2016 â€” 2017
SHARON DISNEY LUND SCHOOL DANCE
04 DANCING THROUGH LIMINALITY by Ariel Osterweis
06 08 ISHMAEL HOUSTONJONES: Herb Alpert Award in the Arts
ART AS PLAY: Douglas Nielsen Reflects on the Year
14 STREAMS: Ailey II’s Troy Powell Stages Alvin Ailey’s Classic Work by Andre Tyson
24 28 SOUND DESIGN: Allison Smartt and Music’s Associations in and Around Dance 02
WILLIAM FORSYTHE’S STELLENTSTELLEN: by Yanting Li, Introduced by Ariel Osterweis
10 BORDER CROSSINGS: A Postdramatic Treatment of Flamenco by Paola Escobar (MFA2)
16 18 22 ELISA MONTE: Interviewed by Jodi Porter (MFA2)
HIP HOP IN THE STUDIO: Marissa Osato (MFA1) Interviews Nina Flagg
32 34 FACULTY NEWS
JULIE TOLENTINO: THE BODY IN PERFORMANCE
DANCING THROUGH LIMINALITY By Ariel Osterweis
Anthropologist Victor Turner described the liminal period during a rite of passage as “betwixt and between.” Liminality characterizes for Turner the power and potentiality intrinsic to the ritual process. Central to the efficacy of ritual is performance—how it is enacted, enlivened, and believed. When performance creates change from one state to another, it functions as a performative; it does something. Liminal space, both precarious and in motion, affords us an opportunity for transformation, and this year the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at CalArts—as a community between deans, as it were— found itself inhabiting such a space. 2016 bid farewell to School of Dance Dean Stephan Koplowitz, and a new dean will be welcomed in 2017. Laurence Blake fulfilled the interim role in the fall, Cynthia Young in the spring. 2016-2017, in its very hyphenation, served as a bridge, an occasion to question CalArts’ dancing past and envision its possible futures. As such, we inevitably returned to a foundational ethos of CalArts, asking ourselves what it meant to cooperate as an artists’ collective within a culture of shared governance. Although we look optimistically toward tomorrow, we pause today with the publication of this newsletter to share with you the creative accomplishments of 2016-2017 in the School of Dance.
As the year’s performance highlights illustrate so clearly, liminality actually defines our way of being in dance. We are always in motion; our most memorable technique teachers often reiterate that the dancing occurs “in the transitions.” Almost always exercises in transformation, whether lasting or fleeting, dance performances invite us to conceive of the world anew, spatio-temporally and kinesthetically. This year’s choreography and performance-making took place in concerts such as Open House, the BFA2 Solo evening, Noonish, Winter Dance, and the Next Dance Concert. In addition to pieces by faculty members Julie Bour, Andre Tyson, and Nina Flagg, the School of Dance was thrilled to invite phenom, Juel D. Lane, to choreograph for Winter Dance and alum, Ryan Mason, to choreograph a piece for Next. Gustavo Ramirez Sansano also created a piece for Next, featuring the graduating BFA4s. Mason and Sansano’s challenging pieces were joined by stellar choreography by BFA and MFA students over the course of three Next Dance Concert weekends. Demanding, refined pieces by Kelsey Long and Manuel Maza (both BFA4s) were featured at Redcat. While Maza’s piece offered a particular aesthetic of lyrical vulnerability evocative of Pina Bausch’s work, Long’s piece sustained a charged, driving pulse, generating an inventive movement vocabulary of contemporary dance subtly influenced by hip-hop. Evidenced by the rigor and risk-taking of this year’s imaginative pieces, it has become ever-apparent that our student choreographers have benefitted from the opportunity to spend time steeped in the creative process. Other offerings this year included the protest piece, Mother Earth, site-specific experiments, and MFA2 theses. Herb Alpert Award in the Arts winner, Ishmael Houston-Jones, joined us this spring, visiting classes and conducting improvisation workshops. He discussed his experiences with recreation and improvisation,
his mentorship of queer artists, and the way loss due to AIDS affected dance communities in New York City. Such guest artists are an important asset to the School of Dance, especially during our current era of political urgency, one in which interrogations into the body and agency impel us to question the status of the term “dance” itself. Another profoundly thoughtful artist in our midst was Julie Tolentino, who visited our Body in Performance and Performance Studies classes. Having danced professionally for many years, Tolentino now makes fiercely feminist performance installations that engage with duration, objects, sound, and video. MFA students from the School of Dance had the opportunity to study with MA and MFA students from Critical Studies, Art, Music, and Theater in their interdisciplinary seminars this year (Critical Dance Studies and Performance Studies), and will see their collaborative writing on William Forsythe’s site-specific work, Stellentstellen, published this year.
This year of transition also brought forth a sense of the new. Our most recent additions to the faculty include Nina Flagg (who teaches hip-hop and contemporary dance classes), Allison Smartt (Assistant Technical Director), and myself (Critical Dance Studies and Performance Studies). And Douglas Nielson joined us as a guest artist for the year. Increasingly opening up classes to the broader institute and exploring innovative collaborations, the School of Dance is experiencing a shift toward interdisciplinarity. For the first time, the School of Dance participated in Winter Session, a two-week incubator for cross-school collaboration. In addition to taking dance technique classes, students had the opportunity to partake in a course on mask, physical theater, and dance that was co-taught by Julie Bour and Theater’s Daniel Passer. Some of our students learned Alvin Ailey’s seminal work, Streams (1970), taught by Ailey II’s director, Troy Powell. They also had a chance to create a devised work in a course co-taught by Rosanna Gamson and Allison Smartt and to sample courses offered by other schools. As the School of Dance’s newest Regular Faculty member, I am particularly struck by the program’s refusal to adopt a signature style or privilege a codified technique. Instead, versatility is encouraged and nurtured, both in terms of dancing and choreography. Mirroring the framework of CalArts at large, the School of Dance resists a prescribed structure or aesthetic hierarchy. Thus, its resulting performances boast a range of styles and aesthetic approaches, influenced by experimental contemporary dance, hip-hop, postdramatic theater, and performance art alike. As an instructor of Critical Dance Studies and Performance Studies who danced professionally for many years, my hope is for our students to develop their understanding of performance histories and cultures in order to situate their own art practices along a deeply considered trajectory, contextualizing their work through a deliberate use of discourse and awareness of the political. As we at the School of Dance look ahead to continued innovation and thoughtful change in the coming year, we invite you now to savor the selection of words, thoughts, and images from our community on the pages that follow.
Herb Alpert Award in the Arts
ISHMAEL HOUSTON —JONES For a week this spring, Herb Alpert Award in the Arts awardee, Ishmael HoustonJones, was in residence in the School of Dance. He conducted improvisation workshops and gave presentations on the evolution of his work in dance and his involvement in AIDS-related art-making. As a choreographer and improviser, Houston-Jones’ dance and text work has been performed throughout the world. He is also an author, curator, and teacher whose practices have had significant impact on dance makers of multiple generations. Drawn to collaborations as a way to move beyond boundaries and the known, Houston-Jones celebrates the political aspect of cooperation. Almost never setting his choreography, he sees the dichotomy between improvisation and choreography as a false binary.
An activist artist who makes provocative work that has examined and memorialized the impact of AIDS on numerous communities, he also supports—through curationand teaching— the production of challenging art created by queer artists and/or artists of color.
