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Jerome Robbins Dance Division Sets Date For Sixth Annual Symposium

Held on January 29, 2021, this year's Symposium is entitled Dance and Immigration: A Symposium Beyond Boundaries.

Held on January 29, 2021, this year's Symposium, entitled Dance and Immigration: A Symposium Beyond Boundaries, features the culminating projects from this year's cohort of Dance Research Fellows: Kiri Avelar, Ninotchka Bennahum, Phil Chan, Sergey Konaev, Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Ferne Regis, and Pam Tanowitz

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' Jerome Robbins Dance Division has announced that its annual symposium will be held on Friday, January 29, 2021. The day-long symposium serves as an occasion for the year's cohort of Jerome Robbins Dance Division Dance Research Fellows to showcase the outcomes of their research in the Division's archives. These presentations can be lectures, performances, or combinations that help create new dance scholarship and art.

Six months in duration, the fellowship traditionally relies heavily on the class of fellows spending significant amounts of time in the Library for the Performing Arts' reading rooms working directly with primary materials. However, this year the fellows have had to conduct all of their research remotely with divisional staff creating digital surrogates of the necessary items. The researchers have overcome this obstacle valiantly and six incredibly exciting projects have emerged all centered around the theme of dance and immigration, the binding focus for this year's cohort.

To register for this free event, visit

About the 2020 Jerome Robbins Dance Division Dance Research Fellows

Kiri Avelar is researching under the title Descubriendo Latinx: The Hidden Text in American Modern Dance. Her work positions the invisibilized presence of Latinx in the early American modern dance canon as central to the retelling of our absented dance histories. Avelar's project identifies specific works by pioneers of early American modern dance that pulled on the cultural practices of the Latinx diaspora, and investigates through research and creative practice how those seeds and appropriations continue to be generative and foundational to modern dance. Specifically, she examines choreographic works that Doris Humphrey, Martha Graham, and Lester Horton created in their post-Denishawn careers, which continued a Denishawn legacy of pulling from the Indigenous, Mexican, and Spanish artistic traditions. In conversation with Humphrey, Graham, and Horton, Avelar also examines the specific choreographic works of pioneers José Limón and Katherine Dunham that investigated hybrid identity and the diversity within the Latinx diaspora. Avelar further explores how Limón and Dunham themselves created from a space of simultaneous cultural traditions that expertly infused the beginnings of modern dance in America and las Américas with myriad styles. As an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and scholar, Avelar focuses her work around collaborative community expression designed to further provoke thought around the artistic, physical, and cultural borderless experience of Latinx artists in America. Her work immerses audiences in unique spaces to explore themes of ruido, Mestiza Consciousness, intersectionality, migration, and Latinidades through film, embodied oral history performances, interactive screendance, and soundscapes.

Ninotchka Bennahum's project is Border Crossings: Léonide Massine and Encarnación López Júlvez, 'La Argentinita' Studies in Transnationalism, Self-Exile, and Art, 1935 - 1945. Bennahum's starting point is the Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939) and the rise of fascism in Western and Eastern Europe that threatened the lives of millions, in particular those deemed "valuable individuals," i.e., artists and intellectuals who escaped, oftentimes under cover of night. Some were forced to adopt temporary, émigré status. For the great majority, permanent exile and loss of homeland forced a reckoning with new national identities and, consequently new frameworks in which to experiment with exilic modernist experience. This was a life on the run, even if and when one returned "home," as home was now changed and one's prewar artistic ties no longer existed.

An inextricable bond existed between the noted Leftist and anti-fascist Spanish dance artist La Argentinita and Russian émigré modernist Léonide Massine. Their artistry, a decade-long that flourished between 1935 and 1945, refocuses and deepens our critical understanding of Spanish modernism as embedded in their choreographic process. How exile shaped these artistic processes and the effect it had in shaping the contemporary trajectory of their aesthetic alliance into global forms of contemporary ballet and Roma-Flamenco is at the heart of Bennahum's research.

