Friday, May 13, 2011

Congratulations class of 2011!

Listened to the speeches of the graduating seniors at GMU's School of Dance yesterday... Fantastic!

Such beauty and eloquence... I am still savoring their stories about lessons learned, changing definitions of success, and remarkable plans for the future. Faculty member Susan Shields prepares the graduating class for the event through her course called Senior Synthesis and I cannot put into words how much I admire her work and can see her attributes in the ways the students present themselves: poised, confident, reflective, and generous. All in all, a magnificent event.

Many students talked about plans to move to New York, several dancers already have projects and positions in place. In NYC they will join other GMU alumni, like Maya Orchin who just sent an update about a recent audition: "I had a really positive experience auditioning with Trisha Brown.  I have always been inspired by the company and her work.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

from Shanleigh Philip, GMU class of 2010

1. Can you describe a typical day in your position at The Joyce Theater assisting executive director Linda Shelton? What are the most exciting (and least exciting?) parts of your job? 

A typical day for me begins by quickly glancing through my emails, checking voicemails, and reviewing my boss's schedule for the day. When she arrives, I update her on any changes that have been made or things that have happened overnight that she should be aware of immediately. She lets me know of anything on her end as well. Once we are caught up, I spend about 90% of the day coordinating her schedule for the upcoming days, weeks, months, and even years! The Joyce not only operates their theater in Chelsea 52 weeks out of the year, but also runs Joyce SoHo and DANY Studios. Aside from The Joyce, my boss is very active in the local, national, and international dance community, so it is important for me to help her balance her many lives as efficiently as possible! Because there are so many people she needs to meet with inside and outside of The Joyce, it is my job to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks as well as prioritize her commitments, meetings, etc.  It amazes me everyday how busy she is, and one day seems to be busier than the next. I also plan all of her business travels. Since June I have helped in planning trips to San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Baltimore, London, and Cuba. I also help organize materials for our weekly staff meetings and speak with our Board of Trustees on a regular basis. Anytime my boss is unavailable, I usually speak to people on her behalf. The most exciting part of my job is that I am in a theater where dance companies are in and out every week. I get to meet all of the staff, artistic director, and dancers. I still become a bit star-struck! I also get tickets to any performance that is here, and even better, I usually get to bring Chrissy as my date. Since January, we have seen 13 companies here. I would say that the least exciting part, or most frustrating part, is finding enough time in the day for my boss to get everything done. I find that is where my creativity comes into play - sometimes she covers more of the city, going from meeting to meeting, than any tourist could even dream of and it is my responsibility to chart the best course.

2. What was it like to come back and see the current GMU students performing in the Gala in April?

It was such an incredible feeling to see the current GMU students perform. Chrissy and I were quite giddy the whole way down to DC and back to NYC. I felt really proud to go back to a place that gave me the foundation of my career. I kept thinking to myself how excited I am to be associated with GMU's School of Dance. It was fun to come back to The Joyce and tell my boss about the pieces that were performed in the Gala; she was quite impressed! I definitely think the School of Dance instills commitment, passion, and endurance into its students and those are qualities that are useful no matter where your career takes you.

3. What is the most important advice/suggestion you can pass on to someone graduating this year?

Similar to what Chrissy said, it's okay not to have it all figured out just yet. I will embarrass Chrissy a little and say that she has helped me so much with this. I'm not sure what I would do without her constant support and optimistic advice. I am someone who wants a backup plan for their backup plan, and sometimes that's a good thing, but uncertainty and spontaneity have brought a lot of excitement to my life over the past 11 months!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

from Chrissy Tully: "Communication is key."

Hearing about the adventures and accomplishments of students who graduate from GMU's School of Dance is without a doubt one of the best parts of teaching. When current students presented the School of Dance Gala last weekend, Shanleigh Philip (in the photo above on the left) and Chrissy Tully (on the right) from the Class of 2010 were in the audience at the Center for the Arts. Their current positions with The Joyce Theater (for Shanleigh) and Ellen Jacobs Associates (for Chrissy) give them an insider’s perspective on how choreographers and companies survive and thrive. I asked Chrissy to answer some questions about her day-to-day life, and also to offer advice to students graduating this semester…. Here are her replies:

Can you describe a typical day? What are the most exciting (and least exciting?) parts of your job?