AS ART PLAY Reflections on the Year
Douglas Nielsen 2016—2017 Artist in Residence “It’s not art if it isn’t play.” Those words have been the central line of my personal mantra for as long as I can remember, certainly since I was a student here at CalArts in 1972, when Bella Lewitzky, Donald McKayle, and Mia Slavenska were the core faculty in the School of Dance. To say my experience at CalArts back then was momentous would be an understatement. No words can describe the “hyper-active learning” happening all around campus. I had no money and worked two jobs (as a security guard at Magic Mountain and a chimney sweep at Disneyland) just to survive. It all prepared me to jump off the deep end, and make dance a lifelong vocation. Now, forty-five years later, I’m back full circle where it all began. It has been a humbling opportunity to give back. I have had the opportunity to teach contemporary technique, choreography, graduate forum, and music and dance collaboration. I also created a new dance for Winter Dance on ten gifted performers: The Nearest Useable Exit May Be Behind You. In summary, it has been pure bliss. Someone once said, “Your life is none of your business,” or as the old joke goes, “Do you know how to make God laugh? Tell him what your plans are.” It’s all so beautifully unpredictable. And, as I embrace the fact that everything has a beginning, middle, and end, I’m very grateful for this precious time together, celebrating the three essential action verbs of Danish education: think, participate, and play.
A Postdramatic Treatment of Flamenco By Paola Escobar
BORDER CROSSINGS Red Dots-Black Holes, my MFA thesis piece, was presented in March in the Lund Theater after a sixmonth creative process. The piece is a continuation of my long-term practiceas-research on Flamenco and contemporary dance.
Red Dots-Black Holes is not about myself or any particular story; rather, it explores transgressed boundaries, exposing and erasing borders as they are crossed.
Such transgression occurred when I translated 150 lyrics of flamenco’s oral tradition from Spanish to English. Performers also transgressed disciplines when moving from movement to soundmaking to text delivery. At the level of costuming, the performers transgressed flamenco’s traditionally gendered masculine and feminine attire. The piece’s more significant border crossing was that of connecting two different cultures and asking them to confront each other. In flamenco, there is less distinction between music and dance. Incorporating flamenco into a contemporary performance piece forced us to rethink the use of space and audience, thus inquiring into the idea of amateurism in performance and with “deskilling” and “reskilling” practices. I worked with a design team from the Theater school that included lighting designer R.S Buck, scenic designer Melanie Waingarten, and costume designer Meghan Ims. They created a spatial and visual concept. We decided to work under the umbrella of flamenco’s privileging of the instantaneous and the idea of experiencing life through the body. We developed a completely analogue world created with bodies, wood, fabric, and light, where all the sounds of the piece where expressed by the performers. We developed a circular orientation with no preferential frontal view. To achieve that we transformed the traditional setting of the Lund Theater into a space with a rounded stage demarcated by different styles of old wood chairs, a big wood table, a rack and a vintage vanity. As a result, the place appeared to be larger, but paradoxically the theater seamed a more intimate place. While entering the Lund, the space pointed
nostalgically to the spirt of flamenco and its traditional spaces, tablaos. Ultimately, the “fourth wall” was removed. The piece drew from flamenco costume elements such as flamenca and a flamenco dresses, a fan, a mantón (flamenco shall), and two exaggerated versions of the traditional bata de cola (long flamenco train skirt). The bata evoked the gypsy’s nomadic practices and communitarian spirit. All costume changes occurred on stage. Movement invention drew from a combination of set choreography, improvised sections, and task-based sections. Three main solos in the piece were built following the traditional codes of movement invention that rule flamenco choreography. This took place while respecting the flamenco dance structure that follows predetermined sections (like llamadas, letras, remates, and cierres). The performers, originally musicians and dancers, were pushed to dance, sing, and play instruments that they normally didn’t play. Additionally, they all were pushed to become actors, as the piece ended up incorporating a significant amount of text. I translated popular letras (lyrics) from the flamenco oral tradition, and the performers customized and delivered them in a collage-like fashion. Ultimately, the piece departed from western theatrical—and flamenco— conventions in order to put forth a hybrid, postdramatic aesthetic.
