Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Arts: Arabesques & All the Rest

Lang students prance and leap for academic credit

By Estelle Hallick

On a rainy Friday afternoon in Room 001 on 12th St., everyone is barefoot except one girl in white socks and professor Rebecca Stenn in blue socks. Five mirrors, five pillars, a piano, and a barre surround the circular studio.

In the 1930s, modern dance pioneer Martha Graham used this space for classes and lectures. Today, Lang students use the studio to create movement and use dance as their bridge to other realms of art.

Lang has entered year four of its dance program. Originally its own concentration, Dance recently joined Theatre, Music, and Arts in Context as a track under the Arts Program. Dance boasts about 40 concentrators and is overseen by 14 part-time professors. Some professors run their own dance companies and others have danced with well-known organizations like Pilobolus.

The interdisciplinary framework of the program sets Lang apart from dance conservatories, where students practically live in a studio and do not have the opportunity to explore other subjects. Lang recognizes the current direction of dance, as more artists are enlisting visuals, music, and text to create pieces. Since the integration of the arts last fall, there has been a substantial boost in the amount of non-dance students enrolling in the classes.

“The history of the arts and The New School was based on collaboration,” said Jaime Santora, director of the arts program at Lang. A faculty member for the past seven years, Santora has seen the program progress since it’s birth. “All students take classes which look at art—historically, socially, culturally, and politically.”

For the past two years, students in spring dance performance learned classic pieces of choreographers like Graham and Jose Lemon. Half of the semester has been spent perfecting technique, and the remaining time celebrates the history of the artist and the context of the piece. “All of these things are supplementing and adding to your background as an artist," Santora said. "You have to open yourself up.”

Maia McCoy, a Lang senior, understands the importance of intermingling the arts. “My dancing is fueled by everything…poetry and literature,” she said. And even photography classes have inspired her to create “scenes” for the audience. For her senior work, Maia’s choreography blends influences like garage band music and Sylvia Plath with a handmade oven.

McCoy was also a part of Lang’s first showing at the American College Dance festival at Williams College. Two pieces (featuring five students) were chosen by Lang faculty to perform in the festival, which included 30 other colleges. The students took part in workshops and participated in three performances where they received critiques from three professional artists. “I think people are really starting to recognize Lang College because there was a certain little buzz going around,” Santora proclaimed proudly.

From technique classes to improvisation to body politics, the dance program, as any four-year-old, is still taking shape—adding and experimenting with guest artists, classes, and the first Spring Arts Festival to be unveiled this April. “I think a lot of people think dance is just physical…and that’s what we are trying to change.” Santora concludes with a huge smile: “It’s [also] about engaging intellectually, showing how the arts connect to a larger world.”

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