Centerwork: Staying Warm
We tend to think of summer as the season of dance intensives. But for any dancer with a break over the holidays or some downtime between semesters, December and January can be the ideal time for a week or two of in-depth training. DM investigated winter workshops at three schools to find out how they can help you make the most of the chilly months.
ADF in NYC
The American Dance Festival School is best known for its six-week summer program in Durham, North Carolina, which offers classes in a variety of modern and other techniques. But ADF also hosts a shorter intensive in New York City each January with some of its NYC-based faculty.
Gerri Houlihan, co-dean of the school, says that the Winter Intensive is popular among ADF alumni and first-timers alike. “For dancers who have made connections at ADF during the summer, it’s a way to continue without losing touch with the community for an entire year,” she says. “And newcomers can get a sense of the faculty to see if they’re interested in the summer program. If you’re not sure what type of modern intrigues you, you can try on a range of possibilities. And for those thinking about moving to New York, it’s a way to get a sense of the city from a dancer’s perspective.”
Lonnie Poupard Jr., who dances with Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects in New York, attended ADF’s summer program in 2008, followed by the Winter Intensive a few months later. The winter program, he says, not only inspired him artistically but showed him that living in New York would be possible. “It gave me a grounding in the dance world,” he says, “and helped me make connections I used later in my career.”
Program length: 9 days
Number of students: About 60
Ages: No age cap, but “prime time” is junior or senior year of college.
Daily schedule: 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Two technique classes, followed by lunch and a class such as repertory or composition. Panel discussions and performances in the evenings.
The Paul Taylor Dance Company Winter Intensive allows students to delve into the modern master’s style with current or former company members. Lisa Viola, a Taylor alum who directed the program from 2006 to 2010, notes that the program is useful for anyone who wants to explore the Taylor technique, especially those hoping to audition for the company. “Learning the shapes and movement style of Taylor intensely for two weeks helps people get it in their muscle memory,” she says. “Then, at a Taylor audition, they’re only picking up the steps, not having to learn the style.”
Heather McGinley, former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, participated in the Taylor summer program in 2010, followed by the winter intensive that same year. In May 2011, she auditioned for the company and got the job. She admits that the winter days were long, difficult, and packed with material. But, she adds, “The intensive gave me the confidence that I was ready for whatever they would throw at me in the audition.”
Program length: 2 weeks
Number of students: About 60
Schedule: 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Technique class (either ballet or Taylor), followed by a break, a two-hour rep class, another break, and two more hours of rep. On Fridays, participants perform an excerpt of what they’ve learned that week. “If Paul has time, he’ll come and watch and talk to the students,” says Viola. “He loves to watch dancers work. It’s a treat that he comes around.”
Nancy Stark Smith, the “mother” of contact improvisation, hosts a January Workshop at Earthdance in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts. Students come from around the world to study CI and related movement approaches at this idyllic retreat.
“My work has a core of contact improvisation, and that’s what the workshop is centered around,” says Stark Smith, who is also cofounder of the journal Contact Quarterly. “But that’s branched into other areas, too, such as changing states of body and mind, improvisational languages, composition, performance, rigorous physical training necessary for contact improvisation, and how to develop a relationship with music. Then I look at the integration of all of these ‘pods’: How can we practice compositional awareness, human kindness, creativity, and performance excellence with a contemplative mind—at the same time?”
Yeong Wen Lee, a performance artist based in Singapore, attended the intensive in 2010 and 2011. “I gained so many points of curiosity from the workshop,” he says, “which have been inspirational for me as an artist now. Nancy offers a wide spectrum of improvisational practice. I learned to embrace awkwardness as a part of the experience, and how to fail successfully.”
Stark Smith adds that the intensive is structured as an immersion, with participants living, doing chores, and dancing together. “We’re able to leave our daily lives and focus, live, eat, dance, study, talk, and recuperate together,” she says. “The work then has a chance to turn over in the mind and body. Questions can arise and learning happens on a deeper level.” She adds that this intense situation can be challenging (Yeong agrees) but concludes that studying this way is a chance to “practice art and life.”
Program length: 3 weeks
Number of students: 18–24
Schedule: 10 a.m.–6 p.m. with a lunch break and optional, pre-breakfast session (including contemplative dance practice). Once a week, the group goes to an aikido dojo in town to “practice falls and collisions in a safe environment for more abandon,” says Stark Smith. Some evenings are spent in discussion, watching videos, or at house meetings. Stark Smith organizes a “community jam” open to local dancers and, sometimes, a final showing for the public.
Lauren Kay, a
Dance Spirit contributing editor, is a dancer and writer in NYC.
More Winter Intensives
Broadway Dance Center • Dec. 27–30 www.broadwaydancecenter.com
Mark Morris Dance Group • Dec. 19–23 www.markmorrisdancegroup.org/winter2011
Valentina Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory of New York • Jan. 2–20 www.vkdcny.com
Contemporary class at ADF. Photo by Sara D. Davis, Courtesy ADF.