a strong legacy in the department to date.

It was during her undergraduate studies that Anthony realized that culture and technique could go hand in hand, thanks to Professor Darby Pack. Previously, Anthony had always felt trapped by the binary of cultural dance and Western dance (i.e. ballet and modern). She recalled, “if you did Western [dance], you had no culture, and if you did cultural dance, you had no technique.” Pack allowed Anthony to find the meeting place of these two worlds as a fusion form, which ultimately became her area of expertise and research.

With this clearly defined interest in fusion that surfaced in her undergraduate career, Anthony Immediately moved on to Texas Woman’s University (TWU) where she pursued her M.F.A. in Dance. For her thesis project, she developed a technique that she calls “Modern-Afro-Carib,” which is a fusion between African dance, Caribbean folk dance, modern, and ballet. Her movement vocabulary was heavily informed by her time in graduate school where she was first exposed to postmodern dance in addition to other styles with which she was already familiar. Also during graduate school, Anthony held coveted teaching assistantships, and was twice awarded the Excellence in Teaching award from the graduate council at TWU. Simultaneously, she worked professionally with dance companies, including Dallas Black Dance Theater and the Bandan Koro African Drum & Dance Ensemble. She was most fortunate to work alongside the honorable Baba Chuck Davis as performer, choreographer and coordinator of the Dance Africa Festival and Concert Dallas, an experience that she would always cherish.

While she enjoyed teaching students of all ages through various programs within the Dallas Independent School District, Anthony knew that higher education is the place for her. She furthered her teaching and research as an adjunct instructor and guest artist at Texas Christian University, Texas Woman’s University,  and Tarrant County College. Ultimately, Anthony wanted more leverage that would only be possible in a full time teaching position. In a serendipitous turn of events, Anthony applied for the position at Brockport and, ultimately, landed her dream job.

Currently, in addition to her teaching load of Introduction to Dance and multiple levels of African Dance, Anthony is creating a choreographic work on Brockport dancers to be presented as part of the faculty and guest artist concert, Danscore, on November 17, 18, and 19. The work, Rhythmic Vocabularies, has evolved out of a project she began while working with students at Tarrant County College. She notes the excitement of the process and the fact that working with her dancers here at Brockport has truly affirmed that she is where she belongs. Anthony is thrilled to be part of the diversely talented roster of faculty here at Brockport, and notes that the training that dancers get from Brockport faculty is top notch. She is excited to get to add another form to the foundation that they provide. She is especially looking forward to the spring semester when she will lead Sankofa and notes, “I love the fact that I have leverage, too, with Sankofa because the faculty is looking for more 21st century African Dance.” Anthony’s exciting research does just that, and both students and faculty are excited by the prospects ahead!

 

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New Faculty Feature: Julia Burrer

By Madeline Kurtz

The Department of Dance proudly boasts an impressive roster of faculty, all of whom are leaders in the contemporary dance field. This semester, three new faculty members have joined the mix, including Julia Burrer, whose extensive career includes eight years with renowned company, Doug Varone and Dancers. She brings an exciting perspective to the Department through her performance, pedagogy, and choreography.

A native of Austin, TX, Burrer moved to New York following high school to pursue her collegiate dance training at SUNY Purchase. During her undergraduate studies, she had multiple profound experiences, including her time studying abroad in Rotterdam, alongside her on-campus training. Standing tall at 6’1.5’’, Burrer learned how to use her height to her advantage under Professor Stephanie Tooman’s guidance in her Graham technique class. A second important mentor, Megan Williams, formerly of the Mark Morris dance company, ultimately changed Burrer’s life by introducing her to the work of choreographer Doug Varone. She was especially drawn to the movement vocabulary, as well as the familial vibe of the company. As a result of her interest in Varone’s work, Burrer attended summer workshops with the company and forged important relationships. Previously, she hadn’t pinpointed a choreographer with whom she felt an extreme connection as a mover. After three summer workshops, Burrer received a call from Varone during the rehearsal process for his iconic work, Lux; he asked her to fill in for a dancer. Of course, she jumped at the opportunity, as well as Varone’s invitation to attend an open call audition. Of the three hundred women at the audition, Burrer was one of three to make it to the end. Unfortunately, she was not offered the position and was told that she was too tall, but six months later, Varone called her to offer her a spot in the company. She spent eight years performing and teaching, which was especially critical in forming the artist and educator she is today. She also noted that she loves restaging Varone’s repertory because it “gives college students a taste of his world,” and this way of working combines the best of teaching, choreographing, and digging deeply into the movement vocabulary.

