YDT takes a transnational turn

This year, Yale Dance Theater will restage the choreography of well-known choreographers for the third time — but with a cutting-edge transnational focus.

On Sunday, YDT announced its spring 2013 project, which will examine works from contemporary dance choreographers Reggie Wilson and Akram Khan. Unlike the past two projects, which each concentrated on one artist’s work, YDT’s upcoming project will be divided into two sessions, each culminating in a public lecture/demonstration, YDT Faculty Director Emily Coates ’06 GRD ’11 said. The first session will focus on Wilson’s works, who will be the first choreographer to personally work with YDT dancers in the rehearsal process. The second session will be led by two senior dancers from the Akram Khan Company — one from Spain and the other from South Korea — who are the program’s first international guest artists in its three-year history, Coates said. YDT’s past projects included the restaging of Twyla Tharp’s “Eight Jelly Rolls” in 2011 and Merce Cunningham’s “Roaratorio” in 2012.

Led by Coates, YDT is an extracurricular dance initiative that allows Yale students to study works by iconic and emerging choreographers while exploring the academic ideas contained in their choreography. From mid-January through March, students will study the work of Wilson, who directs the Brooklyn-based Fist and Heel Performance Group, a contemporary dance company that blends American postmodern dance ideas with movement traditions from the African diaspora. YDT dancer Derek DiMartini ’13 said that Wilson’s personal involvement in the rehearsal process will help preserve the original intent of the work.

“There is something in the choreographer’s eye that other people can never see, so any time a work is restaged, part of the vision is inevitably lost,” DiMartini said.

The Wilson collaboration also marks the first time YDT students will study new and still-developing work as opposed to canonized classics, Coates said. Of the three pieces selected for study, two are currently in the company’s repertoire and one, “(project) Moseses Project,” is yet to have its world premiere. YDT Co-Student Coordinator Aren Vastola ’14 said this opportunity provides a fascinating insight into the creation of a dance work.

“There’s definitely a sense that you’ll be sort of shaping the work in a sense,” Vastola said. “It’s not like the work is being done directly for us, but you get the sense that we’re much more implicated in the process.”

YDT dancer Elena Light ’13 said that usually only professional dancers have the opportunity to learn new work.

“Dancers leave huge powerhouse ballet companies on a fairly regular basis over the lack of opportunity of the type we are about to be given here at Yale,” said Amymarie Bartholomew ’13, president of Alliance for Dance at Yale, the umbrella organization for Yale’s extracurricular dance groups.

The second half of the semester will involve a three-week workshop with Eulalia Ayguade Farro of Spain and Young Jin Kim of South Korea, two senior dancers from the London-based Akram Khan Company. Khan’s choreography combines European contemporary dance styles with kathak, an Indian classical dance form, and the company itself draws dancers from all over the world, Coates said. Though Bartholomew and Vastola said Khan is less well known in the United States, he is one of the United Kingdom’s most celebrated choreographers — last summer, he was selected to take part in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. The company’s collaboration with Yale thus comes at a time when Khan’s company is gaining international recognition.

“Having members of these artists’ companies come to Yale puts us close to the center of significant contemporary dance activity,” Associate Dean for the Arts Susan Cahan said.

Farro and Kim will restage excerpts from Khan’s recent works, “Vertical Road” (2010), “Bahok” (2008) and “Kaash” (2002).

Coates said this spring’s project will mark a dramatic shift in the YDT’s research focus. While the program’s first two projects studied the work of 20th century American icons, Wilson and Khan are both younger artists who are on their way to becoming 21st century choreographic masters, Coates added. Light said an exciting component of this year’s project is in the opportunity to compare and contrast the work of the two choreographers, both of whom explore dance through a transnational lens.

“With the Tharp and Cunningham, we were doing a sort of an investigation across time with dancers of different generations and looking at the same work,” she said. “Here … both choreographers pull their movements from various cultures and various traditions across space, geographically speaking.”

Vastola said the comparative investigation of these two artists is very timely after the World Performance Project — a six-year program that invited dance artists from around the world to Yale — ended last year.

“I think [YDT] will continue that engagement with … developing art … and the changing contemporary arts scene,” Vastola said.

Coates said that in addition to a rigorous six-hour weekly rehearsal, the students blog about the rehearsal process and use their studio practice to inform their movement research, which appealed to both Wilson and the Akram Khan company members. Farro and Kim said in an email that Khan’s whole company will follow the blog, adding that it will be an interesting experience to hear perspectives from dancers engaging with the work rather than from journalists or critics, who do not form opinions based on their own physical interaction with the choreography. Wilson too expressed an interest in engaging with students who would be using writing as an “integral and valid form of expressing thoughts, ideas, emotions and experience” about the process.

“I’m interested in understanding and thinking about my ongoing relationship with the written word and what impact it does or doesn’t have with the folks that are actually doing the work,” he said, adding that the impact of this sort of documentation will be long-term.

Coates and four YDT dancers, including Vastola and Light, used last year’s blog on the Merce Cunningham project as the basis for a research article, which was recently submitted to “Dance Research Journal” for publication consideration — a “tremendous accomplishment,” according to Cahan.

“This kind of publication epitomizes what we are trying to accomplish in the arts overall, which is to create scholarly artists and artistically informed scholars,” she added.

Looking forward, Coates said she hopes to increase YDT’s visibility in the dance world both here and abroad. She also said she is interested in YDT eventually commissioning new work, adding, however, that the focus of the program would remain diverse in its examination of both iconic choreographers and works as well as emerging choreographers and works.

An information session about joining YDT will take place Dec. 3, and the audition will take place Dec. 10.

Correction: Nov. 12

An earlier version of this article misidentified the class year of Emily Coates GRD ’11. It also misstated the information session and audition dates for YDT. 

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