Congratulations to Robert Battle

In case you haven’t heard, I’m writing to let you know some extraordinary news about a longtime friend of DanceMasters, Robert Battle. Ten days ago, Robert was named the new Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater!  See the coverage in the New York Times.

Robert has been in the running for the position for two years, and we are all so excited that he has been entrusted with the leadership of this extraordinary American cultural institution. Robert performed his signature work, “Takedeme,” at the very first DanceMasters Weekend in 2000, when he was a member of the Parsons Dance Company. In 2003, he was awarded the first-ever Wesleyan Mariam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award, and he performed with his then fledgling dance company, Battleworks. Since then, he has never missed a single DanceMasters Weekend, and his classes are often the first to fill up.

I know you will all join me in congratulating Robert, and believe it or not, you’ll have the chance to congratulate him in person this summer. The final performances of Battleworks Dance Company will occur at Wesleyan on July 15 and 16. Sadly, the company will need to be dissolved as Robert takes the helm of the Ailey company. He’ll be performing some of his signature works, including Takedeme, Ella and Juba.

Here’s hoping we’ll see you this summer for these and other great performances and talks, presented in collaboration with the CREC Center for Creative Youth.

CFA Theater
July 15, 16 at 8pm

CFA Student Profile: Emily Troll ’10

What follows is the fourth in a series of profiles of Wesleyan students by Alexandra Provo ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Emily Troll ’10, a music major and accomplished fiddler originally from Boston, to talk about her time at Wesleyan and her plans for the future. Emily is perhaps best known on campus as a founder of Wesleyan’s series of student-run contra dances, along with Anna Roberts-Gevalt ’09, Josh Van Vliet ’09, and Hannah Bary ’09. Contra dance is a traditional American folk dance form featuring a live band intended for dancers of all levels. A caller teaches participants the steps, and every thirty seconds or so the dancers switch partners.

Before coming to Wesleyan, Emily was an experienced contra dancer and fiddler. After being introduced to the form at the age of twelve, she started playing at smaller, low-key dances. Now she travels to gigs throughout New England, though admittedly there is a little less time for that during the school year.

Part of the reason for this is that she is busy making and teaching music within the Wesleyan and greater Middletown communities. The collaborative aspect of contra dance is an apt metaphor for Emily’s interests in connecting people across and within communities. For her senior thesis, Calliope House, she brought together a panel of fiddlers from across New England to discuss theories and methods of practicing, interspersing questions with mini jam sessions.

Her interest in practicing and bringing people together also comes through in her work in the Middletown community. Early in her Wesleyan career, Emily volunteered at Green Street Arts Center, and this year, she helped organize Snap Crackle Pop!, a percussive dance show that brings together students from Green Street and Wesleyan dance groups. She has also been working in the after school program at McDonough School in the North End, something she hopes to continue next year since she will be staying on in Middletown. Lately, she has also been teaching music to several six-year-olds living in her off-campus neighborhood, a somewhat unique situation but one that has enriched her own music and expanded her Wesleyan experience. “I’m happy to be out there serving as an ambassador for the Wesleyan community,” she says. “I’ve been able to really be there for people, to get involved.”

Tonight, you can catch Emily and other senior music majors, Lindsay Wright’ 10 and Gabriel Furtado ’10, at the Senior Highlights Concert in the Daniel Family Commons. This Friday, Emily and the Wesleyan Megaband will host the last contra dance of the semester at Beckham Hall.

Senior Highlights Concert
Usdan Connections Series
Tuesday, May 4, 7pm
Daniel Family Commons

Contra Dance
Friday, May 7, 8-11 pm
Beckham Hall

Earth Day 2010: Joining Art and Science

This Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, an annual day of environmental awareness. Events are happening all across campus, from a student-organized sleep-out on Foss Hill to a Connecticut trail maintenance outing this weekend to the bi-weekly farmer’s market that has become such a staple feature of campus life.

The CFA is also hosting several events. In recent years, we have become increasingly interested in exploring environmental issues. As you may know, with Feet to the Fire we began a campus-wide initiative to investigate climate change using art as a catalyst. Our intent was not only to shed light on a matter of urgent societal concern but also to experiment with how science and art intersect and inform one another.