In January 2015, after eight fulfilling years with Doug Varone and Dancers, Burrer completed her final tour with the company, and that spring, taught as an adjunct instructor at Barnard College and Marymount Manhattan College, both in New York City. After marrying her husband, Ben, the two drove to Seattle to begin their next chapter. Burrer chose to attend University of Washington to pursue her M.F.A. for many reasons, one being the thesis requirement. Instead of making a new choreographic work, which is the model of many programs, University of Washington requires its graduate students to design a course. Burrer created an undergraduate dance history course, which she has been able to implement here at Brockport this semester. Additionally, her current teaching load includes modern dance technique for multiple levels of dance majors and a repertory class, the product of which will be performed in the upcoming performance of Danscore. She is excited to teach such a wide range of courses and to further diversify her load next semester with freshmen modern technique, Contact Improvisation, and both composition and pedagogy for graduate students. Burrer is especially looking forward to continuing to work with graduate students in various capacities.

On the subject of choosing Brockport, Burrer first explained the familiarity associated with Hartwell Hall, since the Doug Varone Summer Workshop historically happened here. She also noted that she was interested in teaching in a program with high caliber dancers and rigorous training that was not a conservatory. Additionally, since the Department welcomed three new full time faculty members, there is an exciting amount of change happening and multiple opportunities for her voice to be heard. She posited, “How do we celebrate what we do well and then expand in other new and exciting ways?” She finished her thoughts on a positive note, “I feel excited to be here and to be interacting with the students and the faculty…getting to settle into what Brockport dance offers and what it could potentially offer in the future.”

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Danscore 2017

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Photo Credit: Matt Yeoman

The  Trisha Brown Dance Company Set and Reset/Reset re-staging project is featured  in the most recent edition of  The Port!  Read about our dance majors and this iconic figure in post modern dance. Restaging a Legend

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Generating Momentum with the Philosophy of Dance

By Allison Bohman, based on an interview with Ian Heckman

Ian Heckman, originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, is an MA in dance studies candidate at The College at Brockport: The State University of New York. He will be graduating in only a few short weeks and is going on to pursue his PhD in Philosophy at The University of British Columbia beginning in September 2015. Ian completed his BS in dance and BS in philosophy at Brockport as well. I had the honor of sitting down with him to learn more about his area of research and what it means to go on for PhD after completing an MA in dance.

Bohman: What are your plans upon graduation this spring?

Heckman: I will be pursuing a PhD in philosophy at The University of British Columbia beginning in September. The program can take three-six years to complete. There are two years of course work and then the amount of time it takes you to finish your dissertation. These generally average around 200 pages or more. I’m grateful to have received funding to support my tuition as well as extra monetary funding for my research. I am really looking forward to this next step in my life.

Bohman: What interested you about this track? How did you get here?

Heckman: I completed my undergraduate degree in philosophy at The College at Brockport and during that time, I also dabbled in some graduate courses. I quickly became interested in philosophy as a field. I am also especially interested in a sub field of philosophy known as “Aesthetic and the Philosophy of Arts.” In addition to my undergraduate studies in philosophy, I was also a dance major. As a dancer and choreographer, this combination just felt right.

Bohman: What are your research interests?

Heckman: I am interested in how philosophy intersects with dance. There is a small and slowly growing field of study called the “Philosophy of Dance.” It is not very big yet, but more and more people have been interested in it recently and I think it will continue to develop over the next several years. My current thesis is a work in applied aesthetics. I look at philosophical literature and theories and apply them to dances I watch. These dances then inform how I theorize in my writing. In other words, I present a theory, I look at the dance, and then apply the theory. The theory and the dance both inform each other though.

Bohman: As part of your current MA in Dance studies, you have been working on a thesis. What is your thesis about?

Heckman: My current thesis looks at the “sublime.” I define the sublime as a particular emotional response to being overwhelmed and overpowered. You feel less than yourself for a while. You recognize the greatness of something outside of you. You eventually recognize something for yourself though. There are profound thoughts that ultimately uplift you. Originally, it is a humbling experience, and then you become emotionally overwhelmed and at some point, something happens (in my writing, I call this a “profound sentiment”) revealing something about human nature. I take this concept of the sublime and look at how it applies to dance and how dance evokes it.

In my thesis, I look at specific modern choreographers and dances. My two main focuses are Pina Bausch and Mark Morris. I also write a bit about Brockport alumnus, Elizabeth Streb, as well as about some European choreographers such as Tero Saarinen and Carolyn Calrson.

