Reuniting with Old Friends to Promote Dance Education

Janusphere Artistic Director Darion Smith is in Columbus, Ohio, teaching in Columbus Dance Theatre's Summer Intensive program. Darion says “I am enthusiastic to work with the new leadership of CDT.”

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The positive new direction at CDT includes working with new leadership, both of whom have connections to Janusphere Dance Company. The new Columbus Dance Theatre Artistic Director Seth Wilson is a former JDC dancer and the new Executive Director is Jaime Kotrba, a JDC co-founder and former JDC dancer.

Darion, Seth and Jaime met at Dance Theatre of Harlem's DTH Ensemble in 2002 and have shared a commitment to creating dance works and promoting dance education for the next generation of students and performers.

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As an instructor at this year’s Summer Intensive, Darion is teaching a selection of technique and choreography , pas de deux, modern, variations, ballet technique, and repertory, each day. Over the course of their time in the program, students will grow in skill and creativity, and explore new concepts.

Look for more updates from Columbus, OH, here and on Facebook and Instagram!

3 Questions with Darion Smith: Performance Recap

We sat down with Darion Smith to chat about the premiere of his latest choreography at HCC. The choreographer and Janusphere Artistic Director shares what the experience was like not only for him, but for the dancers - including what it was like for students to move from the studio to the stage.

Photo by Hank Wang/Costumes by Jessica Welch

Photo by Hank Wang/Costumes by Jessica Welch

What was the most surprising part of the performance experience?

I wouldn't say there were any real surprises in the performance experience for me personally. That's probably because I was so in tune to what was going on.

I did notice the dancers were dynamic and nuanced during the performances. And although I don't know if they were surprised during the performances, they didn't divulge that information to me. When we talked about small issues that came up between each performance we were able to find quality solutions.

Moving the work from the studio to the stage made traveling in and out of the wings with large props more of a task because it added distance as well as having to navigate lighting instruments, legs, and wings which also became a challenge. So we had to run through that section whenever there was extra time on stage. 

What kind of feedback did the dancers give about the overall process, and the performance itself? 

I haven't received feedback from the dancers. I observed them problem solving frequently throughout the entire process, performances included. Of course, each dance piece engages the dancers in a different way.

Photo by Hank Wang/Costumes by Jessica Welch

Photo by Hank Wang/Costumes by Jessica Welch

In Leaving Now for Later, I also observed the dancers were highly engaged with one another as they rely on each other during the work for cueing, sometimes it's verbal cueing and sometimes it's visual. 

Does it feel like your initial vision was carried out, or were changes made that affected the scope of the experience and the piece itself (for you, as a choreographer and a dance educator)?

I originally created the work as a sketch in four sections and along the way I edited one of them out. This made the work more compact and the three sections that remained were more developed as a result.

Speaking as a choreographer, I feel that I was able to get close to what I had imagined and I also left room for things that presented a question mark to develop organically with the rest of the work. When the work strayed from what I had expected I didn't mind because it gave me a fresh look into a place I probably wouldn't have ventured.

Photo by Hank Wang/Costumes by Jessica Welch

Photo by Hank Wang/Costumes by Jessica Welch

Speaking as a dance educator, it's always a challenge to facilitate learning in choreography because there's room for interpretation - even more so these days - depending on the task. There are some things I'll show and teach how to do, and there are things that the dancers learn by being inside of the work. It's a delicate balance between too much information and not enough.

On the one hand, I want them to know what to do, but on the other hand, I don't always want them to think too far ahead and rest on the idea of knowing the work so well that they can either embellish in ways that are unnecessary or not live on the edge -so to speak- inside of the work. There is such a thing a stale or sterile performance. It's like the dancers know it so well that it becomes routine. I like clean and tidy performances but I prefer to see dancers/performers take risks at every turn. It makes the choreography come to life. I think that's a valuable artistic aspect for students to grasp in practice.

More than a Performance, Preparing Dancers for Life On and Off the Stage

We sat down to talk with our Artistic Director Darion Smith, whose newest work for student dancers, Leaving Now for Later, is coming to the stage April 5, 2019. Darion shares his thoughts on dance education and choreography in the higher education setting.

Life Lessons for Students Learning Choreography

For dancers, learning choreography by also participating in its creation provides a rich opportunity to build and practice skills that are necessary for success in life on and off the stage.

Within the process of choreography and performance invaluable moments arise where thought processes are being constantly challenged and you are being called upon to make decisions.

