Keepin’ up with the Joneses: BTJAZ Dance Co. in Residence
When asked to write this blog, I have to admit, I was more than a little anxious. I was stoked but I couldn’t shake the unnerving feeling about doing something way outside the job description. I was handed the opportunity to leave my usual post in the UMS Ticket Office to work closer than I ever have with our artists. I was to follow the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company during their educational residency with UMS.
Day One: Masterclass at Dance Theater Studio, Ann Arbor
As I climbed the stairs to the studio I saw that BTJAZ Dance Company Education Director Leah Cox and dancer Talli Jackson had already arrived. About 15 high school ballet dancers streamed into the studio excited for a change from their usual routine. In the beginning half of class, Leah and Talli led an exploration of movement, Bill T. style. Leah had the class move through different levels and space stressing the importance of creating movement that is aware, yet unrestrained. The idea is that, in dance, your mind is as much of an active participant as your body. In actively engaging both you can evoke dance based on specific ideals, like the girls later learned through creating dance inspired by their own heroes. It was amazing to see Leah communicate this idea to the teen dancers, who then translated this concept in their own original movements. The same process was used to create Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, the piece the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co. would perform later that week. Check out my video clip and see the Dance Theater Studio class at work.
So We Think You Can Dance, Dance Workshop for the Ann Arbor Community
After watching the first master class, I was hooked. So, that evening, instead of observing the community dance workshop, So We Think You Can Dance, at the Ann Arbor YMCA I decided I had to participate—Yikes!! As a novice dancer, I was comforted to see the wide range of participants brave enough to explore movement with me, and as an UMS staffer I was proud to see such a fantastic turnout! Leah eased into the class with a warm-up called the developmental patterns. While we breathed, curled, and twisted, Leah explained that through these movements we were reprogramming our bodies, reteaching ourselves to create movement, not as coordination, but as what we do naturally as human beings. We then paired off to discover new shapes. While impulsively traveling through space from shape to shape, I reminded myself to maintain awareness of how my body was moving. Was it as effortless or beautiful as Leah and Talli made it look? I’ll leave you to decide…
Day Two: Detroit’s Paul Robeson Academy and Cass Tech High School
The afternoon spent visiting Paul Robeson Academy and Cass Tech High School was memorable and eye opening for me. We’ve all heard about the financial state of the Detroit Public School system and the bad rap the schools generally receive. In spite of the obvious need for more resources and more classroom space, I couldn’t help but notice the excitement of the students at Paul Robeson Academy or the youthful talent of the Cass Tech students. What I thought was just an ordinary day at these schools changed when I saw how eagerly the students received Leah and Talli. After watching the students’ earnest participation during the workshops, I felt really privileged to be part of their learning experience with the arts. I’m sure Leah and Talli felt just the same.
Day Three: Penny W. Stamps Distinguish Speakers Series, Michigan Theater
As the performance date of Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray neared I began to wonder, what kind of man is Bill T. Jones? Sure, I knew his methods behind creating the piece but what were his intentions, his message? Fingers crossed and eager to find out more, I went to his lecture–part of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speakers Series–in the Michigan Theater. Bill spoke to a full house and shared his philosophy on movement, the words of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman, as well as excerpts from the performance. He described his own personal relationship to Lincoln as having evolved. Starting with a child’s unconditional love for a legendary figure, torn down in young adulthood to a man he abhorred, and settling as a hero and inspiration as an adult. Losing faith in our childhood heroes is easy enough to understand, and Bill’s new vision of Lincoln was an inspiration. By the end of the lecture Bill asked us to examine his work as pieces of a puzzle, fit them together as we will, and invited us to reclaim Lincoln. I decided that Bill was prodding us to perceive every motion, every song, even everyday life, and then, ultimately, encouraging us to determine reality on our own terms.
I’d like to say I left that lecture with more answers than questions. Yet, even after the workshops, lectures, the Q & As, and performances, I still find myself stirring from the music and movement of Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray. Following the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s residency with UMS was such a rewarding endeavor for me personally because I was able to see another side of UMS. My daily interactions with the artists coming through UMS’ auspices are limited to the mentioning of their names over the phone. After spending the week attending the residency events I was not only amazed at the number of educational opportunities planned to connect with artists and enrich the community, but also at how invested I had became inthe residency overall.
For more photos from the events I’ve mentioned as well as other events including the BTJAZ Dance Co. Youth Performance and masterclasses with Wayne State University and University of Michigan please check out my slideshow.