Contemporary dance is thriving in our universities. At a time when funding for professional dance work is increasingly scarce, universities serve as sanctuaries for dance artists at all stages of their careers, from those just discovering dance as undergraduates to seasoned visionaries finding academic niches from which to continue all kinds of choreographic research. Throughout the history of modern dance, universities have been key sites of innovation and training. The Bay Area is home to a burgeoning community of university dance departments. This winter, dance students, teachers and artists converge on the area for two vibrant university dance festivals.
The American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) sponsors festivals in each of the country’s 10 regions. The Southwest Regional Festival will take place this year at San Francisco State University on January 17-20, 2007. Festival Director Professor Susie Whipp sees this as an opportunity for SFSU to be a “conduit for dancers to survey the rich Bay Area dance scene,” and to help dancers fresh out of college from around the country acquaint themselves with our community. To enhance this aspect of the festival, Whipp and her colleagues have organized an opening night concert on January 17 titled Destination: Dance SF (Cathleen Mccarthy, Artistic Director), a sampler of fine local dance that includes ODC/SF, Robert Moses’ KIN, Janice Garrett + Dancers, Alex Ketley of the FOUNDRY and more. This concert is open to the public.
Every regional festival is a 3-4 day whirlwind of workshops and performances. A typical day might include technique, composition and repertory classes, interspersed with technical rehearsals and performing in or viewing informal and adjudicated dance concerts. Social activities, shared meals and networking are just some of the spontaneous exchanges that will also take place between the 500 students and faculty registered at SFSU’s festival.
Many cite the festival as one of the highlights of their college careers. In Whipp’s view, “ACDF allows students to survey the field of dance in its most current form while gaining the invaluable experience of touring and presenting their work in a professional-level setting.” ACDF fills a need that no single dance program could achieve—to create a supportive microcosm of the regional and national dance scene in which students may grow.
Complementing the festival is an event unique to the Bay Area: The Renaud-Wilson Dance Festival. Now in its third year, the festival unfolds across the campus of CSU East Bay (formerly CSU Hayward), February 2 – 4. The festival is named in honor of Laura Renaud-Wilson, the guiding light for CSU East Bay’s Dance Program for over 20 years and an inspiring Bay Area dance advocate. Laura’s passion for inclusive, intuitive dance education is reflected in a merging of traditional and unconventional approaches to dance, for all ages, in a non-competitive, yet fiercely dedicated creative environment. Master classes, lecture/demonstrations, performances and social events in modern dance, contact improvisation, social dance, jazz, hip-hop, cultural forms, dance/theatre, choreography and repertory are open to university, college and high school students, as well as community members. RWDF intentionally avoids any adjudication process during the weekend, creating a community dynamic quite distinct from ACDF, and therefore making the two festivals an excellent combination of educational experiences.
In addition to faculty/guest artist performances, beginning, intermediate and advanced learning tracks and a performance of student works, this year’s festival will feature a special tribute to dance visionary Mel Wong. Mel was one of the first Chinese-American professional modern dancers and was an early member of Merce Cunningham’s company. He went on to form his own company and to perform and teach internationally, influencing countless dancers. He settled down as a professor of dance at UC Santa Cruz and before passing away suddenly in 2003, inspired a whole generation of Bay Area dancers and choreographers. Honoring Mel’s spirituality-infused approach to dance, RWDF will present “Excavating Other Realms: A Tribute to Mel Wong,” which will include work by former students and company members Sonya Delwaide, Janice Garrett, Kimiko Guthrie & Eric Kupers, Erika Shuch, Lisa Wymore and more, as well as a presentation on Mel’s work by Connie Kreemer. This year’s festival is sure to be another electrifying gathering of diverse “dance tribes.”
For those of us who attend as faculty and working artists, these festivals can be a reunion of sorts, a chance to take time out from the grind of sustainability to reconnect and reflect on our roles in shaping dance in America. By giving college dance programs a voice in the larger dance community, ACDF and the Renaud-Wilson Dance Festival help to incubate the dance performers, choreographers, scholars, teachers and activists of tomorrow. They are forums where we may train hard alongside our mentors, peers and students. We look forward to them every year as times to gain perspective on our lifelong paths in dance.
For info on the American College Dance Festival:
For info on the Renaud-Wilson Dance Festival:
This article appeared in the January 2007 issue of In Dance.