From rehearsal video for Smith’s  Leaving Now for Later

From rehearsal video for Smith’s Leaving Now for Later

Building Problem Solving Skills through Movement

Learning choreography is, basically, a problem solving obstacle course. Each time you work through new choreography, you create new tools, or fortify the tools you already possess. This is not just for the dancer, it is also the case for the choreographer.

The choreographer presents a problem and, together, the choreographer and dancer(s) work collaboratively to create solutions. There are parallel creative processes in other fields, including the sciences, math, music, and engineering. 

Artistic Development

For Smith, he feels he becomes more of an artist than an educator when immersed in a creative endeavor like this one. In the moment, he is not expressly trying to “educate.” Rather, he is aiming to solve a problem. In the development of a new work like this one, that problem, and its path to resolution, can be intense.

From rehearsal video for Smith’s  Leaving Now for Later

From rehearsal video for Smith’s Leaving Now for Later

However as an educator, and because of his experiences, he is able to see things throughout the process that the young dancers cannot. As a result. Smith is teaching them to learn by taking risks, making mistakes, and anticipating problems and solutions in a way that better prepares them for the role at hand, and the roles to come.

In this sense, he is teaching students in a powerful and practical way. Rather than educating them for the sake of educating them in a general sense, he is working with them to build the practical skills that make them stronger, more confident problem solvers and creative thinkers, in addition to stronger and more confident dancers.

Attend the Premiere

All of this hard work in the studio will culminate in a premiere performance April 5th - April 7th at the Smith Theatre, located in the Horowitz Center, on the Howard Community College campus, in Columbia, Maryland.

Update: Dance Education and New Work from Darion Smith

Last week on the blog we talked about a new work from Darion Smith that explores movement and meaning with an all female cast of dancers.

behind the scenes darion smith dance

Smith and the dancers are in rehearsals now, and we’re going behind the scenes to take a look at how the piece is evolving. The rehearsal process is short and intense. This speaks to some of the creativity and ingenuity that is an intrinsic part of working in dance education. Smith says, “we had such a short rehearsal time which forced me to focus on revising the choreography and dancer qualities.”

new dance work janusphere

Throughout the process, in addition to bringing choreographic elements to life, dancers are learning the mechanics of putting together a piece for the stage, and how to work together to communicate the aim and the story of the piece.

darion smith howard community college dance

We’ll be bringing you more, soon, as things continue to develop. Smith’s latest dance work will premiere April 5, 2019, at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Let it Go Behind the Scenes with Darion Smith and Sarah Gomez

As promised, we have more behind the scenes updates from the rehearsals for Darion Smith’s Let it Go.

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In the new piece, Sarah Gomez joins choreographer Darion Smith in the work, created for two dancers.

Let it Go premieres Friday, November 16, at the Horowitz Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College.

Show Times and Ticket Information

The HCC Dance Showcase, which includes dance works created by both faculty and students, will run two performances: Friday, November 16th (3:00 p.m.); and Saturday, November 17th (7:00 p.m.). Showcase performances will be held in the Howard Community College Smith Theatre, housed in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center.

The address is 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD, 21044. 


The Things You Learn in Dance Lofts

Darion Smith, choreographer and artistic director of Janusphere Dance Company, looks back on the nascent stages of A Place of Origin, his latest work exploring identity through dance.

In 2015, I began conducting a character/movement study based on identity: my own identity, the identity of movement gestures, and fantasy storytelling inspired by researching the origins of an identity. The 2015 identity project led to other similar explorations where the idea of identity was expanded upon, with larger groups of dancers and more complex themes and structure. 

Photo by Pam Cressall

Photo by Pam Cressall

In the new dance work that began to grow, A Place of Origin, I recognized the possibility to combine elements of previous work with emerging methods of creation. The result was a work that encounters archetypes and human behavior and a draft that invites deeper development and distillation.

The purpose of the Dance Lofts at the University of Oregon, where A Place of Origin was made, is to bring choreographers deeper into their processes without the pressure of an end goal and productivity standards and expectations,. Even though I tend to work under a set of standards and expectations, this experience provided me with the space to begin new conversations through my work and a deeper exploration of where it has taken me and where it is going.  

Photo by Pam Cressall

Photo by Pam Cressall

The project also provided a platform to collaborate with composer Daniel Daly. In the early stages of the process I had originally imagined the work with a female soprano.In the end, Daniel developed the work for clarinet, oboe, and percussion, which was performed live. Daniel's music composition shares the same title as the choreography.   

I explored additional dimensions, working with sets, props, and lighting design. Having so many elements to contend with sometimes made the work get lost in figuring out how to use those elements effectively.

Photo by Pam Cressall

Photo by Pam Cressall

This challenge helped to push the choreography forward and prompted me to make decisions about what to change, or what to let go of. Another constraint was working for 1 hour/week for 10 weeks in the studio with the dancers, set, and props.

Every challenge and opportunity contributed to the way the work took shape, the ideas I was able to relay through the work, and the lessons I was learned from the process.

Trailer: Big Red Button

In his master's thesis work for the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, Janusphere Dance Company artistic director Darion Smith choreographed a piece called Big Red Button.

Big Red Button is  a sociopolitical dance theater work. The new work for dance grows out of Smith's exploration of choreography and an opening to new ideas about expression and the relationship between audience and performer, and, by extension, the relationship between audience and choreographer.

Big Red Button comes at a time when the current sociopolitical climate creates a range of questions and emotions that art like Smith's is poised to encounter in meaningful ways.

Stay with us as we continue to discuss this new work and others that choreographer Darion Smith premiered this year.

Dispatches from PLU Residency

In addition to creating new work with students at his recent PLU residency, Janusphere Dance Company Artistic Director Darion Smith, says he found it "rewarding to teach beginner/intermediate level ballet and contemporary technique for the week."

PLU dance residency guest choreographer Darion Smith.jpg

Smith shares that the PLU dance students were attentively engaged during his classes and during rehearsals. Throughout the week, Smith says, "I witnessed improvement in the way PLU students performed in both the studio during classes and in rehearsal." 

Guest choreographer in residence Darion Smith with PLU dance students.jpg

Towards the end of the residency, rehearsals for the new work moved to the stage. In 2015 the PLU theater was brought up to date to include new state-of-the-art equipment. The new theater, Smith says, "makes the premiere of Pivotal Play at PLU, April 20 - 21, even more exciting."

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Stay tuned for more details and ticket information for the upcoming April 20 - 21 performances!

 

Two Premieres, One Night, in Oregon

Janusphere Dance Company is excited to share news of an upcoming evening at University of Oregon's Dougherty Dance Theatre, March 16, featuring Darion Smith.  Press release about the event follows, including ticket purchasing information.

On March 16, at 8:00pm the UO Winter Dance Loft will host an evening of compelling new choreography from Janusphere Dance Company director and MFA candidate, Darion Smith. The performance will premiere two dance works by Smith, The Big Red Button and Game Change

In The Big Red Button, Smith uses personal experiences from the group to build a collage of sociopolitical dance sketches, and in Game Change, Smith and dancers create three distinct worlds and explore the voice. Game Change has been selected to represent the University of Oregon at the upcoming 2018 American College Dance Association regional conference in Boulder, CO. 

At 7:30pm in Gerlinger Annex 352, Smith will give a 20 minute presentation on his creative process titled, a dancing mind. In order to explain the way he works out choreography, Smith has constructed a physical representation of his process. Smith’s research involved an analysis of his process during the creation of a dance piece while simultaneously integrating novel methods from master choreographers.   

A recent Smith project, "Rosetta"; Photo by Pam Cressall

A recent Smith project, "Rosetta"; Photo by Pam Cressall

The performance will be presented at the Dougherty Dance Theatre. DDT is located on the 3rd floor of UO’s Gerlinger Annex.

Purchase Tickets: $8 General Admission, $5 Students and Seniors 

Darion Smith grew up in Santa Barbara, California where he began his dance training with Kay Fulton. Smith studied at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany and at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow, Russia. Smith has performed with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Buglisi Dance Theatre, New York Theatre Ballet. Smith is the artistic director and cofounder of Janusphere Dance Company. Smith’s Choreography has been presented in prominent venues and festivals throughout the U.S. and internationally in Madrid, Spain and Mexico City, Mexico. Smith is in his final year at UO’s graduate dance program where he is also a graduate teaching fellow.  

In Upcoming Residency, Darion Smith Aims to Teach Dancers to Experience Own Voices

We spoke with Darion Smith about his upcoming artist residency at Pacific Lutheran University.

Smith says that the spring residency at the campus in Tacoma, Washington, will enable him to teach and to create new work with dancers from PLU. As Smith puts it, "[m]y aim is to make it a powerful experience for the students at PLU by integrating their creative abilities into my studio classes and during rehearsals for the new work I am creating."

