The Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) was pleased to welcome McKnight Fellow and Minneapolis-based dance artist, Susana di Palma, into residence for the first time from January 7-18, 2019. As the founding artistic director of Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theater in 1985, di Palma has studied Spanish dance and flamenco since childhood, apprenticed in Spain with masters of the form and performed throughout the country. Di Palma used her time at MANCC to further develop her contemporary flamenco duet, Casita, with dancer Jeanne d’Arc Casas, vocalist Tonia Hughes, jazz/blues pianist Billy Steele, and flamenco guitarist Ben Abrahamson. While in residence, di Palma and her collaborators showed the work in progress to community members as well as School of Dance students and faculty, followed by a discussion.
As a result of di Palma’s volunteer work at St. Stephen’s shelter, Casita evolved out of stories of homeless women, giving audiences a glimpse into a world that often goes unseen. In order to put a spotlight on the hidden nature of homeless experiences in contemporary American society, the premiere of Casita will be interwoven into the evening program with other contemporary flamenco works. Five performances of Casita are scheduled at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis in April 2019, as part of Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theater’s season, What the Moon Sees.
With curiosities around how homelessness in Tallahassee compares to Minneapolis, di Palma met with Sara Jean Hargis, Volunteer and Donations Coordinator at the Big Bend Homeless Coalition. In addition to touring the premises, di Palma learned about the HOPE Community program, which supports homeless women and families with children by providing food and shelter, as well as the opportunity to stay in their facilities for up to six months.
One of the highlights of di Palma’s residency was the opportunity for School of Dance students to participate in two flamenco masterclasses taught by di Palma and d’Arc Casas, and accompanied by Abrahamson, in a departure from their usual coursework. Given the lack of emphasis on flamenco as a form in American dance training, di Palma is passionate about the furtherance of flamenco and its traditions. The students were introduced to a wide array of flamenco vocabulary, as well as basic history about the form’s origins in the Andalucía region of southern Spain and the key elements of the guitar and vocals. Throughout the 80-minute classes, the dancers charged passionately, from the back of the studio to the front, demonstrating their newfound understanding of complex rhythmic structures in what was, for most, a completely new movement vocabulary.
Junior dance major, Ahmad Ratliff, described the class he took with d’Arc Casas as “highly energetic, unique, and a great break from our everyday dance classes,” and senior dance major, Nika Sourakov agreed, recalling di Palma’s class as, “so much fun! She was so passionate and informative. It was a really great experience, and completely unique to our usual dance schedule here at the School of Dance.”
This residency was supported, in part, by a partnership with McKnight Choreographer Fellowships, funded by The McKnight Foundation and administered by The Cowles Center for Dance & The Performing Arts.
Photo Credit: Chris Cameron