Chrissy: I know it sounds a bit cliché, but there is no typical day in my position. However, there are standard procedures, such as editing press releases, archiving press on clients, drafting press kits, respecting deadlines, etc. It's the unexpected part of my day that is the most exciting. When I get the opportunity to attend a photo call and see a work the day before its premiere, and when I get to interact with choreographers and artists one-on-one, that's what makes it all worthwhile.

What was it like to come back and see the current GMU students performing?

Chrissy: It was a unique experience coming back to GMU and watching the current dance majors. It definitely seems much longer than a year ago that I was on that same stage. While watching the Gala, it was clear that the students in the School of Dance are outstanding--they're strong, versatile, and above all, powerful movers. That being said, power isn't always art. I know there are students who were not chosen to be in any of the selected pieces in the evening's program, but that does not mean that they are any less of an artist. Some of the greatest works I have seen since living in NYC had little to do with technique. I know from being in their shoes, or lack thereof, that the competitiveness can be discouraging. Some people aren't meant for the most well-known companies out there, but that doesn't mean they don't have a shot at pursing their passion.

What is the most important advice/suggestion you can pass on to someone graduating this year?

Chrissy: Some advice to pass on to someone graduating this year is that you don't always have to have "it" figured out. Life can take you in all sorts of unexpected directions and you just have to go with it and make the most of every situation you're in. A suggestion I have is to see and read about as much of the arts as you possibly can. The more you immerse yourself in the arts world, the more exciting and fascinating it will be.

Are there classes or experiences you had as an undergraduate that prepared you for what you are doing now? or looking back on your college years do you wish you had taken a class or experienced something that would be useful for your careers today?

Chrissy: 9am dance classes Monday-Friday were definitely a preparation for what I am doing now!

Friday, March 18, 2011

News from Maya

School of Dance graduate Maya Orchin has spent the year traveling Europe, seeing performances, creating work, and experiencing classes with varied teachers and artists. Here she reflects on performances and an exhibit in Berlin while feeling "very sore" from taking class with David Zambrano, a choreographer who pioneered a technique called "flying low" that is intensely physical and breathtaking - to do and to watch (an interview with Zambrano is above). Maya noticed that being in Berlin - which she describes as "a city rich with a history of misused power" - has led her to think about power and her brief summaries of performances and an exhibition reveal ways performers negotiate relationships on stage and with their audiences.

"In Xavier Le Roy's piece all the performers started the piece with a casual conversation towards the audience and then while nude portrayed different animals in different social settings - lions socializing, bird noises in darkness, and quirky seaweed. The piece was mesmerizing and developed in a very smart way. Andy Holtin had an interesting exhibit at a great art space. In order to view his work of 7 tv screens you could either watch outside the circle of screens or enter into it. The screens portrayed two dancers walking, running, and falling towards and away from each other and themselves. The way the screens were set up was really clever and I found myself hypnotized by the constant chase of the dancers. In Xavier Le Roy's piece he mentioned 'power' and how he was intrigued by who inherits power and who falls victim.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hans Op de Beeck

Saw a magical film today at the Hirshhorn: Hans Op De Beeck’s “Staging Silence.” The write-up in The Washington Post last Sunday was dismissive -- calling the film “little more than a soothing, innocuous diversion” – but the photo that accompanied the article made me curious to see it for myself.

I think there's a lot to be gleaned from these 22 minutes, particularly for people who are curious about choreography and culture. How can arrangements turn tiny pieces of material into fantastical landscapes? How do we, every day, endow gestures with meaning?

What is particularly eloquent in Op de Beeck’s creation is the way he keeps the hand of the artist visible – I see the fingers pick up and change the scenery, but I still feel transported by the results. The film becomes a path through a city street, a theater, a garden, an office, a park, and then a winter wonderland.

