EMBODIED HISTORIES: American Dance Legacy Initiative (ADLI) at the Center for Public Humanities
Dances by American choreographers provide unique insight into American history and culture, yet Americans, historically, have not turned to dancers or dance institutions to deepen their understanding of America. In fact, as a culture, we have privileged the visual arts and the word over the performing arts, particularly dance, and turned to literature, paintings, sculpture, and artifacts to tell the story of who we are and from whence we came. The unforeseen consequences of that biased approach has been a lack of understanding of cultures which have chosen to celebrate other kinds of art and communicative activities, and a dismissal of the performing arts within our own culture as mere diversions and entertainment, or as the province of the elite few.
ADLI wants to change that. Our programs enable all individuals, not just dancers, to participate in the creation and perpetuation of America’s dance heritage. We view our research, teaching, and performance through a public humanities lens, working with creators, teachers, students and audiences to learn and to teach. The presence of ADLI at the Center provides a unique opportunity to integrate performance-based approaches to understanding culture and history with other perspectives and methodologies.
This blog post outlines how ADLI projects and programs integrate embodied and material knowledge, allowing us to access and interpret cultural understandings that can only be gleaned from dance.
Two projects provide a natural point of entry for those engaged in public humanities: the Repertory Etudes Collection and the Dancing Rebels Anthology.
THE REPERTORY ETUDES COLLECTION
Repertory Etudes, short dances based on signature works of American choreographers, are challenging studies that stand on their own as concert pieces and also as tools for improving dance technique and performance skills. These dances provide source material for learning and teaching about dance and enable programming that engages dancers with the historical and cultural ideas communicated through their artistic practice.
In 2011-2012, ADLI received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the University Creative Arts Council Arts Initiative, the department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, and the Susan Benenson Fund for Young Dancers, to document and develop materials and programs on three Repertory Etudes:
a study by Carla Maxwell based on the style and repertory of American dance legend, José Limón
a jazz study by dancer/scholar Danny Buraczeski, based on three works from his repertory
and Battleworks Etude based on the repertory of Robert Battle, current director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
A hallmark of ADLI’s methodology is that at all stages of the creation of its materials and programs it works WITH the people who will use them, not WITHOUT them in a remote studio. And so we have been been developing materials and programs in five diverse settings, Brown University, Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach Florida, Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, the New York State Summer School of the Arts School of Dance, and the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.
Danny Buraczeski will be in residence at Brown in Spring 2014 and he and his work will be featured at the ADLI Mini-Fest on March 1 at the Granoff Center. Stay Tuned!
THE DANCING REBELS ANTHOLOGY
Between 1998 and 2005, thanks in part to two major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, ADLI developed the Dancing Rebels Anthology on the revolutionary New Dance Group, a collaborative of dancers founded in 1932 on the premise that dance could be used for social change. The Group, which flourished until the early 1960s, had two guiding principles: to make dances that were of social importance, and to make them accessible to a broad audience.
The Dancing Rebels Anthology enables study and programming on the New Dance Group in several ways. First, it preserves original programs, costumes, instruments, photographs, and other artifacts, including a five-foot drum from Haiti, as a material record of the collaborative’s work. Second, it provides scholarly and interpretive material (documentaries, artist biographies, and educational resources for elementary through college curricula) to support opportunities for public learning and conversation. Thirdly, and of critical importance to ADLI’s approach, the Anthology includes Repertory Etudes based on dances by New Dance Group choreographers, making the dances themselves accessible to the public to view, learn, and explore in an embodied way authentic to dance as a medium.
In 2005, ADLI founders Carolyn Adams and Julie Adams Strandberg mounted an exhibit based on the Dancing Rebels Anthology at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Spring NY, where it remained for 18 months. The multi-media, interactive installation included original costumes, photographs, participatory activities, and DVDs of documentaries and Repertory Etudes.
Throughout the year that the exhibit was in place, ADLI and the Museum co-produced community events inspired by the exhibit. For example, Donald McKayle’s 1959 Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder, about chain gangs in the American South, was the focus of a workshop on the current prison system in New York State. The event included a tour of the exhibit, a performance of and participatory workshop on Rainbow Etude and a discussion about prison reform vitalized and informed by the participation in a work of art. For Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) participants viewed the exhibit of Sophie Maslow’s The Village I Knew, inspired by the short stories of the same name by Yiddish author Shalom Aleichem. The participants all learned and danced Village Etude together, ate Challah, and celebrated a culture that survived despite the heinous attempts to wipe it from the earth.
The artifacts and materials from the exhibit are housed at the Public Humanities Center, available for exhibition and to provide opportunities for programming and research on these artists who helped shape a pivotal period in American history.
GETTING INVOLVED WITH ADLI
Help plan or participate in the annual ADLI Mini-Fest at the Granoff Center on March 1 (details forthcoming!)
Mount an exhibit using ADLI materials
Join the ADLI/PHC/Central Falls Partnership
Develop your own program based on ADLI materials
Do research using ADLI archives
Travel with ADLI to one of its national partners
Contact us to explore ways to bring dance as embodied history into public humanities practice.
Our office is located on the 2nd Floor of the Nightingale Brown House, home to the Center for Public Humanities. [Directions]