STREAMS Ailey II’s Troy Powell Stages Alvin Ailey’s Classic Work by Andre Tyson
Troy Powell, the Artistic Director of Ailey II, came to set sections of Alvin Ailey’s 1970 Streams (“Danza,” “Aria,” and “Diabolic”) on our students during CalArts’ Winter Session in January. The overall experience was very productive. The restaging of Streams represents our commitment to connecting CalArts dance students to a legacy of modern and contemporary dance and to providing opportunities to work as an ensemble through a repertory experience. Powell shared his considerable expertise with our dance students through rigorous, highly technical rehearsals. The process was both challenging and rewarding. The complex and intricate musical score for Streams is by Miloslav Kabeláč. Our students developed and enhanced their technical skills and gained a sense of what it would be like to work in a professional dance company like Ailey or Ailey II. Powell also taught master classes in Horton-based technique which enabled students to see the importance of applying their training to the rehearsal process. Streams was performed at an informal showing in the Sharon Disney Lund Theater for the entire School of Dance student body and faculty and was well-received.
Troy Powell Artistic Director, Ailey II
On July 1, 2012, Troy Powell became only the second person to lead Ailey II since its inception in 1974. A native New Yorker, Mr. Powell began his dance training at the age of nine as a scholarship student at The Ailey School. Following his graduation from The High School of Performing Arts, he became a member of Ailey II and then joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1991. He toured throughout the United States, South America, Europe, and South Africa for ten years with the Company before becoming a master teacher at The Ailey School and resident choreographer of Ailey II. Mr. Powell has choreographed ballets for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, The Ailey School, Dallas Black Dance Theater, National Dance Company of the Bahamas, and Alaska Dance Theater, as well as three episodes of Sesame Street. His guest artist credits include performing with companies including Batsheva, Dallas Black Dance Theater, and Complexions. Mr. Powell has been featured in an American Express commercial with the Ailey company and has also appeared on television in George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum, the PBS Great Performances: Dance in America special A Hymn for Alvin Ailey, choreographed by Judith Jamison, America’s Next Top Model, and most recently the Polish version of So You Think You Can Dance.
Interviewed by Jodi Porter (MFA2)
ELISA MONTE I had the opportunity to sit down with choreographer Elisa Monte, whose thirty-sixyear-old company has performed in over forty countries and five continents. Monte came to CalArts to set her 1982 work, Pigs and Fishes, on students of the Sharon Disney School of Dance. The piece was performed at The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) downtown Los Angeles. When asked about working with CalArts dance students, Monte said, “Upon an invitation from Andre Tyson, I was excited to come to CalArts! [The students] are great to work with; there is a lot of hard material that I am giving them and they have come back knowing the material. We finished teaching the piece in three days; they are working very hard.” Known for diverse casts and spear-heading unique projects, I asked Monte to describe some of her most challenging and memorable processes. She mentioned working with Ice Theatre of New York, a company that fuses dance and figure skating. She told me that she experimented with flow, patterning, and momentum on the ice, and learned that skaters differed from dancers in that they lacked stamina for anything longer than a fiveminute piece, as this is what they were used to in competition. She adapted to the challenge choreographing Draughtsman Contract (1998), which was a NYSCA commission and has been in Ice Theatre’s repertory since.
Another unique experience for Monte was touring Bali and working with local Balinese traditional dancers. She workshopped dance with Balinese dancers and her company, integrating Balinese movement and ideas with modern dance. For example, she had Balinese dancers form a circle where they sang music, and had dancers explore dance improvisation and partnering in the center. The work was performed at the Queen Victoria Theatre in Jakarta. Monte was a former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Lar Lubovitch, and Pilobolus. I asked her how she was able to transition to choreography. First, she told me that she trained in the hardest techniques she could find, dancing with Graham but taking classes with Cunningham: “When you spend time with something, you have informed choices to do something.” She also had a working philosophy: “You live an integrated life, both as a choreographer and a person.” For many years she lived in a loft in New York City that was also her studio. She was able to work at any hour. Her daughter joined her on tour when she was young. She went on to say, “Being stubborn helped keep the company going one step at a time. Luck also had a lot to do with my career. People came into the company; board members dropped from heaven. [It takes] luck and tenacity; be ready for the luck to happen!”