I found myself thinking of choreography even though there are no people, no bodies in the film (only occasional hands rearranging pieces). The brilliance is in the simplicity: the specificity in the arrangements transports me to other places. I thought of powerful performances where each movement was a vital part of a whole. Nothing extra, nothing extraneous.

The film also makes me consider the role we play in the worlds we create, when we press so much importance into some actions and events while virtually ignoring others. The details in the film are crucial, changing simple objects into gorgeous settings, yet making clear that this transformation occurs within us as the artist exposes the construction of each scene. I'm reminded of a line from Dance, Rituals of Experience that says: “Dance changes biology into a metaphor of the spiritual body in much the same way poetry changes words into forms that allow meanings that words normally cannot convey. The most curious thing about any human gesture is its power of insinuation, born of the ability of the body to overcome its inherent materiality.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

if you happen to be in Berlin

The picture above is from Munich (from Maya) but an email from Maya says she just arrived in Berlin. While we wait for photos from this city, here are suggestions of venues and galleries to visit (suggested by Ellen Chenoweth - thank you Ellen!): HAU 1, 2, 3 and Kastanienallee 77 plus the House of World Cultures. Best of all there is an opening on Friday the 28th (if you go Maya, please give us a complete report!) at MMX and features work by Andy Holtin who is a fascinating, super-smart artist based in Washington, DC and teaching at American University while making creations that are being exhibited around the globe... Go see this brilliant artist!

more from Maya

Above is Neuschwanstein Castle, which Maya says is an hour outside of Munich and "I had to hike up the mountain in the snow!" In Munich Maya studied with a contact tango teacher named Leilani Weis who she descibes as "so amazing. incredible incredible experience ending in a 7 hour jam."

Sunday, January 23, 2011


More news from Maya who graduated from GMU's School of Dance last year and who has been traveling the world meeting artists, training, performing, and auditioning. Here is her update and more:

"I came into London at the end of December and took classes at Greenwich Dance Academy with Ben Ash. Also took classes at The Place, Pineapple, and yes even the Central School of Ballet. I recognized a bunch of people and ran into some friends from Impulstanz which was great. The dance scene in London was interesting but was not as exciting as Brussels. Next I went to Paris to work with the same woman I worked with at PAF and we are hopefully going to have a showing in October at Studio Regard Du Cygne in Paris and we were asked to perform in Switzerland this August so I'm looking forward to that! I went to Barcelona and took some wild classes with Bebeto Cidra. I also saw Thierry De Mey perform Light Music. I have been really intrigued with all of his videos ever since we saw one in Kate's Dance History class and it was great seeing him live. Now I am here in Munich (see photo), I got workstudy for this contact-tango workshop. Today was my first day and it was very physical and wonderful. One of the dancers invited me to a contact-tango jam tonight so I am on my way. I am here until Tuesday with the workshop then I decided to check out Berlin for a couple of days. I have heard such fantastic things about the dance and art world there so I'm going. I'm really excited. Then I head back to Brussels, my friend from this summer found me a really great and cheap apartment in the center. I will be going to auditions in Amsterdam and Antwerp and pursue other projects in Brussels....."

In her message Maya asked about recommendations of places to visit in Berlin. Here are my suggestions, and if you are reading this and have been in Berlin recently please add a comment with more ideas: Dock 11, Tanzfabrik, and Radial System V. If you have never seen Thierry de Mey's creations, he is the director and composer who collaborated with William Forsythe on the film "One Flat Thing Reproduced"

Thinking about Maya's adventures and her curiosity and courage, I am reminded of another GMU graduate, Kalynn Frome, who I saw on stage recently in a new creation by Susan Shields and Heather McDonald called "Stay." It was performed at the Woolly Mammoth Theater in DC and Kalynn was stunning - her lush dancing exuding a wide range of emotions. It was breathtaking to see her take so many risks, and I love how her performance stays fresh in my memory weeks after it happened. Sometimes it is not necessary to get on plane to explore a world of possibilities.

One of the things I admire most about GMU is how the School of Dance equips its graduates for so many different paths - from traveling abroad to investigating interdisciplinary creations. As a new semester starts tomorrow, I am looking forward to meeting students, watching their artistry develop, and seeing how they thrive.