UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 15 Winter 21 Library
Histories on the Move; Choreographing Community and Company at UVA - Ariel Nereson, Assistant Professor of Dance Studies University at Buffalo
Dance Program

Quick on Its Feet, the UVA Dance Department Continues Their Renowned Programming in Difficult Times

I thoroughly enjoyed doing the masterclasses so much. I gained a lot of experience from them, and it also taught me new things that I don’t think I would’ve learned anywhere else
First Year Undeclared, Intended Dance Minor

In a year that was particularly hard on best-laid plans, Head and Artistic Director of Dance at UVA Kim Brooks Mata and her colleague Katie Baer Schetlick delayed an official celebration of the milestone 15th anniversary of the UVA Dance minor. However, that certainly didn’t mean they sat idly by during the pandemic. In fact, Brooks Mata and Schetlick were as busy as ever, if not more so, with a spring chock full of performances, guest artists, and rare opportunities for students to see the inner workings of some of America’s finest choreographers and companies. 

Knowing they would miss out on the chance to take part in summer intensives, four dance Miller Arts Scholars got COVID-creative. With grant funding from Miller Arts Scholars, the students commissioned artists in the field to teach them private virtual workshops and set original work with them. Libbie Ryan and Katie Yared, under mentorship from Schetlick, worked with the artists slowdanger. Kiana Pilson and Zoe Ziff, under mentorship from Brooks Mata, worked with Helen Simoneau of Helen Simoneau Danse. Both pieces were filmed and presented as part of the semester’s virtual dance concert. 

The dance program, which has a strong reputation for bringing in leading guest artists to engage students, switched to a virtual model and attracted five outstanding artists to share their talents and insights and provide intensive and often individualized artistic mentorship for the students. The guest artists included: 

Ching-i Chang Bigelow: February Residency Events
Maya Taylor: February Residency Events

●     Ching-I-Chang Bigelow, who during her five-day residency in February taught multiple master classes, gave an artist talk and devised an original work with five students. Bigelow continued to rehearse the piece with the students through March and collaborated with local artist Annie Temmink to build masks that represented each dancer’s individually-developed characters.

●     Maya Taylor, a highly sought-after Los Angeles and New Orleans-based choreographer who has worked closely with artists ranging from Solange Knowles, to Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire, to SZA, presented a week-long residency in February. She also taught two masterclasses, gave an artist talk, and set a new work with five students.

●     Helen Simoneau took students and instructors deep inside their creative process by opening up a specially-designed portal to share the company’s evening-length work DARLING. The portal also provided access to write-ups from Dramaturg Melanie George, a short video documentary about the process of making the work, and a podcast from the composerMary Kouyoumdjian, who collaborated on the piece with Simoneau. Simoneau also taught a master class on dance composition and participated in an artist panel alongside George and Kouyoumdjian, in which they discussed their process of making DARLING and took questions from the audience.

Helen Simoneau's Residency at UVA

●     Dancer, musician, and dance researcher Nic Gareiss made a virtual return to UVA to teach two masterclasses in both March and April. Gareiss, who has been hailed by The New York Times for his “dexterous melding of Irish and Appalachian dance,” focused on his perspective on composition and his creative research as a traditional percussive dancer engaged in ethnographic research through embodied practice.

●     Ariel Nereson, Assistant Professor of Dance Studies at the University of Buffalo, took students inside her research on Bill T. Jones’s 100 Migrations, which took place in Charlottesville in 2008. The talk was organized by Drama colleague Katelyn Hale Wood in collaboration with the dance faculty. 

In addition to these, students had the opportunity to participate in other 10-15 virtual masterclasses with multiple dance artists and dance courses throughout the semester. Below are a few student testimonials regarding the impact that these opportunities had on some of our students. The faculty and students of the Dance Program would like to express their gratitude to the UVA Arts Council: Enriching the Arts on Grounds and the Miller Arts Scholars Program. Without this generous support, this semester’s creative programming would not have been possible. 

Histories on the Move; Choreographing Community and Company at UVA - Ariel Nereson, Assistant Professor of Dance Studies University at Buffalo

“I thoroughly enjoyed doing the masterclasses so much. I gained a lot of experience from them, and it also taught me new things that I don’t think I would’ve learned anywhere else. It was really immersive and engaging even over zoom, so I can’t wait to actually take a class in person in the future when it is safe to do so. I also enjoyed listening to the artist talks because it offered a lot of insight into the dancer/choreographer career world, and it was really helpful to hear all the details whether good or bad. I really hope to have more of these experiences in the future and throughout my education at UVA.” (First Year Undeclared, Intended Dance Minor) 

“I had the opportunity to work with Ching-I Chang Bigelow during their residency during Kim Brooks Mata’s DANC 4640 course and their masterclass. Ching-I Change Bigelow’s visit and masterclass did not only allow me to understand and embody movements related to the Laban/Bartenieff Movement systems in a new way, but it also helped me make greater connections to material in my other courses in Urban + Environmental Planning and Architecture.” (Second Year Architecture Major, Dance Minor

“Along with being a dance minor, I am also a kinesiology major pursuing athletic training. Dance is what inspired me to study movement and medicine, and the dance program at UVA helps keep these passions alive. Upholding the liberal arts side of kinesiology is extremely valuable to me, and working with guest artists through lectures and masterclasses fosters deeper connections between movement, our body, and our environment. The recent guests I have been fortunate to learn from offer incredible and diverse perspectives on how dance is constantly progressing and challenging the norms of a changing world. I sincerely appreciate every opportunity given through this program and find new ways to apply what I have learned every day.” (Third Year Kinesiology Major, Dance Minor) 

“I am really enjoying the opportunity to learn from the dance guest artists this semester. So far, I have attended one master class and a virtual viewing, but I also plan to attend at least one more guest artist event before the end of the semester. It’s been very informative to experience dance outside of the classes I’m taking and to hear from artists who operate outside of the UVA community. I’ve also appreciated that the sheer number of guest artist opportunities has allowed me to stay involved despite conflicts with my personal schedule.” (Fourth Year Sociology Major, Dance Minor)

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