Marissa Osato (MFA1) Interviews Nina Flagg
HIPâ€” HOP IN THE STUDIO
What have you been doing in the studio with the students since you started at CalArts in the fall semester? Nina Flagg: I came to CalArts with the intention of implementing hip-hop technique and vocabulary into the curriculum. CalArts is and was trying to make the program progressive and reflective of what’s happening globally in the dance world. My background is in ballet, modern, contemporary, and hip-hop. I danced with a hip-hop company for about seven years. Growing up as an African American girl in the United States, I did hip-hop socially but really started to study it and get into the different genres and styles after I finished school and started to dance for and train with Rennie Harris Pure Movement. The biggest challenge when bringing hip-hop culture and dance into a conservatory or academy setting is getting people to understand and respect the legitimacy of it as a technique, that it is on par with modern dance and ballet. I’d like the students to be a little more versatile so that they can go out in the world and not only incorporate it into whatever they’re pursuing, but be able to audition and get a job and work commercially if they desire. We’ve been working on technique as much as we can. The first semester was more of a survey class. We went into old school hip-hop, we did some funk styles which are popping and locking, we did more some fringe and underground styles as well, then we got into waacking, voguing, Chicago footwork, house, and dancehall. I give the students a taste of these different styles so then they can start to know what they like and what they’re interested in and go and pursue it outside and take class on the weekends. We went on to explore how to work commercially in the hip-hop field, what it means to dance for camera.
You have to be very creative in terms of how you are sculpting your career, and it might be a little bit of commercial, it might be a little bit of concert dance, it might be some theater, a little bit of TV, and then teaching; that’s what my career has been. I’ve had to be very creative because company life was kind of dissolving by the time I got into my career and finished school. I started going to the commercial world, working as an assistant choreographer, on tours with music artists, in addition to working with companies. I also did some concert dance and choreography and worked with Harris on his piece for Ailey. I tell students now, be open. Dance is not one thing anymore. It’s not just “I’m going to be a ballerina” or “I’m going to be a contemporary dancer” because there are influences from everywhere. Hip-hop has penetrated every single aspect of global culture. What makes contemporary dance actually contemporary? Are we preserving the tradition or preserving a specific technique? Sometimes that is the goal. But other times it’s to modernize the movement and reflect how we are living, talking, walking and speaking in 2017. Hip-hop music is something the students identify with. And those who are not familiar are also learning, so that when they hear something on the radio they know what it is because they danced to it in class. This semester I’m creating work on the students for Next Dance Festival and we’ve just started the rehearsal process. We are using both modern and hip-hop vocabularies.
MO: You were saying we have to understand each other’s cultures. Can you talk about any push back you’ve received from academic institutions in general when trying to integrate hip-hop into the curriculum? NF: I’ve been at UCLA, a guest artist at Loyola Marymount, guest faculty at Connecticut College, and now here at CalArts. The one thing I notice is that the faculty is always nervous that the way hip-hop is presented will not be as effective as other techniques, and that it will not be able to sustain itself. I come from a ballet and modern background and I apply that discipline and structure to hip-hop class. When faculty come and actually see what it is and they hear the terminology and they hear the history of it, they see that it is actually something legitimate and interesting. I’m also studying Jamaican dancehall, pursuing it as a practitioner of the culture and someone with Caribbean roots, but also implementing it into my concert dance and into my choreography. Being an outsider is one thing but actually participating and being a practitioner of the culture and sitting down with the people and communicating with them and dancing with them changes your understanding and it changes your own dancing and what you’re presenting and what you’re producing as an artist. I think we could really understand each other as a people if we danced together. When I teach open dancehall and hip-hop classes outside of CalArts, I find that there are people who have not had close contact with a black person. And vice versa, if you’re going to inner city places around youth, there are some people who have not had physical contact with a white person. When we start talking about hip-hop history—the socio-economic issues and people coming out of angst and poverty and frustration—people start to soften their own ideas and prejudices about what hip-hop is. This is important for dancers and non-dancers alike. Dance can be a tool of understanding. MO: If you could create your own ideal academic curriculum, how would hip-hop be integrated? NF: For me, hip-hop would be as important as ballet and contemporary and other styles of dance. If, for example, we are working on arm articulation one semester, we can get into street dance techniques that really focus on the arms, like waacking and locking, and then simultaneously in ballet talk about port de bras. You’re not going to perfect any one technique in a year, let alone a semester. But at least you can have the origins and the foundation of it in your body enough to say I have studied this and I understand where it’s coming from. And if I want to expand on that, I can pursue that on my own. But really starting to study it and not necessarily having hip-hop as a survey style class, so we can focus on something and sink our teeth into it. That would be my ideal curriculum - having equal time allotted to each of those techniques and talking about what’s the through-line this semester.