In celebration of Earth Day and in the spirit of Feet to the Fire, the CFA and Environmental Studies have teamed up to present a panel discussing the role of the arts in illuminating environmental issues. Panelists include Marda Kirn, founder and executive director of EcoArts; Cassie Meador, member of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange; Godfrey Bourne, associate professor of biology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis and director of the CEIBA Biological Station in Guyana; and our own Barry Chernoff, professor and chair of the Environmental Studies Program. We’ll also be premiering Paul Horton’s 30-minute documentary film Connections Within a Fragile World, about Chernoff’s and Meador’s co-taught course which took place in Guyana.

Environmental awareness is also featured in this weekend’s presentation of Reggie Wilson’s The Good Dance—dakar/brooklyn. While The Good Dance, which explores the secular and religious traditions of river cultures in Central Africa and the Mississippi Delta, does not take a specific stance on environmental issues, it does feature the striking visual image of over 300 plastic water bottles on stage. Continuing our collaboration with student environmentalist groups on campus, the CFA is collaborating with the TAP THAT! bottled water awareness campaign, a program of the Wesleyan’s Environmental Organizers Network (EON). During the Q&A sessions following the performances, EON will distribute the water from the bottles to the audience and provide information about bottled water in the lobby. After the performance, EON will reuse the bottles in an art installation in the Usdan Campus Center, after which all of the bottles will be recycled.

Wesleyan Earth Day Celebration:
Joining Art and Science to Engage Environmental Issues
Thursday, April 22, 8pm
CFA Hall
Free Admission

Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group:
The Good Dance—dakar/brooklyn
Friday & Saturday, April 23 & 24, 8pm
CFA Theater
Pre-performance talk by Allison Hurd ’11 on Friday, April 23 at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

For more Earth Day events happening this week, see the calendar organized by SAGES, Wesleyan’s Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship.

A Student’s Journey with The Good Dance

Reggie Wilson is a choreographer who has spent years traveling throughout Africa to research traditional and contemporary dance forms that inform the work of his Brooklyn-based company, Fist & Heel Performance Group.   Many of his friends and fans were thrilled when his latest work, a collaboration with Senegal’s Compagnie 1er Temps, The Good Dance: dakar/Brooklyn, was selected as the final event of the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival.  In her December 17 review, Claudia La Rocco of the New York Times writes:  “It’s hard to imagine going out on a higher note than this meticulously constructed, beautiful work”.

The CFA wanted to offer the opportunity to a student to follow this work in development and gave its first Creative Campus Internship to junior Alison Hurd.  Hurd assisted Wilson, choreographer Andréya Ouamba and their combined companies as they spent two weeks last summer in rehearsal at the Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven which culminated in preview performances.  (Hurd was enlisted to run the sound board).   She then worked on the company’s archives at their Brooklyn office and this year, at Wesleyan, organized an advance visit by Wilson who met with students and faculty and toured the CFA Theater.

Here is what Hurd has to say about The Good Dance:

And here is an audio file of her interview with Reggie Wilson.

The Good Dance:  dakar/Brooklyn
Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group
Friday & Saturday, April 23 & 24, 8pm
CFA Theater

Pre-performance talk by Allison Hurd  ’11 on Friday, April 23 at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

Reflecting on Feet to the Fire

Many of you know that Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art was a multilayered project that, from 2008 to 2009, took us from Middletown’s Veteran’s Park, to the Green Street Arts Center, to campus classrooms and CFA venues in a shared exploration of climate change using the arts as a catalyst. (The Feet to the Fire brand continues on campus this year, with a focus on water resources.)

We put together this summary video for a convening of higher education leaders hosted by the Association of Arts Presenters in January in New York City. The gathering, a follow-up to the 2004 American Assembly “The Creative Campus: The Training, Sustaining, and Presenting of the Performing Arts in American Higher Education,” sought to understand what creative research programs like Feet to the Fire can tell us about the impact of the arts on learning. Directed by Middletown’s own Paul Horton, we wanted to share it with you.

Also, please save the date for Wesleyan’s Earth Day Celebration on Thursday, April 22 at 8pm in the CFA Hall. We invite you to the premiere of the full-length 30-minute documentary film produced and directed by Paul Horton. The documentary is about the course on tropical ecology co-taught by Professor Barry Chernoff, Director of the Environmental Studies Program, along with Cassie Meador and Matt Mahaney of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange that took place in Guyana in spring 2009. During the course, students combined data collection and analysis with movement research, gaining first-hand knowledge of the tropical ecosystems of Guyana and creating site-specific artworks in the field.

