BWW Review: Celebrating the Legacies of BESSIE SCHONBERG and LOUISE ROBERTS
Dance enthusiasts from all walks of life gathered for an intimate showing of the fascinating Eye on Dance episode taped in 1986, entitled "Nurturing A New Generation of Dancers, featuring two beloved dance figures and mentors- Bessie Schonberg and Louise Roberts, presented at Gibney Dance. Curated by Celia Ipiotis (Creator/Co-Producer/Host of Eye on Dance) and Jeff Bush (Co-Producer of Eye on Dance), put together this lovely event as part of the Eye on Dance Public Screenings and Conversation Series.
Eye on Dance was a television program that was first launched in 1981 to uncover the historical, cultural and educational underpinnings of dance with leading professionals, new-edge artists, and forgotten heroes. The goal was to really investigate dance and bring respect to an art form that has often been so far removed from the general public. Although this television program is no longer aired, Ipiotis currently directs the nonprofit organization, Arts Resources in Collaboration (ARC), that is responsible for the fundraising drive to safeguard the Eye on Dance Humanities Archive.
What a treat to hear the words of wisdom from both Schonberg and Roberts! Both were concerned with and very active in helping emerging artists have access to the resources needed to create bold and beautiful choreography and be recognized for it. Bessie Schonberg is most notably known for her contributions as an educator at Sarah Lawrence College and Julliard, specifically in choreography and composition. Also, the New York Dance and Performance Award has been fondly named the "Bessies" to salute outstanding and groundbreaking creative work by independent dance artists in New York City for the past 30 years. Louise Roberts was distinguished for her contributions as a dance producer and former Director of the Clark Center for the Performing Arts, a haven for affordable dance classes and low-cost concerts, giving budding choreographers such as Bill T. Jones, Kei Takei, and Alvin Ailey the opportunity to take chances with their work. Although the Clark Center closed in 1988, the history and memories of this historical place live on.
Following the screening was a panel discussion exploring the impact of both Schonberg's and Roberts' dedication in encouraging a new generation of dancers and choreographers. Panelists included Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of Urban Bush Women - who was mentored by Roberts and studied at the Clark Center; Jessica Lang, a choreographer and Artistic Director of Jessica Lang Dance- was a former student of Schonberg at Julliard- who has gone on to create over 90 works on companies worldwide; and Jill Williams, the current lead of preserving the history and legacy of the Clark Center for the Performing Arts.
All spoke about the mentoring relationship they had with Schonberg and Roberts and how those relationships helped to shape their careers today. Lang spoke about how Schonberg encouraged her to take risks in her choreography, particularly in modern dance because, unlike ballet, there are many ways to perform the movements. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar spoke about how impactful Roberts' influence was in her life, leading her to found the Summer Leadership Institute, a place which strives to strengthen artists' involvement in cultural organizing and civic engagement. She wanted to provide the same creative opportunities for marginalized voices (particularly women of color) for the next generation so that they could find their choreographic voices. Williams, being a former student and faculty member at the Clark Center, recognized its impact on the dance world and has been tirelessly working to preserve the history and legacy of the Clark Center for the Performing Arts.
Eye on Dance was recently designated as one of the nation's "Irreplaceable Dance Treasures" and that it is. What a valuable jewel to the dance community featuring live footage of some of the most iconic dance figures of all time! For more information about Eye on Dance, please visit their website at: http://www.eyeondance.org/
Photo Credit: Caryn Cooper