MO: Can you talk a bit about your family and dance background? NF: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My mother studied dance at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, ended up doing Broadway, then danced with George Faison’s company. She came back to LA and did some commercial work, like “Thriller” with Michael Jackson. She also worked with Janet Jackson and Lionel Richie, and is now the director of Debbie Allen Dance Academy. She also taught at CalArts’ (in Theatre) years ago. She just shot a commercial with Beyoncé yesterday for the Grammy’s—at 63! I started as a gymnast, then studied ballet with my mom until she suggested I study with other teachers (Yuri Grigoriev, Claude Thompson, Otis Sallid, and others). My mom also takes my hip-hop classes! My mom is in front of the camera and my dad is behind the camera. My dad works in television as an assistant director. My dad was the head of the Directors Guild of America for three years. MO: So you really got the full spectrum education growing up in this entertainment industry. Lastly, what is your favorite aspect of working at CalArts? NF: I love that I can flex both muscles— contemporary and hip-hop. I appreciate that the students are open and want to be challenged in both, and that they don’t get discouraged. On some days I say, “You just have to laugh at yourself!”
JULIE TOLENTINO: The Body in Performance
This spring, Julie Tolentino visited the undergraduate class, The Body in Performance, and the graduate class, Performance Studies. As an artist who has worked extensively in dance and now creates intimate movement-based installations that include durational performance, objects, sound scores, and video, Tolentino drew from a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with our students. In addition to giving an artist’s talk and having students join her in text and body-based experiences during classes, she elaborated on her life and work as both an artist and activist. Her visit allowed students to think through performance at the intersection of subjectivity, corporeality, and the political. Her work has been presented internationally in galleries and museums, and she was a programmer and curator (with Pati Hertling) of the 2017 exhibition, Coming To Power—Twenty Five Years of Explicit Art by Women at Maccarone, NYC. She is currently editing the catalogue (and developing a book of recollections) Guard Your Daughters: Clit Club 19902012. Tolentino has a triptych touring in the Art, AIDS, America exhibition and hosts one-to-one artist retreats at Feral House*Studio in the Mohave Desert.
Allison Smartt and Music’s Associations In and Around Dance
SOUND DESIGN In 2016-2017, Allison Smartt was the assistant technical director and on faculty of School of Dance. She is a sound engineer, designer, producer, and educator for theater and dance. Her designs have been seen and heard at La MaMa, The Yard, Arts In Odd Places Festival, Barrington Stage Company the Five College Consortium, and more. She is the owner of Smartt Productions, a production company that develops and tours innovative performances about social justice. Its repertory includes the nationally acclaimed solo-show about reproductive rights, MOM BABY GOD, and the powerful new hiphop theatre performance, Mixed-Race Mixtape. Her productions have toured to over 17 cities around the U.S. Smartt is a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and an alumna of Hampshire College. She lives in Los Angeles with her dog, Rudy. In an excerpt from an interview with SO! Amplifies, she talks about her philosophy of sound design and power of music to accomplish what words alone cannot. She strives to impart these critical thinking and design skills to her students at CalArts and beyond, as they are often not just choreographers and performers, but also costume designers, sound editors and designers, and artistic directors of their own pieces.
What do individuals bring of themselves when they listen to music? How is music a way of entering conversations otherwise avoided?
