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International conference at ASU to explore themes of Jewishness in dance

ASU to explore themes of identity at conference on Jewishness in the dance world
October 4, 2018

New pedagogy, Israel, identity and the Holocaust among themes of gathering

How would you dance with a Yiddish accent? Or express the tensions of Jewish-Arab relations through movement?

Arizona State University is holding an international research conference this month called “Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World” that will touch on dozens of these kinds of topics. More than 100 presenters from eight countries will gather for four days of events starting Oct. 11, including discussions, performances, dance labs, a film series and a book reading.

Naomi Jackson, an associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, said she is organizing the conference now because of an interesting confluence of old and new at the moment. The “old” refers to the end of the previous generation of Jewish people, brought home to her most keenly when her father died a few years ago.

“That generation represented, for me, an artistic and intellectual legacy of Jewish culture that is incredibly powerful,” she said.

“I wanted to honor it because it’s in danger of disappearing because of the high rate of intermarriage. It’s a legacy that I wanted to honor and preserve,” said Jackson, who also is affiliated with the Center for Jewish Studies at ASU, which is the main sponsor of the conference. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

The “new” refers to a dance form called Gaga, developed by Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of Batsheva Dance Company in Israel.

Trailer for "Mr. Gaga," a documentary about Ohad Naharin

“It has spread like wildfire across the dance community and the world,” she said. “Gaga is becoming the ‘in’ technique. This is what’s hot now."

Jackson said the conference will consider the ways Jewish people have impacted dance.

“The Jewish contribution, to especially modern dance and postmodern dance, hasn’t been identified and named. It’s been there, but it’s been invisible,” she said.

Much of the impact has revolved around the Jewish notion of “tikkun olam” — the idea of healing the world through good works.

“How this played out is that many of the pioneers in dance therapy and community dance are Jewish. A lot of them say they went into these fields because of this idea of repairing the world and of social justice,” she said.

liz lerman

Liz Lerman

Liz Lerman, an Institute Professor in the Herberger Institute, is a pioneer in community dance, having founded the Dance Exchange to engage different kinds of people in dance. Lerman, a choreographer, performer and writer, will curate a performance on Oct. 14 and then participate in a discussion about what it means to “dance Jewish.”

Other sessions will include “Dancing Their Identity: Orthodox Women Shaping a New Path in Education,” “Ballet and Jewishness” and “From Victimized to Victorious: Re-Imagining Identities Through Dance.”

The conference will address complicated questions, Jackson said. One session will include Adam McKinney, an assistant professor of dance at Texas Christian University and a former performer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

“He’s black, he’s Jewish, he’s gay and he’s orthodox,” she said. “His session is about what it means to be all those complex things today.”

Another session will be a moderated fishbowl about the politics of Israeli folk dance, which Jackson anticipates could be contentious.

“I know there will be places of conflict, and I don’t want to avoid that.”

Top photo: Naomi Jackson, an associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, is organizing the "Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World" conference at ASU's Tempe campus this month. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Biodiversity conservation needs new partnerships

October 4, 2018

ASU ecology professor says a systematic approach is needed to save the species under threat today: 'It’s an efficiency issue'

If conservation science is going to save the myriad species under threat in the world today, it’s going to have to go about it more efficiently, according to a paper published this week by an Arizona State University ecology professor.

If academia remains in an ivory tower and nongovernmental organizations working to save species lurch from problem to problem, headway won’t be made fast enough to stem the tide of biodiversity loss, said Leah Gerber, a professor in the School of Life Sciences. She is also founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, where she leads a team of staff and scholars building capacity to solve the most pressing biodiversity environmental challenges.

“The idea is to be more systematic,” Gerber said. “We have an exciting opportunity to bring ASU's deep breadth and depth of scholarship from multiple disciplines to decision-making contexts and folks working on the ground globally to give them what they need for informed, science-based decision-making.”

Like many other fields, conservation science tends to rely on intuition — rather than evidence — about decision-making, resource allocation and spatial planning. Evidence would be the basis for an actionable principle, Gerber said.

“For example, if you want to do science that has impact, here’s how you do it,” she said. “We’re still winging it instead of being systematic.”

What Gerber proposes is a particular kind of boundary organization in conservation science — one with interdisciplinary research capacity and “real‐world” experience.

Last year ASU powered up its conservation biology program by adding seven professors of practice to the faculty as part of a partnership between the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes and Conservation International, the biggest American conservation organization.

Cambridge, Cornell and Stanford have set up similar partnerships in recent years. Gerber hopes that model will become the wave of the future in conservation.

“Increasingly this has to be the way it goes, because it’s an efficiency issue,” she said. “Conservation International has excellent scientists, but they’re doing a lot more than science. This offers an opportunity for ASU to offer a deep research bench to achieving measurable conservation outcomes across the globe, all while training the next generation."

Conservation organizations get the best science, methods and technologies. Scientists get to see their research implemented on the ground.

“What we collectively get is by putting those two things together we get a different type of innovation that we haven’t yet realized,” Gerber said.

The paper, co-authored with Daniela Raik, a senior vice president of Conservation International, was published this week in the Ecological Society of America’s Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.'"

“Conservation organizations know that we can’t achieve our objectives working alone," Raik said. "We need many partners from all sectors. Universities are no exception since we rely on science and knowledge to help us develop tools and guide our efforts to have the greatest impact as quickly as possible.”

Top photo: One of two Amur tiger cubs, Thyme and Warner, at the Buffalo Zoo with their mother, Sungari. The cubs were born at the zoo to Sungari and father Toma, on Oct. 7, 2007. Photo by Dave Pape/Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News