The International Language of Dance

In June, Michael Parmelee (MFA ’16) and Maeve McEwen (BFA ’16) experienced arguably the most exciting moment of their young dance careers when they took the stage at The Place, London’s premier center for contemporary dance.

The students performed a duet from Brisk Singing by renowned British choreographer Richard Alston, part of a celebratory 20thanniversary concert by the Richard Alston Dance Company (RADC). They had been invited by Alston to perform the work after he saw a restaging of it at the Department of Dance’s annual Power Center concerts last February.

Reviews of the RADC concerts appeared in 15 British media outlets, including, which described Parmelee’s and McEwen’s performance as a “glowing and sensual account of the concluding duet.”

“How thrilling for Michael and Maeve to have this international recognition,” said Jessica Fogel, chair of the Department of Dance. “It was so exciting that they were able to take the work full circle, back to its home turf, in such auspicious company and with so much critical attention brought to it. This was amazing publicity, and an affirmation of the quality of our Department of Dance.”

The chance to perform with one of world’s great contemporary dance companies is special, but there are many opportunities for faculty and students alike to travel internationally for study and performance. Here’s a look at other destinations where students and faculty explored the international language of dance in the summer of 2015.


An Adventure in Cannes

While Americans at home were settling in for a typical Memorial Day weekend of beachgoing and barbecuing, Professor Peter Sparling found himself in the middle of the mob scene of aspiring filmmakers, producers, and actors from around the world that is the Cannes Film Festival. Sparling’s screendance work, The Snowy Owl, had been chosen for the Court Métrage (The Short Film Corner) at the 2015 Festival, so the recently named Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished Professor of Dance traveled to the south of France to participate in the world’s most famous celebration of cinema art.

“For the past few years, I had been urged by my former student, Ericka Frederick (BFA ’92), to submit my screendance work to the Court Métrage,” said Sparling. “I was somewhat surprised she recommended The Snowy Owl, a rather odd experimental work, but with a text that might align it with the ‘narrative’ category. When Cannes selected it for the festival, I was thrilled!”

Sparling believes that screendance is starting to slowly infiltrate both mainstream and experimental film festivals. Buyers and distributors from Turkey, England, Italy, and Brazil, who were interested in art films or experimental dance videos, all encouraged Sparling to submit his work.

“Cannes forced me out of my comfort zone,” said Sparling. “I’m able to say I was there, that one of my works was screened, and I can proudly display the official Cannes logo on The Snowy Owl credits for all future screenings.”


Collaboration on the Adriatic Sea

Thanks to an introduction provided by Associate Professor Amy Chavasse, MFA candidate Charles Gushue and U-M alumna Patty Solorzano (MFA ’15) spent part of last summer in Giovinazzo, on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy, where they worked in the space of the ResExtensa dance company.

Gushue spent the first days of his stay on his own, recording himself dancing, searching for inspiration, and wandering the streets of the seaside city listening to and recording the aural landscape. After a brief trip to other Italian cities, he returned to Giovinazzo, along with Chavasse, Solorzano, and his creative partner and wife Rebecca Sproul Gushue.

“One of the very first things we did, once were all in Giovinazzo, was join members of ResExtensa in an improvised dance performance in the courtyard of the Istituto Vittorio Emanuele II as part of La Notte Bianca della Poesia, a night of poetry, performance, and art,” said Gushue.

Gushue and Solorzano also worked with local dancers of varying ages and skill levels, leading them through technique classes as well as improvisations informed by their own individual creative research. The experience resonated on a personal level for Solorzano.

“To dance with people from other countries is to establish a connection across borders,” she said. “For me-a dancer originally from Mexico, studying in the U.S., and currently living in Israel-this is the most valuable and important aspect of having the opportunity to dance and teach abroad. It reminds me that dance is a powerful way to communicate.”


North and South of America’s Borders

Assistant Professor Clare Croft traveled both north and south of the border this summer as part of her work as a researcher and dramaturge. In Guadalajara, Mexico, she worked with longtime collaborator and choreographer Andee Scott and a group of Guadalajara-based video and dance artists on a new collaborative piece that will premiere in Tampa (FL) in January.

“In this work, we imagined a number of scenarios we would ask the three dancers to inhabit,” said Croft. “I took notes in rehearsal, as the improvisations unfolded, often talking with the choreographer, during and after, about what I saw emerging.”

Later in the summer, Croft traveled to Canada where she spoke at the roundtable discussion “Queer Futures: The Then and There of LGBTQ Theatre Scholarship” in Montréal at The Association for Theatre in Higher Education. Her project Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance was the primary focus of the roundtable, especially in terms of how dance specifically contributes to larger conversations on queer performance.

“I’ve traveled a great deal internationally, but very little in the Americas,” said Croft. “I think being in both Guadalajara and Montréal this summer, with each location’s history of colonization, made me curious about how I draw on contemporary performance in the Americas, in my classroom, and in my scholarship.”


Dance Advocacy in Athens

SMTD was well represented at the joint conference of the Society for Dance History Scholars and the Congress on Research in Dance (SDHS/CORD) in June, which took place in Athens, Greece. Dance faculty Jessica Fogel, Beth Genné, Robin Wilson, Clare Croft, and graduate students Charles Gushue and Michael Parmelee led panels and presented invited papers and lecture demonstrations at the conference, the theme of which was “Cut & Paste: Dance Advocacy in the Age of Austerity.”

“The conference in Athens made me incredibly optimistic about the future of dance scholarship,” said Gushue. “I met so many independent scholars and graduate students who are doing exciting work, not only with current concerns in the field of dance, but in working to interrogate the relationship between scholarship and artistic practice.”

“I love being at conferences with our students; watching them expand their awareness of just how big the dance world is,” said Croft. “I was particularly moved to be there with Michael and Charles, as they taught (along with collaborator Alexander Thompson) a workshop in which they invited people into a real sense of creative thinking through movement. They inspired me to remember that moving is a way of thinking.”


By Brandon Monzon, communications generalist and assistant editor of Michigan Muse.