In the Steps of the ‘New Artmakers’

Wesleyan presents DanceMasters Weekend

Written by Lucile Bruce

Camille A. Brown & Dancers. Photo by Matt Karas.

“We’ve never not sold out a performance, even with all the ups and downs of the economy.”

That’s Pamela Tatge – director of Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts, in Middletown – speaking about the DanceMasters Showcase Performance, the highlight of the center’s annual DanceMasters Weekend. Now in its 13th year, DanceMasters Weekend offers something for everyone – students and teachers of dance, experienced dancegoers, and the uninitiated.

This year’s program on March 10 features master companies Garth Fagan Dance and Pilobolus along with Camille A. Brown and Dancers. Brown is the winner of the 2012 Mariam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award, granted annually by the DanceMasters program to a young artist who shows outstanding promise.  In addition to the Showcase Performance, DanceMasters Weekend offers 13 90-minute master classes designed for students with intermediate to advanced dance experience. Barbara Ally, associate director of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts, produces the weekend.

Artists appreciate the deliberate, thoughtful approach of DanceMasters. Matt Kent, associate artistic director of Pilobolus, says Ally “is curating like you would a gallery show – combining older artists who were setting the course with new artists who are, or will be, setting the course.”

Garth Fagan Dance, now in its 40th year, has long been hailed by audiences and critics for its originality and the virtuosic skill of its dancers. Jamaica-born founder and choreographer Garth Fagan employs an ever-evolving dance language drawn from many sources: sense of weight in modern dance, torso-centered movement and energy of Afro-Caribbean, speed and precision of ballet, and the rule-breaking experimentation of the post-moderns.

DanceMasters Weekend was founded by the late Mariam McGlone, a professional dancer, critic, and educator. McGlone moved to Guilford in 1983, and, noting a lack of learning opportunities for young dancers and choreographers, she set out to bring professional dance to Connecticut. Wesleyan University has hosted DanceMasters since 2000. McGlone died in 2008, but her vision lives on. “We don’t often have the chance to do something close to home,” says Kent. Founded in 1971 and based in Washington Depot, Connecticut, Pilobolus is famous for its imaginative and athletic exploration of creative collaboration. Longtime company members Kent and Renée Jaworski will perform in the Showcase Performance and co-teach a master class.

At press time, Jaworski and Kent were still deliberating about their DanceMasters performance. Says Jaworski, “We’re looking at performing older repertory, classics that will show where the company comes from.” In their workshop, they’ll teach participants about Pilobolus’ approach to collaboration. Collaboration is a hallmark of the company; in 2010 it was the first collective to receive the Dance Magazine Award, given to artists who have made a lasting impact on the field.  In the workshop, says Kent, “We’ll learn how to deal with things together, how to motivate each other, what to do when you don’t get along. “We aren’t teaching people how to dance,” he adds. “We’re teaching them how to make cool stuff with movement.”

“We gear our class toward the community and teach about the philosophy and physicality of our work,” notes Jaworski. “Our philosophy is that everybody is a creator and an artist.”

Camille A. Brown, who describes her work as “highly theatrical, very earthbound movement,” says she was “very encouraged and inspired” to win the Mariam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award. She has admired past award-winners – including Robert Battle, newly appointed artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – and believes the McGlone Award lights the way for young dance artists to continue developing their unique voices. “It encourages you to keep moving forward and lets you know people are listening,” says the exuberant Brown.

Camille A. Brown. Photo by Matt Karas.

In the Showcase Performance, Brown will perform the solo pieces Evolution of a Secured Feminine and The Real Cool. A third piece, City of Rain, features dancers from her company. Brown’s work draws on many influences including African, ballet, tap, jazz, and modern. Following DanceMasters tradition, each company that performs in the Showcase Performance offers a master class. In addition, artists from the Martha Graham Dance Company, José Limón Dance, Urban Bush Women, and others will teach.

David Dorfman, chair of the dance department at Connecticut College, returns to lead a master class. New this year, Carolyn Kirsch teaches “Never Stop Moving: A Fosse-style Workshop for Older Dancers.” For Tatge, the recognition of an emerging choreographer is part of what keeps DanceMasters feeling new, year after year. “The award makes us very aware of who the new art-makers are. We see their work live. We always have our ear to the ground,” says Tatge. “We also feel people should see the masters.”

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