American dance was shaped profoundly by the brutality of the 20th century. The inextricable link between immigration - border crossings - and exilic experience produced some of the most important moments in American contemporary performance. Bennahum's central premise - physical crossings - resonates with the most basic principles of contemporary ballet: spatiality, temporality, and resistant acts of performance. The conditions of modernity - movement, transfer, displacement, fracture - are etched into the wartime choreography of La Argentinita and Léonide Massine.

With Dreams of the Orient, arts educator and advocate Phil Chan explores how "the Orient" has been portrayed on the ballet stage from 1600 - 2020 within a larger geo-political context, while highlighting the problems today with presenting an outdated and exclusively Eurocentric view of Asia and Asians in classical ballet for a diverse American audience. In the absence of choreographers of Asian descent, the imaginations of ballet choreographers with limited knowledge produced dancing images of Asia filled with exquisite harem spectacles, romantic Hindu temple dancing girls, demure geishas, dramatic suicides, unbridled sexuality, savage barbarism, opium fantasies, shirtless men, and heathen mysticism that defied Christian logic in a dynamic that exists to this day. In practice, this scholarship informs larger racial equity work in the field: Chan's sophomore book on the subject with a survey of over 80 orientalist ballets; a dynamic timeline outlining orientalism in ballet hosted at as a free digital resource for educators, scholars, advocates, and dance lovers; and the launch of an Asian American choreographic incubator, aimed at providing commissions, resources, and visibility for emerging Asian American dance artists to tell their own stories.

Sergey Konaev's project documents the teaching activities of prominent immigrant female dancers as part of the broader women's struggle for self-determination following their retirement from the stage. Between 1930 and 1960, the female performers who faced the harshest post-retirement realities came from the Russian Imperial Theaters. They were pushed out of Russia following the 1917 Revolution. At the end of their dancing careers, many of these artists fell from high-paid international stardom into the lower depths of refugee existence - often without the needed language skills, financial aid, and access to social or legal services. For some of them, the hopes not only to find a safe new home but to become a founder of the national ballet were destroyed in the 1930s because of the outbreak of World War II. The situation was especially dire for progressive female artists - those who did not want to sacrifice themselves to patriarchal patronage. To survive, immigrant artists taught privately, opened dance schools and advertised private lessons in newspapers. The huge impact of this activity on the development of Western ballet is reflected in the biographies of the most significant choreographers and dancers of the second half of the 20th century, but the fact is that their imminent immigrant teachers, mostly women, are still invisible. The project aims for the publication of key archival documents with an introduction and commentary.

With specific focus on the period 1960 - 2020, Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Ferne Regis peruse the staged work of selected choreographers with the intent to chronicle the iconography and movement employed to explore themes of hierarchy, rebellion and/or hope as they are presented in relation to minority and immigrant groups. Sorzano and Regis map these representations in an effort to determine whether a common standard exists or whether nuanced variations persist throughout the period under examination. These findings will be used as a point of entry into Sorzano's interpretation of said themes as she continues to craft Threat, her newest work in development.

Finally, Pam Tanowitz investigates three distinct tracks in researching for her next dance, Song of Songs. The first track is a study of Jewish folk dances. Learning various dances from archival records and sharing them with her dancers, Tanowitz and her company absorb the steps and patterns into their bodies. She examines these dances outside of their political and geographic context, investigating the culture embedded within the dances. By reducing the steps to their base aesthetic, she reveals how they communicate with ballet and her own movement ideas, giving her the ability to reweave them into a contemporary context.

The second aspect is research into Jewish choreographers and how they relate to their Jewish identity in their work. Research here will include Examining the dances of Anna Sokolow - including her Song of Songs - David Gordon's My Folks, along with dances of Anna Halprin and Hanya Holm; reading books by Fred Berk, Dvora Lapson, Dancing Jewish by Rebecca Rossen, How to Do Things with Dance by Rebekah Kowal, the personal papers of Fred Berk, Jerome Robbins, and Hanya Holm. And the third and final tract for Tanowitz is introspective - processing all this research and considering what it all has to do with her. How, ultimately, will she express her Jewish identity?

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