Allison Smartt: The answer
to this question is deeper than I can articulate but I’ll try. Talking about bias, race, class, even in MOM BABY GOD introducing a pro-life video blog—broaching these topics are made easier and more interesting through music. Why? I think it’s because you are giving the listener multiple threads from which to sew their own tapestry…their own understanding of the thing. The changing emotions in a score, multiplicity of lyrical meaning, tempo, stage presence, on and on. If you were to just present a lecture on any one of those topics, the messages would feel too stark. When you put them to music, you suddenly you open up people’s hearts. As a sound designer, I have to be conscious of what people bring to their listening experience, but can’t let this rule my every decision. The most obvious example is when faced with the request
to use popular music, for example, one of the most overused classics of the 20th century, “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen. Songs can evoke strong reactions. If you heard “Hallelujah” for the first time while seeing the Northern Lights, you might associate that memory and those emotions with that song. When a designer uses popular music in their design, this is a reality you have to think hard about. Regarding how deeply the [Mixed-Race Mixtape] moves people, I give all the credit to Fig’s lyrics and the entire cast’s performance, as well as the construction of the songs by the musicians and composers (and to Jorrell, our director, who has focused the intention of all these elements to coalesce very effectively). The cast puts a lot of emotion and energy into their performances and when people are genuine and earnest on stage, audiences can sense that and are deeply engaged. I do a lot of work in the dance world and have come to understand how essential music and movement are to the human experience. We’ve always made music and moved our bodies, and there is something deeply grounding and joining about collective listening and movement, even if it’s just tapping your fingers and toes.
By Yanting Li — Introduced by Ariel Osterweis
In the fall semester, I was approached by editor Juliet Bellow to submit a performance review to caa.reviews, the College Art Association’s online reviews journal. The review was to cover the Site-Specific Forsythe event at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in October, featuring renowned choreographer William Forsythe’s durational duet, Stellentstellen (2016), and a choreographic exercise for the public called Acquisition. Stellentstellen features BBoy, Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit, and contemporary dancer, Riley Watts, intertwined in a slowly moving pretzel in a large gallery of the museum for several hours. USC dance students taught random LACMA visitors complicated choreographic brain teasers outdoors for Acquisition. Because site-specific performances tend to invite a particular kind of ethnographic engagement and a roaming, shifting collectivity, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to experiment with polyvocality, performance ethnography, and a poetics of choreographic writing with my Critical Dance Studies graduate students. The excerpted passages below were written by Yanting Li, an MFA1 in Creative Writing in the School of Critical Studies.
g ø ¸ µ 7 ¦ On “contact” and “improvisation”
On the end, the collapsing moment
It starts with a sensation that radiates possibilities of previous unacknowledged sensations that keep evolving. “The line is the sensation of its own realization,” said Forsythe, quoting Cy Twombly. The bodies are never separated. When contact becomes a new reality of existence, there’s no longer a triggered subject. The internalized bodily momentum dictates only one direction of movement. Is it improvisation? Or a destined causality? There’s no they in Stellentstellen. There’s only it. It looks like an inhuman creature that has two heads, two torsos, two tones of skin, four arms and four legs. It looks like there’s an inferno burning inside hat reddens the skin and tenses up the limbs, that pops out the veins and twists the faces. Are those tattoos or sinister totems? “Multivalence in the linguistic sense, the power to recombine,” said Forsythe. At the far end of the pavilion, an exhibition title is foreboding: Gemini G.E.L. Coincidence? In a weightless silence, you would be able to hear the crushing intensities that stretch and flow and transform in the commune of the two bodies that slowly and tirelessly build into yet another human knot to dissolve and erase the former one. Erasing is the key; endless erasing. Motion and time are folded in this vacuum. There is no end in this realm. It ends with Forsythe’s abrupt intervention, walking up to the two bodies and telling them to stop—it is an end to the performance, not an end to the folding in this sphere of reality.
