Dancing in Place: Site - Specific Work: Taking Dance outside the Theatre Creates Opportunities for Collaboration and Expands Choreographic Possibilities
Metal-Corbin, Josie, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
I believe in the accessibility of dance for everyone, everywhere. For decades, I danced in venues ranging from informal spaces such as a school gymnasium in rural Valley, Nebraska, where pivotal irrigation systems are manufactured--to quaint performance spaces such as a Paris attic atelier in the 18th arrondissement, where mint tea is popular and outdoor markets abound. Throughout those experiences, I have been guided by the writings of Barry Commoner, a renowned physicist and ecologist, who established the Laws of Ecology (Commoner,1971). The two that I will emphasize are "Everything is connected to everything else" and "There are no free lunches." These "laws" help to summarize my approach to making dances in specific settings.
I have observed the first law by spending countless hours connecting modern dance to all dimensions of my personal and professional life. Everything in my dance world is connected to everything else. Dance is my lifeline: my joy, my work, my passion, and my way of communicating. It is often my way of expressing, as Ruth St. Denis (n.d.) said, "... what is too deep, too fine for words." Dance is the common thread woven into all of my scholarly activity and my teaching at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), where I have explored and investigated the wide horizons of a life in the arts and in academia.
My choreography reflects a collaborative approach that often uses site - specific elements as the catalyst for the movement design. This creative "virtual" space, as described by National Dance Association (NDA) Scholar/Artist, Theresa Purcell Cone (2007), is a "nurturing site" where multiple voices are encouraged and valued. At the core of my creative process is the compelling desire to make connections with other art forms, with social issues, with nondancers, with emerging artists, with a variety of disciplines, and with the community.
It is important to establish new alliances, to build audiences, and to make dance accessible to all. I have experienced an impulsive, compulsive drive to find places and spaces for dance to happen, whether it is for advanced - technique dancers or for persons with disabilities. This is my modus operandi, my raison d'tre, my meaning of life. Everything is connected to every other thing for me the link is through modern dance.
Commoner's (1971) fourth law, "There are no free lunches," in essence, is my guiding philosophy in creating work, one of quid pro quo. Let me find something in your endeavor that matches, intersects, or connects with my endeavor, and we will both benefit.
My forays into site - specific work began with dances that I created for neighbor - hood playmates in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on my terraced backyard. While other kids on the street were selling lemonade, 1 gave dance lessons and produced shows. Throughout the years, the sites for my dances became more sophisticated and expanded to the concert stage, the kitchen, the hospital room, the entranceway, the stairway, the pathway, the atrium, the amphitheater, the gazebo, the stadium, the escalator, the sidewalk, the polka hall, the clothesline, the rooftop, the neighborhood park, the museum, the garden, and the zoo.
I am inspired by Isadora Duncan's reinvention of Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing," which she adapted to "I See America Dancing" (Cheney, 1969). Many times, when on a committee, in a board meeting, at a luncheon, reading the paper, emailing, or texting, I envision the topic at hand to metamorphose into a collaborative dance experience. I ask, "Have you ever thought of integrating dance into that (you fill in the blank)?" I might venture to say, "I clearly see dance as a part of your endeavor." Or, "I can make a dance for the groundbreaking, the kick-off, the inauguration, the fundraiser, the literary festival, or the art opening." I listen to the description of an event and gently guide the speaker to see how dance may enhance that endeavor. If the act of choreographing a site - specific work possesses a universal theme song, it is a line from the Sydney Carter (1963) hymn, "Lord of the Dance," to the tune of the Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts." The line is "Dance, then wherever you may be." Allow me to take you on a journey to several dance destinations.
Where It All Started
My journey to find a sense of place in dance started in Pitts - burgh, Pennsylvania. My life in dance was shaped by the Mamie Barth School of Dance, the Pittsburgh Playhouse, the Duquesne Tamburitzens, Point Park College, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh Dance Alloy, and Chatham College. Under the tutelage of Jeanne Hays Beaman, I performed the first choreographic thesis at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). Mrs. Beaman, a founder of the American College Dance Festival and a pillar of modern dance in that era, ensured that physical educators focusing on dance at Pitt had work-shops with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Evelyn Winters, Paul Sanasardo, Pauline Koner, Alwin Nicholais, Peggy Hackney, and Linda Kent.
My education and experiences in dance were also shaped by wonderful physical educators who embraced folk and modern dance as part of their curriculum even though they were neophytes in those areas. In high school, my enthusiastic field hockey and basketball coach, June Watson, incorporated the Mayim, Hora, Korobushka, Troika, Tinikling, and Savila Se Bela Loza into the mix of activities. Katherine Gianoutsos Straw, the new, young physical educator, referred me to Slippery Rock State College (now Slippery Rock University), where 1 was very involved with the Slippery Rock "Orchesis" chapter, a national initiative that started in the early 1900s at universities and colleges to promote the fledging art of modern dance. Joanne McKeag drove our group to Pittsburgh to see Merce Cunningham and the Alvin Ailey Company. Patricia Lommock arrived in our studio in bizarre-looking, cut-off tights to our delighted surprise (this was at a time in state schools when trousers for women were forbidden). My dear roommate, Lucy lsacco Sak, introduced me to Luigi Jazz technique. She ultimately became a key player in many NDA endeavors.
From 1967 to 1970, I taught health and physical education at two elementary schools and also integrated dance into the curriculum. In 1970, I taught at a private business college, Robert Morris College (now a university), and founded a chapter of Orchesis. In the summers, I traveled all over Pennsylvania teaching a graduate course in dance for Pennsylvania State University, mostly in gymnasiums, sometimes in hallways, and once in a classroom at Three Mile Island, a week after the nuclear meltdown.
In the 70s, I attended my first AAHPERD national conference and found out about NDA. In 1977, I met Marcia Lloyd at a Brigham Young University summer workshop, and she introduced me to the benefits of joining NDA. I submitted a proposal for the 1979 AAHPERD convention in New Orleans, and it was accepted. An ensemble of musicians and 20 dancers from small towns along the Monongahela River left their mill town for the first time and traveled to perform at the NDA Gala. Their only other gigs had been in a multipurpose room at the college and on a tiny stage in the loft of a reconverted barn.
At this convention, I attended the first of many sessions in expressive activities for older adults, and when I moved to Omaha in 1980 to teach at UNO I started an intergenerational program for older adults. I subsequently co-authored a book, Reach for It: A Handbook of Health, Exercise and Dance Activities for Older Adults, with David Corbin (1997). My latest endeavor with elders involved training at the Mark Morris Dance Center/Brooklyn Parkinson Group's community out - reach program. I am currently teaching and directing classes for persons with Parkinson's in a collaborative effort that involves a dance company, a local hospital, the Nebraska Chapter of the American Parkinson's Disease Association, and the Jewish Community Center.
The Moving Company
Since 1980 I have taught dance, stress management, and human relations, and directed UNO's modern dance company, The Moving Company. Founded in 1935, it is one of the oldest, university-based, modern dance companies in continued existence in the world. I am immersed in an invigorating history of 77 years of dance at UNO and rehearse in a marvelous space, the Dance Lab. There is no major or minor in dance, but there is a dance company under the auspices of the College of Education/School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. It has been under the direction of midwestern luminaries in dance such as Ruth Diamond Levinson and Vera Lundahl. It was through UNO archival research during the 2008 centennial events, that I discovered that Aileene Lockhart, a prominent dance educator, author, and 1986 NDA Scholar, was at UNO teaching and directing the company (then known as Orchesis) from. 1945 to 1948. Also during the centennial, I secured special funding for The Moving Company to research and create a photo exhibit, a film documentary, a choreographic piece, and the restaging of two American Dance Legacy Institute's (ADLI) historical dances, the 1959 "Rainbow Round My Shoulder" by Donald McKayle (1950) and "Parsons Etude" by David Parsons (1995). I learned about the ADLI at the NDA's Heritage Award Luncheon during the AAHPERD national convention in 2004, where Donald McKayle was honored.