Preceding the film, a panel of artists and scientists, moderated by Jeremy Isard ’11, will discuss current thinking about the envisioning of our environmental future.

Co-sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program and Arts Presenters Creative Campus Innovations Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

An Immersion in Dance

I’m on a plane flying to Washington to meet with the National Endowment for the Arts about its continued support of the CFA, and I’m thinking about the caliber of dance artists we have been able to bring to Middletown thanks to the generous support of that agency and the continued support of our campus community and our Connecticut audiences. For the past five years, the NEA has helped to build DanceMasters Weekend at Wesleyan, an annual immersion in dance that happens every year right at the start of our Spring Break. This Saturday and Sunday, students in dance schools around the state and their teachers will join Wesleyan students for two intense days of modern, jazz, tap, African and hip hop classes. Their bodies are exposed to techniques they may never have experienced before, and their spirits enter into the passion of master artists from companies as diverse as Limón, Alvin Ailey and Brian Brooks. (Some class slots are still available, by the way.)

And on Saturday night, they join the public for a showcase of three masters of American dance…and this year there is real star power. We’ll open with a solo by Carmen deLavallade, a true luminary not only because she is an exquisite choreographer and dancer (she was a original Ailey dancer, founded her own company with her husband, Geoffrey Holder, taught at Yale for many years) but also because she is one of the first interdisciplinary dance makers. Her work has regularly intersected with theater, film and opera. She will be performing a new solo that premiered last July. We’ll then have the opportunity to see a series of duets by dancers of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company that span thirty years of his choreography, performed with live music by John King. The company is currently on a final two-year legacy tour following Cunningham’s death in July of last year, and we are so fortunate that two of the company dancers will be performing on our stage.

And we’ll close with Paul Taylor’s masterpiece, Esplanade, performed by the dancers of Taylor 2. In 1975, Taylor was inspired by the sight of a girl running to catch a bus and decided to create a work based on pedestrian movement set to two Bach violin concertos. If you’ve seen it before then you’ll never forget the joyful exuberance of the opening, the final section with dancers careening fearlessly across the stage, and the celebration of what it is to be human that happens in between. If you haven’t seen it before, then you should; it is truly a masterwork in the dance cannon.

DanceMasters Weekend at Wesleyan University
Saturday & Sunday, March 6 & 7, 2010
Classes on Saturday and Sunday; Showcase performance Saturday at 8pm in the CFA Theater

For more information, visit

Striving for Perfection

The CFA and the Dance Department were interested in having the Breaking Ground Dance Series acknowledge for the first time the truly innovative work happening in Minneapolis, a hotbed of creative work in dance. After months of planning, we are delighted to welcome Morgan Thorson and her company to campus this weekend. Thanks to support from the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation we were able to connect her work, HEAVEN, to faculty and students in Religion and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and a number of activities are going on this week (see below) in conjunction with the performances of her work at the CFA Theater.

Morgan is a creative researcher… the movement and music in her work comes out of deep exploration and experimentation. In HEAVEN, she researches perfection: What is the nature of both corporeal and ecstatic perfection present in religious practices, and how does it manifest itself? When I saw the piece at P.S. 122 last November, I was struck by the power of her dancers and the sense of ensemble that she creates onstage, particularly integrating the musicians from the indie rock band, Low, with her company. While Morgan is exploring religious practices, she is also showing us the ritualistic power of dance and the emotional, physical and communal power of what a group of performers can achieve together.

Lydia Bell, ’07, wrote to me after she saw the work and said, “I felt like the piece was asking, if we don’t believe in X, what do we believe in? There is a sort of activism in this question that I like–re-framing things in the positive and of course, I felt like Morgan’s answer to this question was clear–everyone can take solace in art-making and being part of a community, which have always been core parts of any religious or spiritual practice.”

