Yale News

The University has started a new initiative to conduct creative research into dance and movement.

The new initiative — called Yale Dance Lab — is replacing Yale Dance Theater but is wider-reaching in ambition and scope, according to Emily Coates, director of the Yale Dance Studies curriculum, who will run the lab. It will partner with several departments and professional schools to run workshops, classes, speeches, screenings and an annual spring project to showcase choreography developed in conjunction with the program. The initiative is supported by the Yale College Arts Discretionary Fund and the newly endowed Robert Wallace Fund for Dance Studies. Wallace, a Yale alumnus, is a former professional dancer with American Ballet Theatre. Coates said that she hopes the program will promote artistic practice as a form of inquiry and activism.

“Dance takes seriously embodied knowledge and movement as both sites and methods of research,” said Coates, who is an associate professor of theater and performance studies. “In a text-driven University, [dance’s] sophisticated understanding of movement points to that which has been overlooked — whole realms of social and political transformation that are driving human society.”

Coates will work on the initiative’s inaugural project, “Spring 2020: Dance Today,” alongside student coordinators Madelyn Blaney ’21, Mariel Pettee GRD ’21 and associate producer Kaitlyn Gilliland SOM ’20.

While they held auditions on Monday, Coates mentioned that the project was targeted to those with prior experience in dance or movement practice.

“Members of the Dance Lab seek intensive studio practice, coupled with an inquisitiveness and versatility that allows us to ask deeper questions of the creative process,” Coates said.

“Dance Today” will involve new works by choreographers Vicky Shick and Ni’Ja Whitson. Shick is a Hungarian-born teacher, choreographer and performer. The artist statement on her personal website emphasizes her fascination with dance as a physical language to reveal persona and mood.

Whitson is a gender-nonconforming artist who, according to Whitson’s website, “brings together experimental and African Diasporic practices to highlight themes of gender, sexuality, race and spirit.”

Both Whitson and Shick have won Bessie Awards for their exceptional achievements as independent dance artists. Coates believes that they will “shake up” preconceptions about what constitutes “research.”

“Being involved in the creation of new work feels like walking along a path in the dark, which only becomes clear in hindsight,” Coates said. “It’s a particular kind of research that requires presence and openness to the moment.”

While prior experience in dance or movement practice was required to audition for “Dance Today,” the Yale Dance Lab will support additional open classes and workshops for those with less experience later in the spring.

Natalie Kainz | natalie.kainz@yale.edu