The project itself has been around for a long time in my thoughts. Once I discovered the philosophical literature on the topic of the sublime, I always thought this is what I was interested in, even before I fully understood it. As a choreographer, I have always tried to evoke a feeling of the sublime in my work. I discovered my first philosophical moment my sophomore year of college and I wanted to apply it to dance. Never had the time to really work it out. Reading more books allowed me to deepen my understanding. In the process of writing this thesis, I had the opportunity to watch a lot of dances through a particular lens that ended up contributing to my overall theory, especially while looking at works I would not have originally considered to be sublime. As a dancer, I came in with preconceived notion of what it would be, and through this lens, I reconsidered what I had originally thought.

Bohman: What are your long term goals?

Heckman: There are many possibilities. The most obvious route is to teach at a university in a department of philosophy. I would love to work in a dual appointment in dance and philosophy. I am still interested in choreographing because I am fascinated with how my choreography can contribute to theorizing, as it has in previous projects. They both deeply inform each other. I would also like reset some older choreography of mine.

Bohman: Are there any other thoughts you would like to share?

Heckman: I chose to pursue a philosophy PhD because there is so much to choose from. It is broad and I have the freedom to cross disciplines within that. Aesthetics and the philosophy of art is a minority portion of the field of philosophy and I am interested in pushing it further along. Dance within this genre of art in philosophy is important. I want to connect it to other parts of discipline—connecting the dots to make it more valued within the field. Philosophy of dance is generating momentum and I am excited to be at the forefront of this important movement.

Ian Heckman

Photo: Ian Heckman, MA Dance at The College at Brockport

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Sankofa: A Year of Celebration and Remembrance

Dance - Sankofa - 2015

By Daniel Reichert

This year, Sankofa will be a special celebration commemorating the life and work of Clyde Alafiju Morgan, who will be retiring this year, and Khalid Abdul N’Faly Saleem.  Many guest choreographers have come to Brockport to set work on the members of Sankofa, including Molly Christie González, Michelle Whitt and Kelly Johnson, who are all former members of Sankofa and Brockport Alumni.  Also coming in as guest choreographers are Sherone Price and Yesutor Kotoka.  There will be performances choreographed by Marcia Vanderlee, Eliana Slurzberg, Dr. Juanita Suarez, Khalid Saleem, Caitlin Mahon and of course, the show will finish with the Ijexa choreographed by Clyde Morgan.

With so many guest artists and returning alumni, the show has a very different feel from years past.  There will be several traditional African pieces, along with contemporary African influenced dances, a drummer’s piece, and numbers celebrating Sankofa’s rich tradition of inclusion.

Michelle Whitt, a Sankofa alum since 1992, choreographed a Guinean celebratory dance titled “Mendiani Kuku.”  Mendiani is an initiation dance where young girls compete to be the menjani, or best dancer in the village, which was combined with Kuku—a celebration dance which fit the theme of this year’s Sankofa show.

Kelly Johnson is resetting a dance, “Dig, Sift and Bury” which was originally performed at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.  This piece was created to teach young dancers about the roots of the things they see and hear in hip hop by setting a traditional West African and Jamaican movement vocabulary to music put together by a contemporary  hip-hop DJ.  The dance feels cyclical and speaks of digging up roots and sifting new things, burying your contribution for someone else to reap later, referring again to the theme of Sankofa.

Yesutor Kotoka, created the piece “Aza-Fafa,” meaning Festival of Peace.  It celebrates the power of the drum and is dedicated to the world we live in.  It speaks of the troubles of Africa, both past and present and acts as a prayer for peace.

These celebrations of movement and music, along with many more will be shown this Thursday through Sunday at The College at Brockport in Hartwell Theatre. This year is a celebration and a remembrance—there will be people coming from across the globe to be with us this week.  Get your tickets early, as Sankofa may sell out!

Axé!

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The Perfect Blend of Imperfection: Chamber Ballet Brockport

Chamber Ballet Maleda

(Photo: CBB company members, Maleda Funk and Konrad Morawski.  Photo by Matthew Yeoman, The College at Brockport)

By Sara Palmisano

One of the most gratifying experiences that dance offers an artist is an unlimited number of experiences. One dance, with set movements to a particular piece of music presented on the same stage, does not exist as a perfect replication of itself despite the attempts to do so. This makes dance paradoxical: practicing choreography until it becomes one with the dancer’s body while knowing a dance never exists more than once. Each day, dancers grapple with the struggle of finding perfection within an imperfect world. Enticed by the hope of achieving perfection, dancers tirelessly rehearse long hours for the sake of achieving the impossible. Each day, each experience, gives dancers the opportunity to attempt to obtain this throughout their careers. These experiences culminate a dancer’s artistic voice, and the voice of a dynamic group. One such group lives, here, in Brockport: Chamber Ballet Brockport (CBB).