In 2002, in a community outreach, The Moving Company initiated a "Dance of the People" series. Dance companies outside of the modern dance genre that needed a space to rehearse were embraced and became integrated into the metropolitan mission of the company. Included in the series were the Omaha International Folk Dancers, African Dance and Drumming, Tribal Style Belly Dancing, Dancing Classrooms (ballroom), and Reach for It: A Program of Dance for Persons with Parkinson's.
At a time when there is an increasing sense of disconnectedness in civic participation and engagement in community and neighborhood activities, and when Americans experience the phenomena of separateness and isolation, the Dance Lab serves as a place, a space, and a site specifically made to showcase a diverse group of artists, dancers, and students. Robert Putnam (2000) addressed this collective decline of association and participation as a loss of "social capital" in his book, Bowling Alone. Dance educators, artists, and scholars have a prime opportunity to build and enhance social capital in their communities by integrating discourse into dance performance. Using the viewing of dance works as a catalyst for conversation, The Moving Company presented salons in 2003 and 2004 that forged connections between performers and audiences to advance discussions on substantive societal issues such as the environment, prejudice, tolerance, courage, and respect. The Dance Lab was transformed into a salon space that included couches, loveseats, low tables, candlelight, and a string quartet for an evening of "dance, discussion, and dessert." These salons were collaborative endeavors cosponsored by the Office of Diversity, the American Multicultural Student Agency, the Omaha Public Library, and the College of Education's Diversity Committee.
An important outcome of networking is to establish a reputation for dance as an effective conduit for communication on and off campus. Dance educator Elizabeth McPherson (2010) has written about building bridges and using dance as a way to connect people in an urban setting. The Moving Company has built bridges to the major art and educational constituencies and, in turn, those institutions have welcomed and introduced the dancers to a broad range of metropolitan culture.
My first on-site work in Omaha was in 1980 at the Paxton Manor Ballroom, where my students and I met for a weekly dance class with older adults. This experience led to a decade of creating dances for or with older adults at such venues as lawns, fountains, hallways, and skywalks. My most recent site-specific work, "The Perils of Pollen," was at Stinson Park in a 45-second dance challenge produced by the Omaha Modern Dance Collective. Although I surveyed the grounds at various times of the day and researched the event schedule of this public park with a concrete stage, I invariably encountered everything from spilled chocolate milk and swarming bees, to a full-blown technical soundstage set-up from another event. Ultimately, all of the dancers in "45[degrees] Celsius: A Movement Festival" enriched and contributed to the fledging history of a new green space in town. Choreographer and writer Arianne MacBean (2004) asserted that the opportunity to "bring the community closer to dance and the dance closer to the community" is inherent to site-specific dance.
Dance in Museums
My enthusiasm for setting pieces in museums began in the third grade, when I was chosen to be a Tam O'Shanter in a weekly, free, art-making experience at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Sculpture, paintings, dioramas, murals, marble columns, and brass drinking fountains surrounded me. This was my introduction to and immersion in the arts. I learned to observe landscapes, objects, people, and relationships with a critical eye and from many perspectives.
In 1981, I met Carol Mezzacappa, a dancer and choreographer, at "The Early Years" festival in Purchase, New York. I saw her dancers perform Weidman's "Brahm's Waltzes" amid the marble columns at the Brooklyn Museum. This was a revelation to me--dancing in a site-specific space and not on a proscenium stage.