Julie Bour had a busy year of choreography, including collaborations with the School of Theater. In addition to co-teaching a Winter Session course with Daniel Passer that combined mask/physical theater and dance, Bour created a piece of choreography called Solidus for actors. Bour states that working with performers “through movement invention and voice work was rewarding and refreshing. The creative process brought up intense and mindful discussions among the cast and helped me solidify and broaden my practice.” Her other activities this year included directing the BFA 2 Solo Concert, choreographing a piece for Winter Dance, and creating a piece for actors and dancers during the Evelyn Sharp Residency. Her summer plans include traveling to Europe to make connections for our school and further develop mask work at Lecoq.
Rosanna Gamson is working on an evening-length dance theater piece called Sugar Houses, based on the sugarhouse prisons of the American Revolutionary War and the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. During her creative leave, she plans to research sugar–its physiological, cultural, and historical resonances–as well as investigate the Great Famine of the fourteenth century and European anti-Semitism. The piece will be explored during the Evelyn Sharp Residency in May. Gamson is also developing work at the Terra Nova choreographic residency and teaching master classes at Seoul Institute of the Arts over the next two months. To round out her creative leave, she will attend NPN, WAA, and Art Presenters’ conferences, convert a piece to film, and visit Poland and Mexico to pursue collaborations.
Ariel Osterweis has just completed her first year on faculty in the School of Dance, introducing Critical Dance Studies and Performance Studies to the CalArts curriculum. Opening her undergraduate and graduate classes to the institute has allowed for interdisciplinary engagement across schools. This year she has encouraged her students to think about bodies and agency through issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Recent publications have appeared in Choreographies of 21st Century Wars and TDR/The Drama Review. She is Book Reviews Editor of Dance Research Journal and is co-convening panels at SDHS/ CORD and ASTR. This summer and fall, Osterweis will be completing her book manuscript, Body Impossible: Desmond Richardson and the Politics of Virtuosity (under contract with Oxford University Press). ď Š
Francesca Penzani recently screened her first short narrative film, Monique’s, at eleven independent film festivals. It was a finalist at the International Woman Film Festival (2016). It was also a Silver Winner at the International Independent Film Awards in LA (2016). Penzani is currently working on a new dance film with CalArts alums, Kyreeana Alexander Nedra Wheeler, during the Evelyn Sharp Residency 2017.
Glen Eddy has been teaching ballet classes at and beyond CalArts, guest teaching this year with Cullberg Ballet, Jessica Lang, BodyTraffic, and LACHSA. Last summer Eddy taught professional track students ballet technique and an excerpt from Jiri Kylian's Svadebka at the Dutch Summer Dance Course in the Hague, Holland. This summer he returns to the Hague to teach.
Douglas Nielsen Artist in Residence
Critical Dance Studies, Performance Studies, MFA Seminar
Dance Film, Integrated Media
Rafael Hernandez, Lawrence K. Ho, and courtesy of artists and contributors
Operations Manager, Producer of Special Projects
Paola Escobar, Yanting Li, Douglas Nielsen, Marissa Osato, Ariel Osterweis, Jodi Porter, Allison Smartt, Andre Tyson
Anatomy for Dancers
Ebony Ruffin Roberta Shaw Dance Film, Advanced Video Editing
Allison Smartt Assistant Technical Director
Jamie Westfall (Fall) & Meghan Ims (Spring)
Assistant Dean, Ballet Technique, Menâ€™s Class, Choreography I
Cynthia Young Interim Dean, Ballet Technique, Pointe, Pilates
Music for Dancers, MFA Music Seminar
Gary Bonner Accompanist
Assistant Dean, Contemporary Technique, Pilates
Julie Bour Contemporary Technique, Improvisation, Composition II
Glen Eddy Ballet Technique, Partnering
Sharon Lam Mark Litver Accompanist
Yelena Osipova Accompanist
Christopher Payne Accompanist
Contemporary Technique, Hip Hop Technique
Juel D. Lane
Teresina Mosco 32 Ballet Technique
Gustavo Ramirez Sansano Guest Choreographer
Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance dance.calarts.edu 661-253-7898 California Institute of the Arts 24700 McBean Parkway Valencia, CA 91355