Often unable to attend performances more than once, and rarely able to visit artists in the studio prior to premiere, traditional dance critics form their reviews with limited experience of a new work. In an effort to remedy this, FSU’s Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography has, since 2015, piloted an initiative to support more informed writing on the creative process by embedding cultural writers in residence with artists. To help shape and launch this initiative, MANCC convened a group of nine artists, writers, and scholars from FSU and across the national dance field in June 2016. The group explored the possibilities and complexities of pairing writers with artists in residence, and examined the need for more astute analysis and context around choreographers’ research and creative process.
Since then over 17 writers have joined MANCC artists in residence. These selected residency artists are given the option to invite writers of their choice to join them for 2-3 days during the residency period to observe and converse about their ideas in the process. Recent writers have included Jenn Joy, contributing editor for BOMB Magazine, with Okwui Okpokwasili and Jeanine Durning; Moriah Evans, Editor-in-Chief of Movement Research Performance Journal with Kota Yamazaki; Thomas F. DeFrantz, Professor of African American Studies and dance at Duke University and Jasmine Johnson, Assistant Professor of Theater Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University with Jumatatu Poe, among others.
Reflecting on her time spent with Yamazaki in advance of the NYC premiere of his Darkness Odyssey: Part 2, I or Hallucination, Evans wrote, “there is very little funding for writing about dance in any deeper, more sensitive way and this residency is a generous anomaly to that predicament.”
Until now, MANCC has not required writers to produce or publish their writing from the residency period. Rather they are simply asked to continue to envision how such an opportunity could advance the field and work of artists, in line with MANCC’s mission to raise the value of the creative process in dance. After a successful pilot period funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, renewed funding will now allow MANCC to support writing commissions that result from time spent embedded with MANCC artists.
Some writers, however, have already published new essays as a result of their time at MANCC. Dr. Carrie Sandahl, head of the Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities at University of Illinois, Chicago, and Jerron Herman, a disabled dance artist, writer, and performer with New York City-based Heidi Latsky Dance, came to observe and speak with Alice Sheppard while she was developing her latest work, DESCENT, which features two dancers in wheelchairs. As disability is increasingly represented in theater and performance, “critics often find themselves at a loss for words,” Sandahl writes.
I found that artists are frustrated by critics who write in limiting ways about their work, often focusing on biographical information about the artist’s impairment, reducing complex works to a discussion of stereotypes, or using the unfamiliarity of being in the presence of disabled people performing. – Carrie Sandahl
Two of Sandahl’s essays, developed in part at MANCC in conversation with Sheppard, have recently been published: “Using Our Words, Exploring Representational Conundrum in Disability Drama and Performance” in the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, and “Disability art and culture: A model for imaginative ways to integrate the community” in ALTER: European Journal of Disability Research.
Additionally, performance philosopher Will Daddario came to observe the Chicago-based physical theater group Every House has a Door during the development of their work The Three Matadors, a reimagined staging of poet, Jay Wright’s The Presentable Art of Reading Absence. Daddario’s follow-up article “Concentrated, Polysemous, Literary Act: Every House has a Door Reads Jay Wright’s Three Matadores Play” was published in a recent edition of Contemporary Theatre Review.
As MANCC remains committed to supporting diverse and underrepresented artistic practices within the field of dance, demand for pairing writers with artists in residence continues to grow, and MANCC looks forward to supporting the next phase of this initiative with increased support from the Mellon Foundation.