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.)
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.