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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