NYC Students Are So Darn Lucky

posted by Wendy Perron on Sunday, May 04, 2014
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CanvasTwyla Tharp, Eiko and Larry Keigwin are some of the guest artists that students are rubbing shoulders with these days. Last month I had occasion to see all three in action. It could make a grown girl jealous of the students at Barnard College, the New School and Dancewave who get to work with these great American artists at such a young age. I know that schools across the country have wonderful guest artists too, so this is just a slice of that form of education—which can be an apprenticeship, in the old sense of the word.

Twyla Tharp led a brilliant lec-dem for the public at Barnard on April 26. It gave everybody a shot of choreographic and verbal adrenaline. You gotta be on your toes when you’re anywhere near Tharp. She put 16 students through their paces in a piece she made with them called Treefrog in Stonehenge. One of the movement motifs was “delivering pizza,” which she suggested variations of until the pizza weighed 80 pounds.

Pithy, tweetable sound bites tumbled from her lips, for example, “Whatever work you do is simply a bridge between the past and the future.” Another one, in answer to a question from the audience asking if she starts with music first or movement first, was when she said unequivocally: “Movement first. If I wanted to start with music, I’d be a composer—and that’s much less difficult than being a choreographer.”

Katie Glasner, the former Tharp dancer and current co-chair of Barnard’s dance department who organized the afternoon, announced that Tharp (a Barnard alum 1963) will be Distinguished Guest Artist this year. What an incredible experience for the students! Rika Okamoto, the gorgeous female dancer who assists Tharp, told me that Twyla has already been very hands-on with the students. OK, Twyla might not have the gentlest of “hands” in a hands-on situation (she impulsively threw her mic to one of the Barnard students), but witnessing her process is invaluable for any budding dance artist—or any budding artist.

Eiko with studentFor a completely different, more meditative mood, I sauntered by the windows on 13th Street and Fifth Avenue, where the dance program of the New School’s Eugene Lang College presented Private Body, Public Space. Several students, performing in ultra slow Eiko-and-Koma fashion on ledges near the windows, were visible from both outside and inside. (In this Vimeo you will see someone very familiar taking iPhone shots for this posting.) Eiko, as a wandering flower lady, came over to first-year student Camille Johnson, whacked the flowers against the window overhead, making petals shed all over Johnson. Then Eiko lowered herself with her characteristically super-slow pace toward Johnson, who waited forever for her touch and then ate the flowers. Obviously Eiko has trained the Eugene Lang students to move ever so slowly and have ever so much patience and do ever such bold, impulsive things.

 

Lastly, I visited a Brooklyn gym where 12 Dancewave teenagers were rehearsing with Larry Keigwin and his assistant Brandon Cournay. Dancewave is an organization that brings in name choreographers to work with kids of all ages. The students are not all on a pre-professional track but they had energy, momentum, and enthusiasm. Their faces lit up as they skipped and ran and jounced through Keigwin’s Canvas, a highly patterned piece threaded through with a hint of romance. Larry was so energized by the students that he choreographed a tiny new section on the spot.

 

Canvas will be performed at Dancewave’s gala this Thursday, May 8, from 6:00 to 8:30. If you click here for info, you will see that one of the people the gala is honoring is….me.

 

 

Photos from top: Dancewave students in Larry Keigwin's Canvas, by Melissa Sobel; Eiko at the New School, by Curtis Bryant, courtesy Eiko.