The School of Dance at the University of South Florida has played host to an impressive repertoire of guest choreographers over the last year, introducing students to Donna Mejia’s tribal fusion and Alonzo King’s though structures.
However, funds for guest choreographer residencies at USF are not constantly available. The school flip-flops between two years with available funding for guest artists and two years without. Currently, there is a lack of funding for these essential visits from guest dancers/choreographers.
In the off years, the USF dance faculty has steadfastly sought ways to bring guest artists to the school without external financial assistance in the face of budget constraints. Andee Scott — an assistant professor of ballet, modern dance and choreography at USF — has consistently been a purveyor of opportunities for both students and working dancers.
Scott created the USF Emerging Choreographer’s Opportunity (EChO) as a means of providing students with the chance to collaborate with working dancers in the field. In turn, EChO gives burgeoning choreographers the chance to share their work during a residency at USF.
According to Scott, EChO’s purpose is far-reaching in the dance world, particularly at the collegiate level.
“It was an idea to say, alright let’s have a program that will pay for itself, that will get somebody that has interesting work, and will give an important experience to both the students and the choreographer,” Scott said. “We also have to take care of the field, not just the students.”
From over 40 video applicants submitted from an open call for the 2015 EChO Residency, the faculty selected Christian Denice’s Raum. Denice has danced for Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, Greensboro Ballet, Montgomery Ballet, Odyssey Dance Theater in Salt Lake City and River North Dance Chicago.
Denice’s residency took place in early October, and consisted of two weeks of artist talks, master classes, dance rehearsals and auditions. From those auditions, USF dancers were chosen to perform Denice’s Raum as a portion of DanceUSF Fall Dance Concert, debuting Nov. 6.
Although Raum is usually performed with a cast of nine, Denice chose 17 dancers, as to give more students an opportunity to participate in the experience. Scott said that because Denice is somewhere between the students and much of the faculty in age, the students were able to identify with him and to see the definitive possibilities in being a working dancer.
“It’s so easy for us to get insular in the university setting,” Scott said. “There’s so much power in being able to see yourself as somebody else, and to have an idea of what is possible.”
Where EChO creates an influential, transformative experience for students, it also benefits the guest choreographer (for very little money) by giving them a university residency and commission to put on their resume. According to Scott, EChO reflects the current state of the dance world.
“This is something that’s aimed towards emerging or emergent choreographers, but also someone like Christian Denice, who is emerging, but also professional,” Scott said. “It reflects a state of the art, where everybody is look for opportunities in any way.”
As EChO is in its infancy, Scott said that she has an abundance of ideas for its evolution in the coming years. As the organization becomes more financially stable and sustainable, Scott would like to tap into trends in the field – creating site-specific pieces, technology pieces or by enabling the visiting choreographers to have a longer residency at USF.
“There’s something so vital about being in a creative process with an artist rather than learning work that’s already made,” Scott said. “It would be really great to invite someone to come create new work for our students. The more opportunities the better.”
In addition to Denice’s work, the DanceUSF Fall Dance Concert will feature choreography by USF faculty members Andrew Carroll, Michael Foley, John Parks and Jeanne Travers, as well as choreographer Susan Douglas Roberts (Texas Christian University). The mixed-repertory concert will feature over 60 USF dancers, with pieces varying in historical context, style, technology and genre.
“The level of work we can make gets better and better. It all feeds on itself,” Scott said. “We are lucky we have a fully produced show with support, because these dancers are amazing.”
The DanceUSF Fall Dance Concert runs Nov. 6-7 and 13-15 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 8 & 15 at 3 p.m., Theatre 1 USF Tampa Campus, 3839 W. Holly Dr. Tickets are $10 students/senior/active military and $15 general admission. arts.usf.edu, 813-974-2323.