Danceaturgy Program Marks Its Third Year

Dance Students Apply Theatre World's Concept of Dramaturgy to Their Choreography and Dance Performances

Photo by Mike Peters

A scene from Stompin' -- created and choreographed by Jay T. Jenkins, member of Montclair State's Dance faculty -- during "DanceWorks 2011."

The Danceaturgy program has completed its third year.

Danceaturgy is a term coined in 2010 by Dr. Neil Baldwin, professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance and director of The Creative Research Center, to give depth to the creative process, deconstructing dance works and choreography while looking through the lenses of critical sensibilities and historical perspective. The term is a variation of dramaturgy (coined in modern times by Erving Goffman in homage to G.E. Lessing’s Hamburg Dramaturgy of 1767) which, in the world of theatre, is a significant component in the construction and deconstruction of dramatic work while taking a critical look at how everything fits together. There had been no formal equivalent in the world of dance, however, until Baldwin came along.

Baldwin is a writer. He is not a dance performer, nor is he trained as a dancer. What he brings to the table is an outsider’s point of view. “Dance can often be an ephemeral experience, living in a finite space and time," explained Baldwin about his approach to danceaturgy. "We need more dance criticism that has a broader view. There are not enough outsiders presenting an expanded and deeper view of the work that is being created. I want the students to take in the aesthetic gestation of how a dance work came to be...[and] learn to place more value on its cultural roots and meaning to transcend these limitations.” 

In 2010, Baldwin worked with several students from the Montclair State University Dance Division within the College of the Arts and helped them to apply the concept of dramaturgy to dance. In all, 12 students were chosen from the repertory classes to examine the dance works in which they were performing as part of their semester’s repertory. The students were given the task of writing a critical analysis of their work, to “step out” of their performer psyche, and look at their pieces from the outside in, as would a dance journalist. This was a difficult assignment, since many young dancers have a more technical view of their work. The key was to capture the emotion and intent of the choreographers and their creations.

In the coming academic year, the Dance Division has approved the creation of a formal, inaugural course in Danceaturgy. Montclair State University dance students will continue to gain new perspectives with more depth into what they do and how they create. Danceaturgy has sharpened students’ skills and challenged them to think in different ways. 

Baldwin has once again composed a series of letters to Prof. Lorraine Katterhenry, deputy chair of the Department of the Theatre and Dance, documenting his unique observations throughout the danceaturgy process.  Both intellectually stimulating and insightful, they provide a detailed narrative through fresh eyes. 

Links to the current and previous years' letters, as well as Baldwin's illuminating talks for the Dance Department's annual spring Informance are posted below:

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Danceaturgy Letters: 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | Informance 2009 | Informance 2008.

Read the article about the birth of Danceaturgy.