From April 3 through April 6, 2014, at the Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance is presenting Danceworks, the annual dance program featuring works by leading contemporary choreographers performed by Theatre and Dance students.
United by the theme, “Minding the Dance,” this year’s program includes Wonderland, by Andrea Miller, choreographer and artistic director of Gallim Dance; Spatial Dialogues by Montclair State Theatre and Dance professor Nancy Lushington; Spent Days Out Yonder, a Mozart homage choreographed by Bill T. Jones; Strict Love by Doug Varone; Earl Mosley’s Oh My Love; and Sentenced to Sentences by choreographer and comedienne Claire Porter, a 2013-2014 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow.
“Porter is the first-ever Guggenheim Fellow to participate in our arts programs – or anywhere else at Montclair State,” says Theatre and Dance professor Neil Baldwin. “Her piece, Sentenced to Sentences, was commissioned by the department’s New Works Initiative.”
The NWI program, which is funded by College of the Arts Advisory Board Chairman Robert Gregory and his wife, Holly, is committed to the development and production of new original works from leading artists. “Claire Porter was selected from a field of more than 50 applicants to develop a specially commissioned piece that uses students from both theatre and dance disciplines,” explains Baldwin.
“These works are truly a hybrid of theater and dance that are developed at the University, with student dancers and actors,” Baldwin continues. “This is a very precious alliance. As a department, we really value the NWI for giving students an opportunity to engage so thoroughly in the process of creating and devising an important new work.”
With its ensemble of 12 student dancers and eight actors, Sentenced to Sentences is a truly interdisciplinary performance piece. While the work debuted at the University in October, as part of its Works-A-Foot program, University students have since performed it at the Bradford Elementary School and the Rosa Parks Community School, as well as at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
Porter has regularly visited campus to work with students to develop and refine her work that is inspired by the question “what is a sentence?” “It takes months to bring a piece like this to the level of perfection we are seeking,” said Baldwin. “The students love Claire. She’s a comedic performer who doesn’t take herself too seriously – but she does take her work very seriously.”
Dancer Kim Kafka enjoyed the process of working with the celebrated choreographer. “She was able to get inspiration from us,” she says. “The piece is new every time.”
“Porter will also be doing a professional development workshop on “Integrating Text and Movement” for public school teachers through the University’s Network for Educational Renewal on May 19,” said Dance Education professor Elizabeth McPherson.
The University presented its first Danceworks program in 1987. “We present works by guest artists of great renown to give the students the opportunity to experience both historical works of great importance as well as more contemporary works,” said Theatre and Dance professor and director of Dance Lorraine Katterhenry.
Danceworks performances begin on Thursday, April 3, and run through Sunday, April 6, at the University’s Alexander Kasser Theater. Tickets are available through the University’s Peak Performances program at peakperfs.org.