Dance studies takes center stage
Dance studies at UCLA is taking a giant leap forward with the launch of two new elements — an academic program debuting this fall that will enable students to earn a B.A. degree in dance and a new artist residency program that will bring nationally known dance innovators to campus, beginning this Monday.
These developments are in step with a growing visibility for dance on campus. Last fall, the World Arts and Cultures Department
— of which dance has been an integral part since 1995 when the Department of Dance was re-envisioned — was officially renamed the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance (WACDance).
World Arts and Cultures/Dance students in a class at Glorya Kaufman Hall. Photo by Nguyen Nguyen.
The role of dance at UCLA dates back to 1962 when Alma Hawkins, a contemporary of modern dance pioneers Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey, established the first independent dance program at an American university.
"Before that, dance within the academe was typically part of physical education or a theater program," said Victoria Marks, professor of choreography and performance, a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow and a well-known dance-maker for stage, film and community settings. "UCLA was the first to have a dance program that was not part of theater, music or physical education. Through the 1970s, UCLA was one of only five universities in the country leading the way with dance programs."
The campus became a beacon in this respect, Marks said. "People came from all over the country for the program."
UCLA has also been a popular stop for boundary-breaking choreographers, among them Bill T. Jones, a Tony Award winner for his work in "Fela!," and the late German choreographer Pina Bausch. Many showcased their work at Royce Hall before packed audiences and presented master classes for students.
Sudents at a workshop led by UC Regents Lecturer Meredith Monk. Photo by Nguyen Nguyen.
Currently leading a weeklong workshop at WACDance is Meredith Monk, whose multidisciplinary artistry spans singing, composing, choreography and filmmaking. Together with her Vocal Ensemble, Monk is here for a spring residency that’s being co-sponsored by UCLA Live.
As part of World Arts and Cultures, dance studies at UCLA broke through the prevailing hierarchy of classical ballet and modern dance, and then expanded ethnographically across cultures and disciplines on campus. By thinking about dance as a function of culture, Marks said, UCLA faculty have created a program that stands apart from others.
"We have learned in positive ways from being in the Department of World Arts and Culture to think about dance across and within culture," Marks said. "We challenge the notion of dance as an unquestioned high art form, and we challenge ideas about pure aesthetics. At UCLA, we try to ground dance and the values surrounding it within the culture of a community of people."
But at the same time, the dance faculty have recognized that for students to understand how dance functions within cultures, they need to also study dance as a distinct discipline.
"My ‘light bulb’ moment came years ago when I realized that we needed a discipline before we could become interdisciplinary," Marks said, laughing. "We needed to have our students study dance in order to understand how it interacts with other disciplines, like women’s studies, and what that alchemy would look like."
To bring UCLA students, dance lovers in the community and talented high school students in touch with some of the most important experimenters in the dance field today, a choreographer residency program titled the 2012 Residency Program for Movement is being inaugurated next week with the visit of New York contemporary dancer/choreographer Faye Driscoll
Among the accolades her edgy choreography has won is this from a New York Times dance critic: "Ms. Driscoll is fascinating in that she makes such utterly original work. It doesn’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before, nor can you imagine thinking it up."
Driscoll arrives in L.A. after wrapping up a two-week, sold-out premiere of her dance duet, "You’re me,"
at the Kitchen,
Faye Driscoll, right, in her new work, "You're me," which she'll perform during her residency on campus. Photo by Christy Passagno.
a NYC venue for experimental dance. She’ll perform that work
before UCLA audiences April 26-27 at Glorya Kaufman Hall. As part of her residency, which runs April 26-May 4, she will be guiding UCLA students through her creative process during intensive classes.
Driscoll, who grew up in Venice, Ca., said she is thrilled about opening a dialogue about her choreographic practice with "these very smart people. … I’m sure there will be a lot of dance artists who think broadly about the movement of dance, and its ability to transform and communicate. And that’s super-important to me."
One UCLA choreographer-in-training, Emily Beattie, an M.F.A. student in WACDance, said she appreciates the way the department regularly provides interaction with artists who "blow apart" the performance world "in the most productive way."
Beattie has studied Driscoll’s work and even choreographed a Driscoll-inspired solo. "I hope to both engage more deeply with her process as well as pick up some useful tools for shaking myself out of my idiosyncratic decision-making when I create," she said.
Driscoll will also be offering two master classes to select dance students from six independent L.A. high schools. Then, on April 27, she’ll teach a workshop to 25 dance students from the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, Driscoll’s alma mater. Students will then stay for a public concert she will give on May 4 at Kaufman Hall. The entire residency program is being underwritten by generous donors, Marks said.
"It will make the walls of the university porous," she said. "And it will give our students here at UCLA and in the community an opportunity to work with a new generation of voices in dance. "
To see videos featuring Driscoll and find ticket information for "You’re me," go here