When I spoke with Morgan about the work she commented: “In this piece I try to communicate my devotion to space. With extremely simple material, the body and space unite in a powerful unison where temporal shifts underscore this relationship. For example, a quick acceleration leaves a ghostly residue, of what just was. The departure is the gesture. …The presence of various body types is very important. I purposely wanted to blend groups of variously gendered people—not to just convey the power of drag (creating your gender the way you want to), but to approach an all new manifestation of gender identity, a roving, third gender. We modeled this idea after angelic shape-shifters, which often play an important role in the Bible. I also wanted to convey the power of the voice and song. Tonal resonance and harmony can spark an energetic or emotional shift in the performer and viewer, and I really wanted to play with this power in HEAVEN, and juxtapose this kind of material to vigorously moving bodies. I intentionally complete the piece with shape-note singing, so that the focus is no longer corporeal, but sonic and vocal. The communal gesture of singing elevates HEAVEN beyond a physical presence, sending the piece off to a new expressive dimension, and revealing the essence of pure group intension. “

Many choreographers, including many on our series, have explored dancing with live music onstage, but few have succeeded in so fully integrating the musicians as Morgan has. When I asked her how she came to work with Low, she said she was introduced to them by one of her dancers: “We talked about religion in general and ideas of god, and performance structures for this piece. They are known for working the edges, for initiating delicate, soft tones or loud and abrasive gestures, and I was interested in those edges– that restriction– and what it forced me to do choreographically.”

You’ll have the opportunity to meet Morgan and discuss her work following each of the performances, and on Friday night, she’ll be joined by Nicole Stanton, Chair of the Dance Department and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Assistant Professor of Religion and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, who will both share their perspectives on the work.

Morgan Thorson & Company
Featuring live music by the indie rock group Low

Friday & Saturday, January 29 & 30, 8pm 
CFA Theater

Pre-performance talk by Debra Cash on Friday, January 29, at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

Related Events: January 27 at 7pm at Usdan Daniel Family Commons: A Dinner/Discussion about Queer and Transgender Themes in HEAVEN; January 29 at 6:15pm at the Bayit: Aaron Freedman ’10 leads a movement ritual Shabbat.

For complete listing of activities, visit

CFA Student Profiles: Evelyn Israel ‘10

What follows is the third in a series of profiles of Wesleyan students by Alexandra Provo, ‘10, the CFA’s Arts Administration Intern. These students all have one thing in common: they became deeply engaged with one or more artists presented by the CFA. Sparked by the artist’s workshop, performance or exhibition on campus, they began a lasting relationship that affected the trajectory of their academic exploration. We hope you will send us your comments about these and future interviews.

Last week I sat down with Evelyn Israel ‘10, a dance major who spent two summers at the Summer Institute put on by Urban Bush Women, a dance company devoted to bringing “the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people through dance” from “a woman-centered perspective, as members of the African Diaspora community” who have performed twice before at Wesleyan’s CFA.

How did you first hear about Urban Bush Women?

When they came to campus our sophomore year and performed with Compagnie Jant-Bi (in spring 2008).

What happened after the performance? How did you become involved with the group?

The biggest thing that actually got me involved wasn’t the performance but was a workshop that Jawole gave the morning before I saw the performance. We really got to see her process [when she had] us think about our parents or our mothers and our grandmothers and made up some movements to go with that–I really appreciated that. The biggest thing was actually at the very end of the workshop she talked about how that summer they were having a summer institute for ten days that was about movement and about discussing democracy. I was in a sociology class at the time called “What is Democracy?” and I was obsessed with thinking about what democracy means for our everyday lives– not just in terms of voting–and I thought “movement, democracy, race–all together in one–this is exactly what I’m interested in.”

What was that summer institute like? What kinds of things did you do?

I was so excited when I found out about it and then by the time it got to the summer I [started worrying, thinking] “they’re a real company that dances for real, and this is going to be so physically challenging…” and then I got there and it was absolutely everything I could have imagined. The way that it worked was that in the morning we had three movement classes, either yoga or pilates, and then our next class was a community dance class, where each day we did a different African-based movement style (so hip-hop one day, New Orleans Second Line one day, and West African dance one day), and then the other class we had was an Urban Bush Women repertory class, based on moves they do. The morning really woke me up and was really strength-building, and that was really powerful for me. In the afternoons we discussed more, we had some presentations about what some things meant and we read some quotes and responded to them. In the afternoons we did more choreography…[for example], we would take three words that we were thinking about, from material we had read or something else, and make up a movement per word. Toward the end, in the last four days, the classes in the morning were shortened because we started creating more for the performance for the ninth day.