Still relatively new, Chamber Ballet Brockport, curated by faculty member Vanessa Van Wormer, offers students a unique opportunity to explore contemporary ballet beyond the typical class structure. These students do not just learn dances for the sake of performance; they become an intricate part of the process. These young artists face the wonderful challenge of collaborating with musicians from the Eastman School of Music, through the leadership of Hilary Glen, and guest artists, such as Phaedra Jarrett and Brad Parquette. The potential for greatness drives these individuals—Van Wormer, Glen, Jarrett, Parquette, and the students—to unite in order to produce powerful works of art that captivate their audiences. Chamber Ballet Brockport embraces the endless possibilities that commence when multiple people of various talents decide to facilitate a night of music and dance. Yet, the true beauty does not lie just within the boundaries of the performance, it also exists in the process that ends in the performance.

Chamber Ballet Brockport performs high caliber dances, but the group dynamic itself sets these students and their mentor apart. Perfection has managed to become part of the language surrounding ballet. Yet, these dancers know that perfection of one cannot support the group. Therefore, these students have created a sanctuary for their artistry amongst themselves. While rehearsing, these young artists continuously communicate in order to help guide one another through choreography and musical cues. They trust one another in order to produce the seamless pieces that the audience eventually witnesses. All the while, the hardships of their tasks do not deter this group from finding moments of laughter and ease throughout the rehearsal process. Even as they enter the time period of last minute rehearsals and tech nights before they appear on stage this coming weekend, this group supports each other without hindrance.

As a spectator, one can observe a sense of intimacy that comes with the time these dancers spend trying to attain the seamless bonding of music and movement they work with. Chamber Ballet Brockport expands beyond learning movements and dances prescribed to contemporary ballet. Although they seek perfection, this group recognizes the beauty of letting themselves exist within the moment with music. We may never experience or see the same dance twice, but we experience the same emotions time and time again. Dance, and music, has the means to evoke memories and emotions from our lives we had long since forgotten. Because of this, Chamber Ballet Brockport teaches its audience the beauty of this craft happens in the now.

As soon as a movement is executed, it has passed by the time we register its happening. In order to fully welcome all that dance offers us, we let go of the idea of perfection momentarily. We exist in the beautiful perfection of the imperfections that the dance offers. However, these “imperfections” do not actually exist. One could argue, that every dance in every performance exists perfectly within its own right. The only fact that deters a dance from perfection is the mindset of the individual. During the Chamber Ballet Brockport Premiere, the audience will see how losing oneself in a dance is the perfect dance during any performance. Perfection will always exist and never exist within the framework of a dance and music. We simply have to have to decide what to see in the dance.

The Chamber Ballet concert takes place Friday, April 24 through Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 7:30 pm. The performances are in the Rose L. Strasser Studio in Hartwell Hall, Kenyon Street, on the Brockport campus. Tickets are $5, and are available at the door. Proceeds benefit future programming and community outreach by Chamber Ballet Brockport.

Chamber Ballet Poster

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Transcending Cultural Barriers…Through Balloons?

Sacrifice For Paradise

By Ian Heckman

The image of balloons conjures up visions of children, birthday parties, revelry, laughter, and joyfulness. It may even make you remember a particularly special birthday party you had as a child. But in Siwen Jiang’s MFA thesis, balloons take on a completely different tenor.  Siwen Jiang, a third year MFA candidate at The College at Brockport, is from China and has spent the last three years studying dance in Brockport. Her thesis, which will be shown in Dance/Hartwell at SUNY Brockport at 7:30 April 9th through the 11th, transforms balloons into much more serious objects. Jiang transforms balloons into objects of emotion. Not emotions of merriment, but emotions of hope and potential loss. She shows us another side of balloons, apart from their usual associations with parties, a side where we look up at the balloon, above us.

The dance begins with two people on stage: one is Chinese, the other, American. The balloons are arranged around the space, at varying heights. They enter a movement dialogue with one another with the Chinese dancer beginning and the American dancer responding. This Chinese dancer and the American dancer are coming from two very different points of view, but they are trying to breach the divide between one another. Proceeding this movement dialogue is a series of people walking across the stage. The two dancers from the beginning are there, with a collection of others, some Chinese and some American. The dancers keep walking across the stage and eventually, I pay less attention to how the dancers are walking across the stage and my attention is drawn to the balloons themselves. I begin to notice how the balloons are swaying and moving as a result of the dancers walking across the stage. This is where it seems that the balloons are the key–the key to linking the cultures to one another.

