a preview of an UMFA ACME session
by loveDANCEmore and conversation with Srilatha Singh
Utah’s schools are rich with dance.
By national comparison, Utah students have more enriching dance
experiences than perhaps any other state. Thanks to ZAP-funded organizations,
most K-6 students have the opportunity to view concerts and many move weekly to
choreograph year-end performances. Secondary students work with seasoned
educators and attend high-level workshops. As a result, and as with all
subjects, dance has curricular standards to ensure a rigorous experience.
These standards are written in such a way
that honors Utah’s concert dance tradition (think: RDT, Ririe Woodbury, Ballet
West, and Tanner Dance) but makes lesser mention of cultural forms, suggesting
that knowing about a folk dance or two is sufficient.
As part of loveDANCEmore, the community
arm of my non-profit “ashley anderson dances,” I have avoided creating
educational outreach for risk of diluting the rich offerings by the companies
above. But I’ve also considered my own lack of cultural dance knowledge
alongside troubling requests from teachers to “make” dances from YouTube
footage and secondhand history.
Ashley Anderson performing at Hollins University photographed by Christy Pessagno.
To combat this divide: loveDANCEmore is working with UMFA on a
dance-centered ACME workshop at the Marmalade Library on January 11th. ACME workshops are hosted by UMFA during renovations to consider the relationship of art,
community, museum and education and the dance mashup pairs concert dance
educators with cultural dance practitioners as they create opportunities for a
public audience to move ideas from both dance genres.
One participant is Srilatha Singh,
founder of Chitrakaavya dance which
shares Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian form known for percussive and precise
gesture. Singh trained primarily in the Kalakshetra style in Chennai and Delhi,
India but over the years has found influence in other styles. For the past
seven years, she has performed solo and group works in Salt Lake venues
including the Fringe Festival at Westminster College. Prior to that she took a
break from her classical training, getting two Master’s Degrees and her PhD in
Mathematics from the University of Michigan. Most recently she performed a
collaboration with modern dancers at Kingsbury Hall to open the tour of Ragamala.
Srilatha Singh in performance, photograph courtesy of the ChitraKaavya website.
In Utah, the audience from Bharatanatyam
concerts is from the Indian diaspora, or aficionados of Indian or ethnic dance.
Singh suggests that a general “lack of understanding of the language, dance
vocabulary or cultural context” is why the form lacks a broad local audience.
Her company has tried to connect in informal ways, demonstrating how
Bharatanatyam can be interpreted.
Singh thinks that Bharatanatyam has much
in common with current K-12 dance instruction saying that “the technique, and
discipline, of the form is similar to what ballet and modern companies bring
forth...with an aesthetic experience as deeply satisfying for both performers
and audience.” She also knows that it could be co-curricular as the rhythms
embedded in the practice teach math concepts like addition, multiplication and
least common multiples; science concepts states of matter and even poetry, as
Bharatanatyam is often linked to metered, narrative texts.
For the dance mashup, Singh will be paired with Ai Fujii Nelson of Ririe
Woodbury Dance Company (RW) looking at how Bharatanatyam can link with RW’s
approach of time, space and energy, as the elements of dance. Other pairings
include Repertory Dance Theater and Tablado Flamenco, Tanner Dance and Gwynn
Smith of the Navajo nation.
Ashley Anderson is a choreographer based in
Salt Lake City and recipient of the 2014 Mayor’s Artist Award in the Performing
Arts. Her recent choreography has been presented locally by the Rio Gallery,
the BYU Museum of Art, the City Library, and the Utah Heritage Foundation as
well as national venues: DraftWork at Danspace Project, BodyBlend at Dixon
Place, Performance Mix at Joyce SOHO (NY); Crane Arts Gallery, the Arts Bank
(PA); and the Taubman Museum of Art (VA), among others. Teaching includes: the
American Dance Festival, Hollins University, the University of Utah, Dickinson
College Dance Theater Group, University of the Arts Continuing Studies,
Westminster College, the Virginia Tanner Dance Program and many high
schools and community centers. Ashley currently directs loveDANCEmore community
dance events using the resources of ashley anderson dances, a registered
501(c)3. Her projects with loveDANCEmore are also shared in Utah’s visual art
magazine, 15 BYTES, where she serves as the dance editor. ashleyandersondances.com