Yale News

On Feb. 15, Yale Dance Lab released the first two episodes of its 16-part series called “Transpositions: dance poems for an online world” in collaboration with the Yale Schwarzman Center.

The series features weekly digital dance poems in a variety of styles, involving 16 choreographers and 66 dancers from across Yale’s dance community. Created by Emily Coates, director of the dance concentration in the theater and performance studies major, Transpositions presents an innovative response to the challenge of performance arts in a pandemic. 

“We wanted to create a project that would keep people dancing, creating and, most importantly, connected to each other,” Coates said. “Transpositions let us research the remote world together and experiment with forms, movements and angles, rather than attempt to recreate dance in its usual studio form in our small home spaces.”

To strive for representation across different genres and disciplines of dance, Coates reached out to dancers from 12 Yale dance groups as well as the New Haven community. Additionally, Coates reached out to choreographers across the world — including New York, Massachusetts, South Africa and Burkina Faso. These performers collaborated over two online sessions. Coates said the choreographers had complete freedom to explore an array of artistic ideas, “from using language and poetic word while dancing to experimenting with partnering via Zoom.” 

This collaboration was then extended to a team of nine sound designers from the Yale School of Drama and video artist Kyla Arsadjaja ART ’20, who created original musical parts and edited video footage.

“One of the highlights of Transpositions was the sheer number of artists touched and impacted by this collaboration,” said Jennifer Newman, associate artistic director at YSC. “Because we’re living and creating art mostly in an online world now, it is easier to connect with people worldwide despite social distancing. We were very fortunate to gather talents from across the disciplines and geographic locations.”

Dancer and producer Gabrielle Niederhoffer ’23 also said that she felt “incredibly fortunate” to learn from experienced choreographers from around the world and feel a “sense of the community.”

As a multidisciplinary project, Transpositions integrates dance with music, language and video art. 

For example, the second episode — choreographed by Brian Seibert ’97, a lecturer in the Theater and Performance Studies Department — combines historical writings and footage with a contemporary reexamination of dance styles, performed by Yale dancers. 

Choreographers aimed to inspire novel ideas about dance and transform the audience’s perception of movement.

“Because of the pandemic, we can’t travel or even walk around as much as we are used to, so instead, we tried to re-explore how we can travel in the little spaces we do have now,” said choreographer Lacina Coulibaly.

Niederhoffer, who participated in five different sessions, noted that each choreographer’s approach was different. She said that while some sessions reflected a regular choreography format, others were more experimental. 

“For one of the poems, we had to interpret poetic quotes through the language of our body, to embody the tone, and to improvise based on our own writing. Our bodies basically became a form of poetry,” Niederhoffer said. 

After the release of the last episode in May, all 16 dance poems will be united in the form of an anthology and streamed live for the public. Newman said this anthology will “capture a moment in time” and serve as a time capsule of the artistic response to unprecedented times.

Besides celebrating collaborative creation, Transpositions also showcase the beauty and range of choreography. 

“Dance can seem very enigmatic for some people at first,” Coates said. “It’s about working through those preconceived ideas which helps guide the audience into the complexities and riches of the dance. And I think that our project puts a huge array of the dance’s beautiful complexities on display.”

The Yale Dance Lab also launched Dancers’ Debrief series in collaboration with YSC, featuring interviews of dancers from the dance poems.

The Theater and Performance Studies department is located at 220 York St. 

Tania Tsunik | tania.tsunik@yale.edu