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UW Dance Celebrates 50th With Diverse Offerings

The mothership that is the UW Dance Program is calling its little ones home this October in honor of celebrating the program’s rich history. To commemorate its 50th anniversary, the department is holding a week-long series of events (October 15-20), and alumni and community members from across the country and globe have been invited to join the festivities.

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UW 2013 175: Jazz Technique class with Wilson Mendieta
Photo by Tim Summers

The celebration will start with a concert presented by UW’s Chamber Dance Company, which is turning 25 this year. Last winter, the program put out a call to alumni for proposals for dance films, master classes, lectures, panels, and choreographic works, which a committee then curated to ensure a diverse offering of events. Featured events include a combination of master classes and research presentations, dance film screenings, and a series of performances choreographed by alumni. The events will be held on campus at the UW’s Meany Hall, Henry Art Gallery, and Kane Hall, as well as at Velocity Dance Center.


“The overall thing is that people leave feeling connected to a community,” said Jennifer Salk, program chair and associate professor. Salk also emphasized the need for the program to be visible. She said there’s often an assumption that most people working around Seattle’s dance community come primarily from Cornish College of the Arts. “There’s so many UW grads in the community that people don’t even realize graduated from the UW, so we wanted to celebrate the incredible breadth of talent that’s coming out of this program,” she said.

Ruthanna Boris’ pointe class, 1970
Photo courtesy of alum Robin Ching

Being in a public liberal arts institution, many students in the program are double or triple majors, combining dance with fields ranging from engineering to biology, to journalism or even history. Once out of college, UW alums continue to balance those fields, whether that means being both a cancer researcher and dance artist, or teaching dance while remaining socially and politically engaged.


“Our mission statement talks about trying to create engaged citizens, ‘to educate performers, educators, arts advocates and cultural leaders,’ people who contribute to society,” Salk said. “What I noticed is that people are coming out into the community and engaging in multiple ways.”


Since the program began, Salk said it has continued to grow its course offerings, which means advocating to get more faculty positions. The program is also realizing the need to expand the idea of what “technique” is, especially given the constantly shifting dance landscape that increasingly seeks versatile artists. “Technique is partnering, and improvisation, and salsa and tango and street styles, and modern, tap, ballet, and jazz,” Salk said.

UW MFA alumni Ryan Corriston and Stephanie Liapis in Embrace by Wade Madsen
Photo by Steve Korn

In addition to the technical side of dance, another big part of the program’s growth is the Chamber Dance Company, led by artistic director, professor, and UW alumna Hannah Wiley. During Wiley’s time as a student, the dance major didn’t exist although she took dance classes. It wasn’t until she came across old dance films that she realized something was missing from her dance education at the UW. “I realized that I was an alumna of a great research institute and had never seen any history of modern dance,” Wiley said. “As a dancer, I was just a floating molecule, not grounded in any history or any lineage … and I felt a little cheated by that.”


When Wiley became chair of the department in 1987, she wanted to change that for students by establishing the Chamber Dance Company. For its 25th anniversary celebration, Wiley said she “agonized” over putting together this year’s repertory and how to celebrate that history. “One day I was just having a little daydream, and I pictured myself watching Loïe Fuller dance in 1896 in Paris, and then getting on a hot air balloon and going over Paris and alighting every few years to see what’s going on in modern dance and how it’s changing,” Wiley said. That daydream became the basis of CDC’s rep this year, which covers 100 years in modern dance.


The rep will begin with Fuller’s 1896 solo Lily of the Nile and feature works by Michel Fokine, Martha Graham, Anna Sokolow, Dore Hoyer, Joe Goode, Daniel Shapiro and Joanie Smith, ending with Doug Elkins’ 1996 work Center My Heart. “It starts out so delicately, and then the 21st century work, or the late 20th century work is really physical [with] really a kamikaze kind of energy,” Wiley said.

UW students in Air for the G String by Doris Humphrey in the 2013 Chamber Dance Concert
Photo by Steve Korn

Due to the number of choreographers featured this year, Wiley said scheduling was “off the charts.” The ultimate goal was to make sure each choreographer or stager had sufficient time with the dancers, who are mostly the program’s MFA students. Although the Dance Program requires prospective MFA candidates to have at least eight years of professional experience in order to be considered for admission, Wiley said it’s also interesting for some who may not be familiar with working in a repertory system.


“It’s a little harder to feel very cool about doing a 100-year-old dance being staged on you when you’re not with the original choreographer and generating great art, but it’s quite a beautiful process as they get to own the work … and get pleasure out of embodying the history,” she said. “You can read about Martha Graham, but getting inside that tube for [her 1930 work] Lamentation is a trip.”

UW students in the Dance Majors Concert 2014 
Photo by Tim Summers

The repertory this year reflects the mission of the company: preserving 120 years of modern dance and keeping it alive. “What I’d like [the audience] to feel is the weight of a century of dance and the places people have gone with it,” Wiley said. “How each next generation listened to the one before.”


This ode to history coupled with an eye toward the future is something the UW Dance Program is also keen on maintaining for hopefully the next 50 years. “We’re always wondering what’s around the bend, and we don’t want to be sitting here with the dust on us,” Salk said. “Revere the past, but make sure we are not living in the past, [so] that we continue to stay current and question what we’re doing all the time.”


The Chamber Dance concert runs October 15-17 at Meany Theater, and the 50th anniversary events from October 16-20 at various locations. Visit the ArtsUW page to purchase Chamber Dance Concert tickets and the Dance Program’s website for the complete schedule of free celebration events.