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Two dozen smiling dancers, some with matching t-shirts, pose in a studio

An Unforgettable Dance Program in Seville, Spain

Sep 18, 2023 | Courses, Dance, Students

In June 2023, 10 students from SMTD’s Department of Dance traveled with Professor Amy Chavasse to Seville, Spain, for a two-week study-abroad program. Alongside a cohort of Spanish dance students, they studied at the Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía with Chavasse and with Catherine Coury (BFA ’10, dance) and Mario Bermúdez Gil, co-founders and co-artistic directors of the dance company Marcat Dance. “Creating this summer study abroad program with Catherine and Mario has been one of the most gratifying achievements of my time here at U-M,” Chavasse said. “I’ve been fortunate to teach and work internationally during my career, and have always found the experience revelatory and fulfilling. It’s an honor to share this with my students. I watch them with new eyes as they contend with and embrace a cascade of new ideas and encounters. It’s the best education.”

Below, Claire Schick (BFA ’24) shares her reflections on the experience.

Four students in black attire pose with a waterfront.

SMTD dance students Claire Schick, Irene Kim, Caitlyn Wade, and Ruby Clay

Thursday, June 8

This morning I am finally feeling well rested and have woken up just past 7 a.m. It has taken most of the week for my body to adjust not only to the time change, but to the drastic increase in activity. By this point I am beginning to feel more acquainted with my schedule and have fallen into the routine of quickly dressing and packing for the day by 7:30 a.m., before leaving for the bus at 8:00 a.m.

The hour-long commute to the Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía has become a pleasant opportunity to journal while watching the city come to life in the morning. Typically we travel around the city center as bikers speed past and students from the University of Seville join us on the bus. However, today is Corpus Christi – a national holiday in Spain – so the streets are nearly empty and the cafes that are usually bustling at this time are closed. This makes for a memorably quiet morning as we arrive at the dance studios and prepare for classes to begin at 9 a.m.

Today Mario leads our Gaga warmup, a style of movement research and improvisation focused on exploring sensations within the body. Gaga class is a fantastic way to prepare for dancing throughout the day, as it provides you with the opportunity to seek new ranges of movement. For this class, we also engage in floorwork exercises, which help immensely to iron out the soreness in my muscles. As we improvise, Mario prompts our movement, offering ideas to explore, such as elasticity, floating, and dancing at different levels of energy. By the end of class we are all drenched in sweat, yet energized for the day of dancing ahead.

After a brief snack break, we go into choreographic creation class, where Mario and Catherine work to combine repertoire from Marcat Dance for us to perform at a showcase on the final day of the program. I adore this process of creation and am constantly inspired by their use of formations in combination with various artistic themes within the repertoire. It is wonderful to experience how these elements work together to make a piece come to life. Further, I love the attention to detail and focus that is required as a performer to help convey a story within the movement. We rehearse the piece vigorously for two hours, forming rich connections as we exert our energy and share in the fulfillment of moving together. This program has really helped to bond our group – about half of us are native Spanish speakers and half are native English speakers – displaying the exceptional ability of dance to transcend language barriers.

Finally, we finish off the day in dance composition class with Professor Chavasse. During her class, we practice a range of individual, partner, and group improvisational techniques as well as choreographic skills. Today we’re experimenting further with partner improvisation, where one dancer improvises with their eyes closed, and their partner gently prompts their movement by adjusting the trajectory of their body. Today I’m working with Paula Garrido Gómez, a dancer from Cádiz who studies at the Professional Dance Conservatory of Seville. This exercise allows you to fall comfortably yet unpredictably into movement by locating new points of initiation as your partner guides you. Exploring this activity is so much fun and allows for some exciting moments of connection.

Just after 3:30 p.m., we thank Professor Chavasse for class and say goodbye to the Spanish students, heading out for some afternoon free time. Ruby Clay (BFA ’24) and I have taken to biking back from the dance studios to the residencia each day, frequently making a detour through the city center to stop for frozen yogurt. The city streets are once again filled with people, and the sun shines brightly off the cobblestone roads down the narrow alleyways. Every time I walk through Seville, I seem to find something new to admire.