I received a phone call in 1985 from UNO's Art Gallery director, who called to inquire whether I "might be interested in a new exhibit that was coming to UNO." This turned out to be the understatement of the decade for me. The work of 76-year-old Elizabeth Layton immediately engaged me. The journalistic-style notes that accompanied her drawings provided a rich text for choreographic composition. "Out of the Shadow, Into the Light: A Choreographic Work for Older Women Based on the Drawings of Elizabeth Layton" took place in a pagoda-shaped house that served as the university's art gallery. I choreographed a 30-minute, intergenerational work for 14 dancers (ages 22-84 years) in what were once a living room, bedroom, closets, and doorways. Fiddler Deborah Greenblatt composed and performed original music. The audience moved from room to room to observe the dance and Layton's drawings. The main challenges for creating the dance were accommodation of the dancers and audience in very small rooms, consideration for the violinist's and dancers' sight lines because of the audience movement, and the acoustic balance. I also traveled to Wellsville, Kansas, to film and interview Mrs. Layton for a documentary that was later broadcast on Nebraska TV and presented for the National Dance Association and Council on Aging and Adult Development in Las Vegas two years later.
In 1992, Omaha-based artist/sculptor Catherine Ferguson created an installation titled "The Peak that Flew from Afar" for the Joslyn Art Museum, Nebraska's largest art museum. It integrated a storyteller, percussionist, and two dancers who wove over, under, around, and through the dome-shaped installation of shale, electric flame lights, and wood. This was my first experience dancing in a museum gallery. I was eager for more!
In 2001, Mezzacappa's New York-based Young Dancers in Repertory and The Moving Company dancers traveled to Italy to perform in the Dance Grand Prix Festival in Cesena. I extended an invitation to other modern and ballet dancers in the Omaha and Lincoln area to travel and perform with us. There were 36 dancers ranging in age from 14 to 64 years old performing Isadora Duncan's Suite of Schubert Waltzes. This event entailed three very site-specific challenges. In an extravagant fundraiser, held at the Joslyn Art Museum, dancers moved amidst marble columns of the Fountain Court at floor level and high in the surrounding balcony, cautiously dancing around statuary and objets d'art. Upon arrival at the Bonci Theatre in Italy, the dancers had to get used to the angled stage floor, a demanding surface, especially for turns in a sequence. We also had to use our ingenuity to figure out where and when to rehearse, as there was little time and space available. We ended up rehearsing in the hot, Italian sun on the rooftop of our hotel, not thinking about bringing water, sunscreen, or sunglasses. Happily, we came home with the second place award in the Theatre Dance category.
After returning from Italy, my sights were set on reaching out to museums and creating partnerships. Getting permission to dance in a museum is a cautionary, diplomatic adventure. The logistics of acquiring access to photos or slides of the artwork for designing the piece and for rehearsals is difficult due to liability, copyright, and insurance issues. There is a protocol that takes time and involves communicating and convincing curators, administrators, and boards. As Rebecca Gose Enghauser (2008) so aptly recognized, modern dancers are "constantly changing the expectations of what dance can be" (p. 37).
In 2005, The Moving Company was commissioned to respond to an exhibition titled, "Renaissance to Rococo," at the Joslyn Art Museum. I wanted the dance performed in the galleries among the works of art but was denied permission due to security issues. As the director of the project, I was disappointed, but as a choreographer within the concert, I was richly rewarded with the premiere of a piece that I made for five UNO physical education majors from my dance pedagogy courses, in which the students were learning ways of integrating dance, language arts, and sign language. A quarterback, a coach, an assistant at Boys Town, and two K-12 physical education majors made their dancing debut on the stage of the museum's Witherspoon Concert Hall.
In 2007, I had the opportunity to make a work in collaboration with Jamie Burmeister, a visual artist, at the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln, Nebraska. His work, "Arrhytmy," was a sound installation that explored the complex relationships among space, time, energy, shapes, contrast, lines, and design. In this interactive piece, the dancers wandered from the marble steps and sidewalks at the entrance to the accompaniment of an improvisatory band, to the second-floor gallery where the accompaniment emanated from Burmeister's art work itself. The dancers' reaction to the plastic bottles, tubes, gears on a bicycle, and a rocking chair resulted in a dynamic, interactive dialogue of sight, sound, and movement.