After this summer institute, how did you maintain contact with the company?

Actually, one of the things I did during the performance was me and four of the current or former company members had this little section that we had created together, so I had a really strong relationship with them…not as much with Jawole, but I had kind of really put myself out there the whole time…I guess part of that was really important to me to go back again the next summer.

How do you feel your contact with the group has informed your own practice as a choreographer and dancer?

The first Summer Institute is really something that has greatly informed my practice. Right now I’m working on a senior project involving thinking about racism, about the ways that whiteness plays out in particular, and how movement can be used to explore that. My belief in that as a strategy entirely came out of the first Summer Institute. One of the exercises that we did [in my senior project] in which one group talks and the other responds in movement comes directly out of the first Institute.

How do you see the work that you’ve been doing now, which has come out of this interaction, developing in the future?

Another thing that really came out of the first Institute I went to has entirely to do with this is the idea of working with my own community and fighting racism through working with white people as opposed to going into schools that have fewer resources. That’s also a really great thing to do, but I think there’s also a lot of work to be done in terms of raising awareness in white communities and communities with more money, which is the kind of community I come from. So that’s where this project comes out of, of wanting to work with white people and around issues that have to do with the white side of racism and white privilege. I am definitely interested in trying to continue that as a practice.

In a sentence or so, could you share the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from working with Urban Bush Women?

Working with my own community is one, constantly reminding myself to tap into humility…those are two really big ones. Also to honor and respect the kind of work [the company] does. I’ve been reading a little bit about the company and Jawole for my senior project and through that I’ve deepened my respect for their work and how long they’ve been doing it.

Dance and the Environment in Threshold Sites: The Ultimate Meal

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to write about Feet to the Fire, our campus-wide exploration of climate change from science to art. The initiative made possible the creation of four new works by members of Wesleyan’s arts faculty. If you haven’t been to the Feet to the Fire website recently, then you probably haven’t seen the podcasts we produced about two of them: Ron Kuivila’s The Weather, at Six and Alvin Lucier’s Glacier.

The video about Hari Krishnan’s work Liquid Shakti is still in production, but this Friday night in the Schoenberg Dance Studio, we’ll have the opportunity to see the fourth and final commissioned work performed live! Threshold Sites, choreographed by Nicole Stanton in collaboration with Wesleyan students and faculty, was originally scheduled to premiere last May, but because of the tragic events at the end of the semester, the performances were postponed.

Associate Professor of Dance, and Chair of the Dance Department, Nicole Stanton created the work over the course of last spring working with students in her Repertory and Performance course. In conjunction with the Feet to the Fire theme, Stanton invited three professors to co-create a curriculum with her that used research methodologies from social science, evolutionary biology, experiential anatomy, and dance to examine some of the relations between body/self, home/community, and environment/ecosystem, through the lens of food. The resulting multi-media performance weaves dance, song, spoken word…and a meal.

Gina Ulysse in Anthropology provided students with an understanding of theories emanating from the field of cultural studies as they relate to somatic, community, and ecological awareness. Michael Singer from Biology familiarized students with how an ecologist uses practices of scientific observation in the field, taking students out into nature to see how he sees. Andrea Olson, a visiting scholar from Middlebury College in Biology and Dance, conducted an intensive workshop that focused on the development of awareness and respect for the human body and for the environment and charted the relationships between the two. Stanton then synthesized the information into movement expressions and choreographed the work.

“This was a different choreographic experience for me,” she said in an interview I had with her yesterday. “Usually I take an emergent form or context that develops in the studio and the research springs from that investigation. Because of the Feet to the Fire commission, I took a topical approach for the first time.” Friday night’s performance includes a multi-generation cast–three of the original cast members (others graduated), two students who are new to the work, two faculty members (Stanton and Katja Kolcio, Associate Professor of Dance) and four guest artists (Kolcio’s parents and in-laws who are all professional performers!). The work features group segments, a solo by Stanton, and music from around the world, including Ukrainian, German, American, and Senegalese folk traditions. The performance is followed by a communal feast to be shared with the audience.

Threshold Sites: The Ultimate Meal
Schonberg Dance Studio, 247 Pine Street
Friday, December 4, 2009 at 8pm
Seating is limited; to reserve your seat, contact Michele Olerud in the Dance Department,, or call 860-685-3488

Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts