This Tuesday, 15 dance students spun and zig-zagged around the ballroom at York 220, sweat beading down the dancers’ brows. They dashed around the dance floor as their instructor, Robert Swinston of the Mercer Cunningham Dance Company, snapped and sung out simple rhythms. What began with basic spinal stretches and balance exercises culminated in an exploration of what Swinston called “The Fast Dance,” a challenging up-tempo piece from the ’60s.
Swinston will soon be joined by artists of all ilks who are flooding the Yale campus as part of the World Performance Project, leading workshops, teaching master classes, offering performances and giving lectures. The World Performance Project is a bold and ambitious new program at Yale made possible through a Distinguished Achievement Award granted to theater studies professor Joseph Roach by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Currently slated to develop over a three-year period, it seeks to build the field of performance studies and the idea of performance as research at Yale.
While affiliated with the Theater Studies Department, one of the main goals of the World Performance Project is interdisciplinary collaboration in the pursuit of performance research, said Emily Coates, the Project’s artistic director.
“[The Project is trying to] build relationships within the University, so that someone from the East Asian Languages and Literature department can come to us and say, ‘I’m teaching this course, I would love to enhance it with performance of some kind,’” said Coates, who is also teaching a dance theater class this semester — something that the sizeable dance community at Yale has clamored for.
Student involvement will be key to crafting the World Performance Project as it evolves. Carly Zien ’08, the student coordinator for the project, described getting a “great response from volunteers,” but hopes that as the project continues it will gain momentum and “create a really enthusiastic community that surrounds and supports the events.”
Adam Horowitz ’09 is among the first members of that community. The Project’s designated interviewer, Horowitz plans to meet with every guest artist and ask them a set template of questions. His goal is eventually to create an audio collage that will be available on the Project’s Web site, and he appreciates how receptive the Project has been to student initiative.
“As much as students want to help craft it,” he said, “that’s encouraged.”
The World Performance Project has already sponsored a visit by ballerina Allegra Kent, the first of three readings in an Arab play festival and a field trip to a new Merce Cunningham piece at the Joyce. Exciting plans are underway for the rest of the semester, most notably the kickoff of playwright Susan Lori-Parks’ “365/365.” The Pulitzer Prize winner will have 365 of her plays performed in 365 days at theaters all across the country in a yearlong national theater festival. The first few performances will take place in Nick Chapel in Trumbull College, beginning November 13.
Also in Nick Chapel this weekend will be a performance by writer, performer and director John O’Neal, who will be performing “Don’t Start Me to Talking or I’ll Tell you Everything I Know: Sayings from the Life and Writings of Junebug Jabbo Jones (Volume I).” O’Neal has toured widely as Junebug Jabbo Jones, a character — symbolizing common wisdom — created by members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights group from the 1960s.