In the evening all 10 of us from the SMTD dance department gather in our apartment to cook together and watch a movie. Adjusting to eating dinner between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m. has been surprisingly easier than I anticipated. Irene Kim (BFA ’24) prepares pasta with meatballs, while I roast vegetables and set out pre-made gazpacho – one of my favorite Spanish dishes thus far. We eat and enjoy each other’s company before heading to bed for some much-needed rest before another early morning.

A pedestrian walkway and bridges at night, with lights reflecting on a dark river

A nighttime view of Seville

Tuesday, June 13

Today, we are working on a new piece of Marcat repertoire, “Solo Roza.” This solo was originally created by Mario for Catherine, and it is a beautiful, introspective piece. The choreography in “Solo Roza” is rather different from other repertoire we have worked on thus far, including predominately slower and intensely personal movement that is engaging both to perform and to watch. I feel greatly challenged to let the music initiate my body, to focus on my breathing, and to consider the dynamic qualities of the choreography as I have learned this solo. Going into the second week of the program, we are all rather sore and still absorbing the information we learned from the previous week. Thankfully, “Solo Roza” gives us the opportunity to reconnect with our minds and bodies, as we piece through the material with Catherine and learn about the uniquely intimate connection she has formed with this movement.

Wednesday, June 14

This afternoon, Ruby and I bike back from the studios to the residencia – a beautiful ride despite the heat. The trip over the Puente de La Barqueta bridge and tree-shaded bike path around the city center will always be fondly etched into our memories. We time the journey on my watch to see if we can beat our speed from the previous day. Back at the residencia, a cool shower has never felt so good, and we quickly dress to meet up with the other rising seniors in the program, Caitlyn Wade (BFA ’24) and Irene. We have an evening full of sightseeing planned, and our first stop is the Real Alcázar. This stunning palace with vast gardens and miraculously detailed architecture is one of my favorite places we have visited thus far in Seville. We wander around for hours, fantasizing about spending our lives as artists in this city with such an abundance of inspiration. On our way back, we pass by the cathedral and listen to a guitarist play on the street. Feeling compelled by the music, we all spontaneously begin to dance, laughing and smiling at the cheesy yet candidly joyous scene, which is sure to be one of my fondest memories from the trip. Afterwards we treat ourselves to dinner with a view of the city, before heading to a flamenco performance. The show is transfixing, and the emotional performance of the lead female dancer in her gorgeous black and red spotted dress is particularly compelling. The dancers work with the musicians and singers harmoniously to convey a story of loss, love, and triumph – understood even with our insufficient Spanish comprehension. On our walk back to the residencia, we rave about the show and our admiration for the artists before settling into bed after another rewarding day of activities.

Two dozen smiling dancers, some with matching t-shirts, pose in a studio

Participants in the summer dance program in Seville

Friday, June 16

We begin our preparation for the showcase with Gaga class led by Catherine. The small black box theatre is intensely lit, so we are all drenched in sweat yet smiling enthusiastically as we practice tactics of collapsing, releasing, and floating for the final time together. After a sentimental warmup, we begin to run through the dance we had prepared for the showcase. Despite reassurances from the directors that the performance will be low-stakes, when the camera crew arrives, the nervous anticipation on stage quickly begins to rise. Cat, Mario, and Amy give a warm introduction to the audience members as well as an explanation of the significance of our group’s initiative. As it so often does, the performance itself flies by, and before I know it we are all clapping for the show’s conclusion and thus the end of the program. We spend some time around the theatre afterwards, hugging, exchanging our gratitude, and fondly recollecting the two weeks of shared memories and progress. Many of us are shedding tears as we say goodbye to the Spanish students, with whom we have formed unforgettable connections.

During the farewell dinner that evening, we relish each other’s company, wandering around the streets of the city center until midnight to put off our final departure. It is rather exceptional how the mutual adoration of movement can so closely bond people together. As I write this, I am still bursting with gratitude for the people who made this program possible, and I am confident this sentiment is shared amongst my peers. I optimistically look forward to training under Catherine and Mario in the future, and I hope this program will continue to inspire future generations of students in the dance department!

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