Putting Countries in Dialogue through Dance
Kirk, Johanna, Dance Magazine
The Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance at Queens College (QC) is exceptionally diverse. In Edisa Weeks' modern class, for instance, it is typical to have Russian, Korean, Chinese, Iranian, South American, and Greek students dancing beside native New Yorkers, who themselves represent cultural communities ranging from Orthodox Jewish to African American. Most are commuter students, dividing their time between school and full- or part-time employment; many are the first members of their families to pursue higher education.
Given its large immigrant student body and its location in the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S. (Queens, New York), QC is dedicated to facilitating cross-cultural dialogue. To this end, the college started a new campus-wide project last year, the "Year of" program, which fosters learning about the arts, politics, history, economy, and ethnicity of a different country each year. In exploring that particular culture, the dance program plays an integral role. Faculty members select visiting artists and organize performances, lectures, and workshops that invite dance students and the larger QC community into an artistic exchange with the featured culture.
This year, Turkey is the honored country, and Edisa Weeks has spearheaded efforts to bring in intriguing contemporary Turkish artists. After consulting with Andre Lepecki, an acclaimed cultural anthropologist and professor of performance studies at NYU, she approached Gurur Ertem, Ayse Orhon, Mustafa Kaplan, and Filiz Sizanli, all Istanbul-based postmodernists (or as she puts it, "postpostpostmodernists"), who will be in residence at the college for a week this month. They plan to teach fresh approaches to technique and composition, lecture on Turkish contemporary dance practices, and offer a free performance and Q&A on Feb. 25.
Weeks approached artists whose work is considered groundbreaking in Istanbul; she hopes the experience will expand her students' understanding of "What is dance and how do we perceive it?" She sees the potential for these artists to offer new ways of identifying with dance, its processes, and its social significance. Many of her students, she says, have had little exposure to concert dance traditions, but they are familiar with traditional dances from their respective countries. Together, their dance backgrounds span a huge range: Irish dancing, Chinese peacock dances, bachata, merengue, salsa, the hora, Russian dances, bharata natyam, Senegalese sabar, breaking, and hip hop. …