If dance is a kind of knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it?
This question, along with a few others, served as part of the focus of a guest artist residency that took place in late January in the Dance Program of the Department of Drama. Award-winning choreographer and Princeton Arts Fellow Netta Yerushalmy was in residence for 4 days, along with five other artists and scholars. Ms. Yerushalmy is a dance artist based in New York City, who grew up in Galilee, Israel. Her work aims to engage with audiences by imparting the sensation of things as they are perceived, not as they are known, and to challenge how meaning is attributed and constructed. As a part of her residency, Ms. Yerushalmy offered a dance composition workshop to students, in addition to giving an artist talk surrounding her epic experimental lecture-performance series PARAMODERNITIES that was free and open to the university and Charlottesville communities. Yerushalmy describes this work as “a radical series of dance-experiments, generated through deconstructions of landmark modern choreographies, performed alongside contributions by scholars and writers who situate these iconic works and artists within the larger project of Modernism. Exploring foundational tenets of modern discourse, such as ableism, queer presence, sovereignty, sexuality, race, and gender, PARAMODERNITIES breaks open the work of six choreographers: Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Bob Fosse, Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine, and Vaslav Nijinsky.” In the artist talk, Yerushalmy discussed her process and how her works “aim to excavate the canon of modern dance in radical, reverent, and violent ways, in order to spark urgent conversations.” During the talk, she posed and addressed the following questions: “When can choreography shock us into thought? What do staged bodies signify other than their mere forms? If dance is a kind of knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it?”
The residency culminated in a free performance of the first two installments of the series in the Ruth Caplin Theatre. “PARAMODERNITIES#1: The Work of Dance in the Ageof Sacred Lives,” a response to Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (1913). Performed by Yerushalmy and David Kishik, featuring text by Kishik. “PARAMODERNITIES#2: Trauma, Interdiction, and Agency in ‘The House of Pelvic Truth,’” a response to Martha Graham’s Night Journey (1947). Performed by Taryn Griggs, Carol Ockman, and Yerushalmy, featuring text by Ockman. Following the evening of performances, the audience was invited to join the cast on stage for an open discussion with one another about the work. Moderated by Katie Baer Schetlick, more than half of the audience remained for the discussion and the reception that followed.
Upon completion of the residency, students were invited to reflect upon the experience and what they gleaned from this unique artist residency. A third-year dance student shared, “It was a valuable experience for me to have [Ms. Yerushalmy] come to our Composition class as well as see her performance. Through both of these I learned new ways to compose movement….Her performance was also refreshing to watch since it was so different from what I would expect from a typical [dance] performance." And a second-year student said that “Learning from [Ms. Yerushalmy] during her residency not only brought up essential questions about choreographic ownership, but her work also showed me how societal issues can be discussed, explored, and critiqued through the medium of dance. [She] also introduced me to different methods of composing work that encouraged me to step out of my habits and find new pathways to movement, which I especially appreciate as a student choreographer. Interacting with guest artists like [Ms. Yerushalmy] gives me and other dance students incredible insight into how boundaries are being pushed within the wider field of dance and performance art, so that we can create groundbreaking work at the University and beyond.”