In February 2010, 18 years after I first set foot into the Joslyn Art Museum as a choreographer, I finally had the opportunity to create a piece in front of the art works, for an exhibit titled, "The Human Touch: Selections from the RBC Wealth Management Art Collection." The art was devoted to the human figure. Alas, there was one caveat for making the idea of dancing in the galleries more palatable to the curator: the choreography was to be in a tableau vivant style, minimizing the amount of movement. The collection ranged from serious to whimsical and from realistic to abstract. It included photography, paintings, and sculptures from a diverse group of artists. The audience moved among the dancers and art collection and found themselves wondering, "Are we expected to stand and watch the dance unfold? Are we to interact, move on, or return? Who are the dancers and who are the audience members?" The curator commented that the dancers changed the way the audience viewed the art.
Later in 2010, I received a commission to make a site - specific work on the lawn, reflecting pool, marble walkways, and stairways of the Sculpture Garden of the Joslyn. This project was in response to a collection from the Brooklyn Museum, "Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism." The paintings of John Singer Sargent, Jules Breton, William Glackens, and Charles Courtney Curran were the basis for interpretation. The choreography was continually informed and inspired by the sites. I had come full circle, starting with the insight I gained from Mezzacappa's museum piece and ending with my work in response to the Brooklyn collection.
In the past decade, two extraordinary opportunities evolved because of a collaboration with The Durham Museum, a magnificent Art Deco train station that now serves as an impressive historical museum. In 2005, I was an educational consultant for "Latin Jazz: La Combination Perfecta," a Smithsonian Institute exhibition. Specifically, I taught Latin dance lessons to more than 600 students visiting the exhibition. I expanded the scope of this residency by including 18 physical education majors who were in the Dance in the Secondary School course. They not only gained knowledge of the salsa, cha-cha, and merengue, but also experienced first hand the implementation of pedagogical techniques.
Part of my teaching philosophy is based on the slogan, "Nothing about us, without us"--the idea that no policy should be decided on without the full and direct participation of the group(s) affected by that policy. This involves the political, social, artistic, or economic marginalization of groups due to nationality, ethnicity, ability level, or other reasons. It was clear to me that if this exhibition was to honor the heritage of Latin jazz artists and musicians, then I had to find a way to integrate some of the large Latino population of Omaha in the endeavor.
After discovering the other events scheduled for the exhibit, I proposed that dance should be a part of the opening-night gala activities held in the Grand Hall (the former waiting room of the train station). I envisioned 19 couples dressed in 1940s attire and an 18-piece big band. On the journey to make this happen, The Moving Company offered an eight-week session of Latin dance for free every Sunday at the Dance Lab. Ultimately, selected dancers from this group performed at the gala. The UNO faculty, staff, students, and community gave an overwhelming response to the free lessons. Two grandmothers from Council Bluffs, Iowa, joined, as well as two farmers who came three weeks into the program once their harvest work was done. We recruited students from Delta Sigma Theta and Sigma Lambda Beta, the Latina/o sorority and fraternity on campus, and the UNO Jazz Ensemble enthusiastically agreed to rehearse and perform with us.
Six years later, in 2011, I was selected as the first Durham Museum Scholar in Residence for the September celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. The Education Department of the museum asked me to tour schools and teach Latin dance, taking " iBaila! Dancing with the Durham" on the road. Once again, the adage "Nothing about us, without us" resounded. I asked for a quartet of two Latina women and two Latino men and a percussionist to tour with me. This was miraculously approved with compensation and contracts for all, and we toured a demonstration and workshop to over 1,800 middle and high school students in five different school districts and to staff and faculty at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Schools and Libraries
Sprague (2009) acknowledged "the power of dance educators to identify and build partnerships with the larger learning community" (p. 128). She advocated "bringing the 'outside in' and moving dance 'out' into the school and community" (p. 126) in an effort to combat the potential isolation of dance educators. My connecting link from students to teachers is through the annual Prairie Visions Institute, attended by more than 100 teachers, administrators, and program specialists. Participants engage in interactive learning in the visual arts, music, dance, drama, storytelling, and interdisciplinary connections. At the institute, I have the opportunity to suggest ways of weaving dance into the curriculum and experimenting with creating dance at public art sites or architectural venues.
I have also repeatedly partnered with the national civic engagement initiative, the American Democracy Project (ADP), when working in the schools. Through ADP grants, I obtained books for students and teachers that explored the themes of the water cycle, stewardship, bullying, and identity. The grants provided an opportunity for children to experience the themes of the book not only through reading and writing, but kinesthetically through dance and American Sign Language.
In terms of site-specific incidents in the schools, two anecdotes come to mind. The first mishap occurred when I was teaching at Robert Morris College. The Orchesis group presented Peter and the Wolf at local Pittsburgh schools. The "Wolf" was a very dramatic dancer who wore a large, black satin cape. In his eagerness to be a menacing character, he swung his cape in a very bombastic move and knocked over a volleyball net post that fell forward, barely missing the seated first graders who were on the floor. Needless to say, more rehearsal time would have prevented this miscalculation of boundaries, but extra rehearsal time is often not available in site-specific work.
The second incident was under the auspices of the Nebraska Arts Council in Kingston, Jamaica. I taught at a variety of venues including the University of the West Indies, the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts, and the University of Technology. A site-specific teaching moment occurred during a third-grade lesson on elements of the Earth at the Mona Preparatory School. I laminated images of earth, wind, fire, and water and prepared a highly organized lesson. I entered a tiny classroom containing dark blue 1950s-style metal desks and chairs and placed my laminated teaching tools on ledges around the room. Within minutes, the whirling ceiling fans started to disrupt my categories of photos. Reluctantly, I went with "Plan B," forging ahead without my props. In an impulsive moment of enthusiasm, I jumped onto a chair, raised my arms high in "conductor" mode to orchestrate the learning environment, when my right index finger was hit by the overhead fan. Luckily, I had a ring on that deflected the impact. In the parlance of the old Western cowboy movies, "It was just a flesh wound."
In 2007, I was involved with a project by the Omaha Public Library, "Omaha Reads: 0! What a Book," based on E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and the adult book The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God by Omaha author Timothy Schaffert. This 30-minute work involved musicians, singers, an intergenerational cast of dancers, and a pick-up truck. It occurred outside, on the steps and adjacent sidewalks of the W. Dale Clark Library, Omaha's main downtown library. I visited the site at various times of day to observe the lighting and pedestrian traffic. The rehearsals were scrutinized, monitored, and commented on by the homeless persons who regularly gathered on that street to be transported to their meal site. Rehearsals occurred in the heat of the day, when the iron railings that we were hanging from were too hot to handle, or in the cool of the evening, when library patron traffic was low but the mosquito infestation was high. Fortunately, the actual performance happened on a mild, sunny morning.
Kitchens and Clubhouses
My husband and 1 are always dancing in the kitchen. I was curious to investigate whether or not others do this. To answer this question, I involved a filmmaker to "go on the road" and conduct "A Digital Investigation into Dance: Kitchen Dancing and Other Recipes." We went on location and filmed individuals, couples, and families in their kitchens. I worked with a communications major's capstone project, and the resulting video was ultimately presented as part of a concert sponsored by the Nebraska Humanities Council.
Sometimes my life is prescient when it comes to making dances. On my way to work one day, I began humming and somewhat dancing to the Yugoslavian folk song, "Orijent." Shortly after, a band of refugee musicians and singers from Sarajevo performed that very tune in the Dance Lab as an "extra credit" project for a UNO student taking the Folk Dance class. They were displaced professionals (an attorney, economist, pro soccer player, marketing manager, and a high school student) who were also vocalists and musicians. Their music inspired me to write two grants and enlist 11 modern dancers for a work that integrated modern dance with traditional folk forms from Bosnia, Israel, Greece, the Balkan mountains, and Hungary. The design for the dance, "Day of Forgiveness," evolved from a contextual basis surrounding a traditional holiday in May called "Djurdjevdan," a day of renewal and forgiveness. Although this dance was performed on a traditional proscenium stage, the initial sessions with the musicians were in a clubhouse within a complex that housed Bosnian refugees.
Gardens and Zoos
The Moving Company has performed in sculpture gardens and botanical gardens where we are often upstaged by meticulous landscaping, beautiful flowers, exquisite butterflies, and buzzing bees. The dance surfaces have ranged from water, to grass, to concrete. "Au Jardin Zoologique," was a 22-minute work for 30 dancers, seven musicians, and five readers. It was a suite of dances, created on location at the world-class Henry Doorly Zoo, using five habitats with music composed by W. Kenton Bales. The dancers received training from zoo caretakers on how to walk among the flamingos, dance in front of elephants, balance on the edge of the seal pool, step around the flora and fauna of the waterfalls, and move amid the goats in the petting zoo. Rehearsal and videotaping limitations were from 6: 00 a.m. to 8: 00 a.m. on many cold, October mornings before zoo patrons arrived. The roaring of the lions, tigers, and bears was ever-present, as were the screeching and rhythmic calls of the birds. This video dance was presented at NDA's "Dance, Video, Music and the Environment: A Creative Synthesis" session in Atlanta, Georgia in 1985.
Prairies and a Statue
Recently, I encountered the novel idea of dance as part of a dedication planned for newly acquired prairie land for ongoing research by UNO's Biology Department. An environmentalist had viewed a dance that I premiered as part of a Green Omaha Panel presentation. She enthusiastically cornered me after the discussion and convinced me to set the piece on prairie grass for the Glacier Creek Prairie dedication. The choreography was in response to a poem by Natasha Kessler with accompaniment by a flutist. We rehearsed on tall, fallen, winter grass previously laden down with snow, forming a very "sprung" dance floor. With sunscreen and insect repellant, we ventured onto the bouncy and uneven terrain of the prairie grass. Crickets and insects flew up at the dancers during rehearsals. On the afternoon of the performance, as if on cue, the sky darkened in the distance, a blackbird flew by, and on an attitude turn, there was a roar of thunder. As American dance critic and author Deborah Jowitt (2009) observed, about site-specific work, "When the sky is the backdrop and the same wind that ruffles the trees and your hair makes the dancers' costumes billow, that fourth wall becomes just a little bit more porous" (p. 27).
The most meaningful feedback about the performance was a thank-you note from the prairie manager, stating that even the skeptical biology graduate students realized, to their surprise, that the dance really was a relevant and meaningful part of the dedication.
Choreographers and dancers often struggle with the ephemeral nature of dance. In 1999, sculptor John Labja asked me to help him with a commission that would immortalize some of my dancers. He was to create a sculpture that symbolized the ecstasy and joy of winning in the College World Series, hosted by Omaha since 1950. Labja and a photographer came to the Dance Lab and worked with students from Dance in the Secondary Schools. The students performed combinations of running, jumping, and lifting. Labja used these photos for maquettes and, ultimately, some students sat for lost-wax casts. The outcome was a 10-foot bronze statue, "Road to Omaha," mounted outside of the TD Ameritrade Park. In addition, his sculpture in miniature is the design for the trophies for the next hundred years.
Moving dance from the traditional, proscenium stage to site-specific venues gives choreographers the opportunity to expand their repertoires. The visual impact of selected environments and the kinetic language of dance provide provocative opportunities for collaborations wherein the site becomes the framework or map for the dance design. Finally, the convergence of dancers with members of the community at a specific site is integral to weaving dance into the fabric of community tradition and in exploring the endless boundaries of "dancing in place."
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Josie Metal-Corbin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Margaret Killian Diamond Professor of Education in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, in Omaha, NE 68182.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Dancing in Place: Site - Specific Work: Taking Dance outside the Theatre Creates Opportunities for Collaboration and Expands Choreographic Possibilities. Contributors: Metal-Corbin, Josie - Author. Journal title: JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. Volume: 83. Issue: 4 Publication date: April 2012. Page number: 31+. © 2009 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.