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Dance students collaborate with faculty members, guest artists on original work

Six dancers pose on the diagonal steps of the ASU Art Museum, the lines of their leg matching the line of the architecture

ASU dance students pose on the steps of the ASU Art Museum. Photo by Tim Trumble

November 16, 2022

Audiences will have the chance to see original work by Arizona State University dance faculty members and guest artists in this year’s “Fall Forward” performances.

Mary Fitzgerald, artistic director of dance and professor at ASU, said faculty members often present their work nationally and internationally, but “Fall Forward” offers the opportunity for dance students to collaborate directly with their professors on work that is presented here at ASU. 

“What’s different about this show is we are trying to highlight student dancers,” Fitzgerald said. “Our faculty and guest artists created choreography for and with student dancers.”

The pieces are performed by undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty members. Students collaborated with faculty members on the choreography.

"I appreciated the opportunity to work with my professors in a setting outside the classroom and to see their creative ideas come to life," said Kyla Kabat, a BFA student in dance. "This process involved student-generated movement that was then artistically formulated and directed by the faculty themselves."

The performances showcase the variety of styles and range of talent in the dance program at ASU. Fitzgerald will present an excerpt from her longer work “Haikeus,” a Finnish word meaning simultaneous sadness and gratitude. It explores responses to environmental crises caused by climate change. Her dancers lay buckwheat rows across the stage, then perform through and use the wheat as a part of the piece. Fitzgerald said she thinks of it as an eco-event. 

“We’re going to transform the space into an immersive environment,” Fitzgerald said. 

The full, evening-length piece will be completed and presented in 2023 as part of a collaborative project with ASU professors Scott Cloutier from the School of Sustainability, Galina Mihaleva from the School of Art and Barry Moon from the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies.

Guest artists Sai Pratyusha Gutti and Sumana Sen Mandala will present a traditional dance genre of Bharata-Nrityam. This tillana is composed and choreographed by Sumana’s guru, Padma Subrahmanyam. Mandala said she was liberated by the pedagogical style of Subrahmanyam and the combination of holding important knowledge that has come down through generations and the sense of playfulness encouraged by her guru's innovations.

“I take joy in passing on that same sense of freedom to my own students who are growing up much as I did in the U.S.: as girls, as children of immigrants, as seekers of the bridge between their American and Indian lives,” she said. “All the while, the idea of ‘rasa’ — juice, essence, flavor — anchors our performance with the call to be responsible to our audience and for our audience to respond through deep engagement.”

Carley Conder, clinical assistant professor of dance, will be presenting two pieces in the concert. Her own piece, inspired by Salman Rushdie’s text “Fury,” features 10 ASU dancers, from first-year to graduate students.

“This work investigates the power of human emotion and the lengths we go to harness and contain this power,” Conder said. “The movement material we have been developing collaboratively explores strength, speed, contrast and complexity.”

Conder will also be dancing a solo created by guest artist Keith Johnson as part of his SERIES collection.

“SERIES is a collection of solos that uses the same material but is performed to different scores with an emphasis on different elements within the structure of the dance,” Johnson said. “The collection of dances touches upon ideas of family, death, environment, race, religion and the LGBT community.”

The performances present not only a broad range of topics but a variety of dance styles as well. Guest artist and ASU alumna Coley Curry, along with Julio Saran, will showcase a dance film featuring New Style Hustle.

“We’re excited to share this film with the Arizona community because not a lot of people here are familiar with this dance and its history,” Curry said.

The hustle is a social dance that began in the South Bronx in the 1970s during the disco era, created by Puerto Rican teens at house parties and club dance scenes. In 2010, dancer Jeff Selby created New Style Hustle. 

“It’s an evolution of that original partner dance that is usually done to house music,” Curry said. “But now it has reached all genres of music, including hip-hop, R&B and beyond.”

For the music in the film, they collaborated with artist Daniel Suun (formerly known as Solo Woods). Suun and Coley originally met while students at ASU during Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute

In addition to Curry and Saran’s work, Clinical Assistant Professor of dance Jorge “Bboy House” Magana will also present a dance film. He said he wants his piece to remind audiences to treat each other with love and respect.

“I hope to share the connection and feelings we all have at some point in our life to feel like an outcast — and to speak for those that still feel that way,” Magana said. “We often see folks doing good and forget about the challenges and systems put on us and how we fit into those systems. So when you see an outcast, remind yourself and ask yourself: Am I an outcast?”

Audiences can experience each of these pieces at “Fall Forward,” presented Nov. 18–20 at the Galvin Playhouse Theatre on the Tempe campus. Tickets must be purchased in advance through the Herberger Institute Box Office.

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