The dancers then proceed to move with the balloons and then something happens: the dancers elevate the balloons far above their heads. And I am reminded of the space balloons occupy, above us. It is here, above us, where all of our hopes and dreams lie. But at the same time, if the balloons go too high, our hopes and our dreams may be ungraspable. Several times during Jiang’s thesis, as the dancers raise the balloons further above their heads, we are reminded of this unfortunate truth: Even though we are hopeful, we sometimes have to let our dreams and hopes go. The image of balloons becomes a dual symbol of both hope and loss. And this is a truth that transcends cultural differences. No matter where we are from, no matter what language we speak, we all still long for the fulfillment of our dreams, and sometimes those dreams get away from us.

In her thesis, Siwen Jiang evokes these ideas and emotions through the simple image of balloons rising. She shows us this much more serious side of the balloon, but the emotions are not exaggerated or overdone. My hope and fear while watching those balloons rise is subtle and quiet. They match a yearning which is not apparent or obvious, but reflects a more everyday concern with hope and loss. Jiang transcends cultural barriers through balloons, which are symbols for the hope and fear we experience on an everyday basis.

Be sure to catch Siwen Jiang’s thesis work as well as other student choreographed pieces at DANCE/Hartwell on April 9th-April 11th at 7:30pm in Hartwell Theatre!

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Reflecting on Guest Artist Visits

By Christina Williams

Walking into yet another guest artist master class was a gift for me as a student. It’s often mentally challenging and physically demanding to allow your mind and body to constantly experience different dance forms, however it’s a privilege to take so many classes with such talented and experienced artists. More than ten guest artists have come to Brockport this spring, teaching master classes and setting work for Sankofa. We have had opportunities to learn varying contemporary techniques from guests ranging from Laura Peterson, who spent a week-long residency with us, to Alexandra Beller who taught one technique class and returns later this month, along with three candidates for a faculty position who taught multiple classes each over several weeks, among others. With so many guest artists in seven weeks, the minds and bodies of the dancers at Brockport experienced genuine exhaustion but also genuine exploration this semester so far. The most recent guest artist to visit Brockport was Darrell Jones, who brightened our Tuesday morning with a House dance-inspired Vogue aesthetic.

Jones, a Bessie Award-winning choreographer, received his MFA in Choreography and Performance from Florida State University in 1995. Having performed internationally with Min Tanaka, Bebe Miller, Ralph Lemon and Urban Bush Women, Jones’ diverse training in improvisation, Butoh, contemporary and traditional dance forms greatly informed his work with his rich, unique taste in movement.

Entering Jones’ class felt like walking into a new space after watching how he fiercely conquered it the previous evening. Seeing Hoo-Ha (For Your Eyes Only) performed the previous night on March 9th by Jones and two collaborating dancers, before taking his class was the ideal introduction for his work. There’s no better way to meet artists and their movement than watching them throw it all at you before you’ve even had a chance to say hello to them. Reading a description of his work would not have given me the appropriate illustration that I needed before trying it on myself.

If I had read a class description about ducking and whacking, I wouldn’t have been as excited for his class as I was after watching him own the stage with extended ponytails and confident struts. No words would have produced such an excited anticipation to learn from him than seeing his unbothered coolness pour throughout his quick-firing movements as well as the subtle details of his focus and hand gestures. His personality filled the room and flooded my mind with drive to try such a new attitude on myself. When the time came to take his class the next day, the dancers were filled with anticipation.

Beginning the class with a simple walk down the lines of the marley, a sense of personality and commanding presence immediately filled the giant palace of Strasser Studio. Quickly moving into more physically demanding movement, we found our limits and pushed them by testing how many steps it took us to cross the floor. We accessed muscles we’d never needed before through stylized gestures. We bent joints we didn’t know folded through intense transitions into and out of the floor. The comfort in our individuality that Jones planted inside all of us through a driving sense of community and motivation during this class made his seemingly impossible movement less intimidating. His insanely fast movement felt utterly foreign on my body because it required a self-knowledge about my presence that I had never accessed before. It didn’t feel as unmanageable and difficult as it would have, however, without the immense amount of positive energy and motivation filling the room. Darrell Jones gave us a brilliant show, fresh movement for our bodies, and really sore quads. Most importantly however, we were given inspiration as artists to try on a new dance form confidently, without self-judgment.

Hoo Ha

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