Dancers and dramaturgy the subject of international conference at York

Performers, choreographers, theorists and historians from around the world will gather in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University on June 23 to kick off Dance Dramaturgy: Catalyst, Perspective and Memory, the 2011 conference of the Society of Dance History Scholars (SDHS).

The mandate of SDHS is to advance the field of dance studies through research, publication, performance and outreach to audiences across the arts, humanities and social sciences. Reflecting the wide, interdisciplinary sweep and international reach of the subject, this year’s conference represents an exceptional collaboration between artistic practice and scholarly research. It brings together more than 75 presenters and 160 participants from across North America, Europe and as far afield as Korea, Japan and Australia, to discuss the history, potential and growing impact of dance dramaturgy.

York’s MFA Graduate Program in Dance – Choreography and Dramaturgy and the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama and UC Drama at the University of Toronto have joined forces to co-host the event, together with Toronto-based performing arts companies Dancemakers, Series 8:08 and Nightswimming. Sessions take place uptown at York’s Keele campus June 23 and 24, and downtown at the University of Toronto June 25 and 26.

Darcey Callison“This is the first conference in North America to focus on dance dramaturgy,” said conference chair Darcey Callison (right), a practicing choreographer and dance scholar who directs York’s MFA program in dance. “Today’s theatre artists are seeking out sophisticated choreographic practices to integrate into their work. To broaden their reach, stage productions are being brought to new venues and complex spaces. More and more, dance is being combined with other art forms, and dance artists are being invited to bring dance esthetics to interpret new operas, films and plays.”

Callison notes that over the past 30 years, dance dramaturgy has evolved to engage with a multitude of perspectives – historical, cultural, social, political, esthetic and embodied – inherent in dance practices. The dance dramaturge is called upon to fulfill many roles: as navigator, facilitator, curator, documentarist and an important catalyst for choreographic invention and audience appreciation.

The role of the dance dramaturge is the subject of the conference keynote address, to be delivered by internationally renowned Montreal-based dramaturge, choreographer, performer and teacher Elizabeth Langley. Langley, whose honours include the Canada Council’s prestigious Jacqueline Lemieux Prize, has served as an instructor and “outside eye” for some of the most exciting artists on the Canadian dance scene, including Christopher House, Denise Fujiwara and Malgorzata Nowacka.

More than 40 panels will engage a wide range of topics including Sexuality and Dance, Intercultural Dynamics, and Dance, War and Identity. Individual papers tackle topics ranging from Lady Gaga, flash mobs and digital dramaturgy to the Ballets Russes, 20th century American dance icons, and issues around cultural appropriation and postcolonial dance. One of several guest panels features artists from the National Ballet of Canada discussing the company’s new Christopher Wheeldon ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

York presenters include theatre professor and dramaturge Judith Rudakoff (Dramaturging Transcultural Theatre); dance historian Selma Odom (Adolphe Appia, Catalyst for Movement Invention); and choreographer, performer and movement analyst Lisa Sandlos (Dancing Bodies in the Hypersexual World of Competitive Dance).

Among the highly respected international presenters are three of the world’s leading early dance historians: Anne Daye, chair of the Dolmetsch Historical Dance Society and a dance history lecturer at Trinity Laban, a leading music and contemporary dance conservatoire in London, UK; Ken Pierce, director of the early dance program at the Longy School of Music of Bard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Linda Tomko, associate professor of dance at the University of California, Riverside. All three will present papers and conduct workshops focusing on the challenges of reconstructing history through dance.

Performance presentations (called PERsentations) are an integral part of the proceedings, with seven individually curated sessions to be held over the four days of the conference. PERsentations take a wide range of formats, including performative presentations, round-table discuDon Sinclair ssions, workshops, analytical work-in-progress showings, interactive events and seminars. Session leaders include York new media Professor Don Sinclair (right) and dance faculty members and independent choreographers Terrill McGuire, Julia Sasso and Susan Lee with alumna Tracey Norman; dance artist and scholar Vida Midgelow of the University of Northampton, UK; and interdisciplinary artist, curator and educator Michael Sakamoto of Goddard College, USA.

One of the conference highlights is a Series 8:08 Choreographic Performance Workshop, where the audience becomes the dramaturge, giving written feedback for the short works-in-progress on the program. The one-night-only show, June 25 at 8:08pm, is open to the public. Led by York dance Professor Susan Cash, it features new works by Jennifer Dallas, Marie France Forcier and York dance alumni Shannon Litzenberger and duo Susan Lee and Tracey Norman. Tickets are $15 in advance (tel. 416-978-7986) or $20 at the door of the venue, the Robert Gill Theatre at 214 College St.

York dance alumna Shannon Litzenberger
Above: York dance alumna Shannon Litzenberger

Other public performances programmed around the conference include VIVID4 – Unravelling the Tight Weave, featuring new works by independent choreographer and York contract faculty member Kathleen Rea. The 13 performers include York dance Professor Holly Small and alumni Karen Kaeja, Janet Johnson, Yvonne Ng and Lee Walder. The show is accompanied by a participatory outdoor knitting/dance installation and runs June 23 to 26 at the Winchester Street Theatre, 80 Winchester St. Advance tickets are $22/$15 and $30/$20 at the door.

For conference program details and registration, visit the SDHS conference website.