Graduating dancer uses artistry to impact society

May 10, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Erika Moore graduates with her MFA in dance this week. And she has no intention of slowing down after the ceremony. ASU dance MFA student Erika Moore Erika Moore. Photo by Focus First Photography Download Full Image

“I am an artist, arts administrator, arts advocate and arts entrepreneur,” Moore said. “My plans are to continue to make impactful works of art, support the administration of artists and arts and culture, advocate and create programs, launch business ventures and capitalize on opportunity that exists today and will be there in the future.” 

Moore realized the power art after learning about legislation that passed in Arizona on her birthday in 2010.

“HB 2281, a bill that bans ethnic studies in the State of Arizona, was passed in response to the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, and I was outraged at the language of the bill and the fact that it passed through legislation,” she said.

Moore said she discovered most people were unaware of the bill and gave little thought to the effects it had on Arizona schools, so she decided to explore how her artistry could make an impact on social, political and educational issues such as HB 2281.

“The bill provided a way in to work with dancers and the audience in exploring the cause and effects of its passing and the intra and inter-personal effects it has on people and the overall community — this touches on the social, political and educational climate we live in and have been a part of for centuries.”

Moore says she is an artist first, and everything she does and will do will be from the perspective of an artist, and that through working on the project, she realized just how far that perspective can go.

“In the beginning, I wanted to be an executive director of a performing arts organization, a non-practicing but participatory artist. These experiences and many others helped me see that it was the least that I could do,” she said. “My perspective of my position in the arts changed.”

Moore answered some questions about her time at ASU. 

Question:  What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I loved the work I was doing but missed the arts greatly. I went on a mission trip to Brazil and Argentina with Experience Arts School, and when I saw the need for art facilitators, globally, I began to think about my place in the arts. I later participated in Valley del Sol African American Leadership Institute, where I attended the Black Philanthropy in the Arts event. Prominent women of color were represented on the panel and I thought to myself, I can do that too. I met with Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage, and got plugged into ASU Gammage after I was accepted in the MFA program.

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: I believed that ASU would give me the freedom I wanted to explore (innovate); they also had a great GA program to help decrease the amount of money needed for graduate school. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school? 

A: It is ok to not have everything figured out. Explore. Take risks — in order to go somewhere you’ve never gone before, you have to do something you never did. Kiss fear goodbye and be courageous! 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: Does King Coffee count? It's across the street. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? 

A: I would not use it to solve a problem, I would use it to build more capital to have a larger pool of funding available to address multiple problems. 

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


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ASU scientists show hidden talents that lie 'Beneath'

'Beneath' turns scientific, artistic focus to below Earth's surface.
Show hits irony of vast knowledge of space vs. limited understanding of interior
May 11, 2017

Herberger Institute, School of Earth and Space Exploration collaborate on multimedia production that features performing researchers

Let’s say you have a complex, scientific story to tell, like you want to point out the irony that while researchers have determined the weight of the moon, the composition of stars and even a theory of what the center of our galaxy smells like, they know very little about what lies just a few dozen miles beneath your feet. 

You could write a few long, complicated sentences. Or you could turn to a ballet-dancing geologist, a bass-playing geophysicist and a belly-dancing theoretical astrophysicist.

“When you learn a scientist is also a belly dancer,” said Lance Gharavi, a professor in ASU's School of Film, Dance and TheatreAn academic unit inside the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts., “when the universe hands you a gift like that, you say, ‘thank you’ and leverage that.”

Gharavi’s new play, “Beneath: A Journey Within,” is billed as a 3-D, multimedia experience that fuses cutting-edge scientific research and performance art, using scientists as performers, to “peer into the mysteries of what lies deep below the Earth’s surface.”    

The collaboration between the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE), is an attempt to make science both compelling and approachable, and it provides a model for transdisciplinary collaboration and public outreach.

“Scientists and artists are great storytellers, but sometimes we use different language to tell the story,” Gharavi said.

The project showcases an approach that ASU has become known for, combining disparate disciplines to foster new understanding. Gharavi said it’s the second such effort involving the Herberger Institute and SESE. In 2013, the schools got together to produce a version of Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”

The show also gives a chance for researchers to strut their stuff while getting their geek on.

It started with Ed Garnero, a science professor in SESE, who wanted to try a different approach to reach his Geology 101 class. He wanted something that “combined the narrative of a TED Talk and the light, sound and movement of a Cirque du Soleil.”

He turned to Gharavi, an actor, director, performance artist and writer who links interdisciplinary teams to explore difficult subjects through multimedia performances.

Over a three-year span, they developed their story, co-teaching a class called “Devising: Imaging the Earth’s Body,” to see how the combination went over with students.

Over time, Gharavi started to see Garnero’s fun and creative side. When the artist discovered the geophysicist played bass, a narrative began taking shape.

Gharavi also learned of other scientists with hidden talents, like Patrick Young, a theoretical astrophysicist and better than novice belly dancer and Christy Till, a former professional ballet dancer turned geologist.

“Going back and getting in touch with my former dancer self and repurposing it as a scientist has been fun,” said Till, a professor in SESE, who will plan her movements according to planetary cycles in the show.

Even though Till hasn’t performed since 2001, it didn’t take long for the blisters to develop on both of her toes. She used duct tape to cover them up. “Old theater trick,” she quipped.

Aside from watching performances, audiences will also virtually visit the lab of a mineral physicist who uses diamonds in startling experiments and talk with the first woman to lead a NASA mission beyond the Earth’s orbit.

The one-hour show also has a few tricks to make current scientific research artful, accessible, and consumable to the public; to create new visualization tools that aid scientists in research, communication and education; and to engage and explore new models of collaboration between artists and scientists.

To that end, director Erika HughesHughes is an assistant professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. said “Beneath” succeeds.

“One of the things we’re working on is pushing against this divide between science and the arts,” Hughes said. “We can use performance to unlock understanding.”



Top photo: Lead scientist Ed Garnero plays his guitar, which lights up certain spots of a virtual Earth during the rehearsal of "Beneath: A Journey Within" at the Marston Exploration Theater on Thursday  in Tempe. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASUNow