Growing dance scene seeks suitable studios

The Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will go Saturday in the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. Several Yale dancers say the space is more suitable than those on campus.
The Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will go Saturday in the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. Several Yale dancers say the space is more suitable than those on campus. Photo by Zoe Gorman.

The dance scene at Yale is growing — perhaps too rapidly for the University to keep up.

In recent years, a variety of student dance groups have cropped up around campus, outgrowing the resources that currently exist for undergraduate dance. According to the website for the Alliance for Dance at Yale, an umbrella organization that encompasses all of Yale College’s dance troupes, the campus is home to 22 different extracurricular groups. Of these 22, more than half were founded within the last 10 years. As a result, concerns have emerged over whether Yale’s facilities can support this increased interest, as the University is not traditionally known as a school with a prominent dance community, said professor Emily Coates, the University’s only full-time faculty member teaching dance courses.

“We’re brimming over,” Coates said. “The overflowing of enthusiasm, initiatives and new extracurriculars is all amounting to the additional need for space in rehearsal and performance.”

On April 27, the Yale Dance Theater program led by Coates will perform an excerpt from legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham’s piece “ROARATORIO,” a breakthrough for dance at Yale, as the University was the first organization granted rights to Cunningham’s work since his company’s last performance on Dec. 31, 2011. The event has attracted the attention of noted New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay, who is scheduled to attend the performance, Yale Dance Theater members learned Wednesday.

Yet there is no dance department at Yale, which lists courses in the discipline under the Theater Studies Department, and most of the University’s rehearsal spaces are not designed for dancers. Many of the studios, for instance, are not fitted with sprung floors padded to protect dancers’ feet, said Elena Light ’13, a member of Yaledancers and Yale Dance Theater.

“It would be great for Yale to create a dance studio with the express purpose of it being for dance,” Light said.

Currently, the two main spaces used by dance groups are Studio D on the fifth floor of Payne Whitney Gymnasium and the Broadway Rehearsal Lofts on Elm Street. There are also dance studios in the residential colleges, but three students interviewed said that they are too small to be of much use.

The lack of studio space has resulted in regular scheduling conflicts between groups.

“There’s not enough room,” said Orit Abrahim ’15, a member of Danceworks. “We run into each other a lot when we’re rehearsing.”

The dance community got a boost three years ago, when Associate Dean of the Arts Susan Cahan approved funding to rent out the dance studio at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School shortly after it moved to its new location on College Street. The Co-op space is available to any Yale group that wants to use it, Cahan said.

In addition to Yaledancers, which uses Co-op’s studio for its four-hour Sunday rehearsals, the Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company has been using the high school’s space to rehearse for its debut show, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Performances of the ballet, which opens today, will also take place at Co-op.

The co-founder of the Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company, Amymarie Bartholomew ’13, said the Co-op’s stage is “beautiful,” adding that it also provides more audience seating than Yale’s venues. If they were performing at the 200-seat Off-Broadway Theater, Bartholomew said, they would have been sold out by Tuesday.

Aesthetically, the Co-op’s proscenium theater works well for staging traditional ballet performances, whereas the Off-Broadway Theater is better suited for plays, Bartholomew said.

She noted that under the Cahan’s leadership, Yale’s administration has been “receptive to the needs of undergraduate dance groups.”

Light said that while she is grateful for the support Cahan has shown for the dance program, she wonders why it took Yale so long to start recognizing dance as a legitimate artistic and intellectual pursuit.

“Why are Yale University dance groups forced to use the local high school’s dance facilities? We’re a huge research university — why aren’t we using our own resources? The Co-op space is what our studios should look like,” Light said.

One downside to the arrangement with the Co-op is that groups who use the high school’s theater to put on performances at a cost subsidized by Yale cannot charge ticket prices for their shows, Groove Dance Company President Audrey Ballard ’13 said.

The Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will run through Saturday at the Co-op.

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