The World Performance Project introduced the study of performance as an academic discipline just two years ago. Now, in its last year of funding, the WPP must look back on its role in Yale’s arts world and make a case for its future.
Established by theater studies professor Joseph Roach after he received a $1.5 million Andrew W. Mellon grant, the WPP seeks to incorporate performance arts with global diversity on the Yale campus. The Tuesday premier of “England,” a play that explores the interactions between the performer and the observer, marks the beginning of the WPP’s fall season. But as Roach and his colleagues pursue funding for the future, the WPP’s newest season is calling attention to what many identified as the program’s growing influence on the University’s arts curriculum.
Emily Coates, artistic director of the WPP, emphasized the importance of performance art for creating social change.
“The performances combine social and political commentary with the highest artistic merit,” she said. “We want to knock the audience’s socks off.”
The project will reach its artistic peak this year, she added.
Earlier this semester, Roach and his colleagues submitted a proposal to the administration asking for University support and funding. The proposal was accompanied by letters written by faculty members from more than half a dozen departments, including Theater Studies, African American Studies, American Studies, History of Art and History.
The administration will review the proposal in a deliberation process involving the faculty, Yale College deans and the Office of the Provost, wrote Deputy Provost for the Arts Barbara Shailor in an e-mail.
“The World Performance Project has greatly added to the richness of the arts at Yale and to the President’s commitment toward global efforts in all areas of the University,” she said.
Roach described the project as a crossing and defining of boundaries across the world.
“The grant asked for imaginative thinking about what the University needs, and at Yale, thinking globally is very important,” Roach said. “We want to push the envelope both culturally and artistically.”
This year’s series of global performances, “No Boundaries,” kicks off on Nov. 11 with the Festival of International Dance. The festival includes the participation of Kenyan, Israeli and American choreographers, along with other performances fusing music, theater, dance and film.
But putting up performances is not the whole story. The WPP is interested in the before, during and after of the process, Roach said.
His proposal emphasized this point. The key initiatives of the project are listed under three categories: curriculum, repertoire, and research and publication.
The WPP boasts the first dance studies curriculum at Yale as well as extending the role of performance arts in interdisciplinary curricula. Repertoire refers to the performances selected by Coates and Roach, often presented in collaboration with the Yale Repertory Theatre. Finally, it explains the research and publication responding to the class work and performances.
This year, for the first time, Roach and Coates plan to co-edit a volume of essays in response to the International Dance Festival.
Coates said this shows the fluid connection between the aims of the project as well as its successful integration of arts into the University’s education mission.
An important goal of the project is to reach out to students interested in performance arts. The project offers courses to Yale undergraduates and discounts student tickets to the performance, allowing for maximum exposure.
Last year, the WPP funded two student shows — “@lice in www.onderland,” a dance performance that participated in the New York International Fringe Festival, and “Project O,” a multimedia performance of the rock ’n’ roll version of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice and the final project of Roach and Coates’ theater studies course.
African American Studies professor Elizabeth Alexander, who wrote one of the letters of support for the proposal, said the WPP has brought transformative vision to Yale through experimental projects.
“Their focus on dance is tremendously important and fills what was previously a void on campus,” said Alexander.
The WPP has eight performances throughout the course of this academic year.