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The Best of Both Worlds: Low-Residency MFAs
Nicole Wolcott in her UWM MFA thesis Paper Pieces. Photo by Whitney Brown, Courtesy University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.
For many dancers, concerns about the next stage in their career frequently loom overhead. Enrolling in a master’s program serves as a crucial stepping-stone, especially if one wants to teach in a university or K–12 setting, choreograph or explore somatic practices. In the past, that usually meant uprooting and relocating—not always a good option for working professionals. Luckily, several universities have developed low-residency MFAs to accommodate just this type of student. “Once you’re no longer at the barre, so to speak, you don’t hear about that next gig, those new opportunities,” says Luc Vanier, graduate program director at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. “These programs benefit professionals who don’t want to lose their connection to the field.” With short, intense semesters held over summer months (when dancers, choreographers and teachers generally have freer schedules) and other courses that can be completed remotely in the fall and spring, low-residency programs give working artists more flexibility to pursue their academic and creative goals. —Amy Brandt
Located: Roanoke, VA
No. of students in program: 43
Degree offered: MFA in dance. Three-summer track: designed for emerging artists, teachers and dance professionals. Two-summer track: designed for mid-career dance professionals and teachers, with 12 credits granted for professional experience (minimum 10 years).
Audition required: Admission is based on applicant’s portfolio, which is reviewed by a panel of faculty.
Coursework includes: Mentored and individualized studio practice, dance history, theory and criticism, contemporary body practices, contemporary art practices, performance workshop, visiting artist series
How it works: Students meet for eight weeks during the summer: five weeks in residence at Hollins University, followed by three weeks in Frankfurt, Germany, studying at The Forsythe Company studio and the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts. Academic and creative coursework are completed off-site during the fall and spring terms.
ST. MARY'S COLLEGE OF CALIFORNIA
Located: Moraga, CA
No. of students in program: 13
Degree offered: MFA in Dance: Creative Practice
Audition required: Yes, by invitation only, after application review.
Coursework includes: Choreography, technique, production practicum, dance history, critical dance pedagogy, design methodologies, lighting design, somatics, research methods
How it works: Students meet for four-week residencies over two years: three in June and two in January. In the fall and spring they take technique classes locally, as well as independent somatics-based courses and online/weekend classes (depending on their needs and proximity to campus). Students take choreography courses in the spring, receiving feedback via video, Skype or FaceTime.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN—MILWAUKEE
Located: Milwaukee, WI
No. of students in program: 25–30
Degree offered: MFA in dance
Audition required: Applicants apply to the graduate school and submit a written statement, a choreography reel and letters of recommendation to the dance department. Candidates are selected by a committee.
Coursework includes: Dance technique (ballet, modern and African), Alexander technique, composition, improvisation, choreography, Laban Movement Analysis, dance literature, yoga
How it works: Students meet for seven weeks during the summer: a one-week intensive workshop taught by guest faculty, followed by a six-week semester. In the fall and spring, students have formal online classes and self-proposed independent studies, and they can develop a pre-thesis project, completing the thesis during the second fall and spring semesters. (Five semesters total.)
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.