Many of these creative opportunities will come through improvisation and compositional tasks.  To that end, Smith plans to offer PLU student dancers "new ways to experience dance and develop their own voices."

It is the quest to find an artist's voice and to use dance as a mode of storytelling that propels Smith's choreography.  "One of the main reasons why I fell in love with dance is its ability to tell a story," says Smith, who believes that as a choreographer and a dancer he is "a story teller too."  This is why he looks forward to guiding the students in class and rehearsals, by helping them to discover more about themselves as creative individuals.     

Stay tuned to  the Janusphere Dance Company Blog for more on the work Smith plans to develop with Pacific Lutheran University students this spring, and where and when it will debut.

New Year, New Work, New Creations

A New Year's message from our artistic director, Janusphere Dance Company co-founder Darion Smith:

2017 was one of the busiest years of my life. It was filled with classes, teaching, performing, and choreographing. I was constantly learning, creating something, and trying out new ideas and methods. Sometimes this creative process happened out of necessity; always, it happened out of curiosity.

It’s been fun not to get stuck in one place for too long (creatively speaking). At the same time, I believe I have found some rich material that I would like to build upon going forward into the new year. I’m expecting to graduate with an MFA in dance in June 2018. 

Darion Smith on stage in Cavity. Photo by Emma Frank

Darion Smith on stage in Cavity. Photo by Emma Frank

I have tons of work to accomplish between now and graduation, including a terminal project or thesis. I am researching the creative process within choreography. In order to do this I am studying and adapting methods of well known choreographers to my own choreographic project’s process. Hopefully, it will reveal new insights and novel choreographic devices.  At the very least, I aim for it to inspire future creations.

The project will conclude in two ways, with the physical creation and performance of an original choreography, and with a thesis document that explains what went on over the course of the project, critically analyzing the creative process involved in it.

There are many questions that are guiding my investigation into the creative process of choreography that will be revealed in the coming months. I am grateful for the opportunities that continue to present themselves in learning, teaching, performing, and creating. This dance is a labor of love and I cannot wait to incorporate more of what I have gained from graduate school into my work with Janusphere - and with you. 

Can I Make Art that is Felt as Much as it is Seen?

I was thinking about the two opportunities that are taking my work out of the University of Oregon and Eugene in 2018, a guest artist and choreographic residency at PLU (Tacoma, WA) and the selection of my choreography for presentation at ACDA (Boulder, CO). In both cases my work will be seen by new audiences and will be performed at new venues.  This will provide opportunities for me to work with young dancers, to gain experience, and to foster creative output and growth.

In addition to these performance and creative opportunities, I am working on a new collaboration with University of Oregon professor and artist Carla Bengston and Neal Moignard, artist and graduate teaching fellow. Collaborating on this project gives me a view into a new way to consider and use dance as a communication as we explore the many dimensions of dance and find meaningful ways to create new work.

In dance making and in art, I am noticing that conventional approaches are good in small doses but too much keeps you stuck in one place.  To be honest, I am sort of scared of changing perspectives... that's actually what makes it fun. It is meaningful (despite how scary it can feel) to use these skills and knowledge to go where I haven't been by following my intuition and then to use those same devices again to make intentional choices. 

This creative approach keeps me (and my collaborators, and my artistic inspirations) from being crushed by externally driven expectations that are somehow less and less appealing to me.

I don't want to make bizarrely different art unless it's effective and meaningful in making me experience the world in new light.

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I can't know that until I try. That being said, I am also trying to hone in on my own aesthetic.  I don't want to become completely transient in my own world of ideas. I truly am looking for a dance rush that's unique to me, something I can build upon.  The challenge is making art that is felt as much as it's seen. When I saw Bebe Miller for the first time, I was engaged in several ways at once like a sensory overload... in a good way.  This is the kind of reaction I want to create for my audiences. 

Seeing Bebe Miller, I realized that I was profoundly lucky to have been sitting in the audience and that the right person was performing in front of me at the right time in my life. I  experienced that performance, and the impact of art, in a powerful way.

Simply put, it's like eating that smelly piece of piece of stinky cheese that you thought was truly nasty before, but now you're mature enough to appreciate it and now, suddenly, you can't get enough. There are loads of things we will appreciate over time if we're willing to take a chance, to apply some effort, and to be open.

At the same time, there are things that I guess I will never like or that I will always prefer. This is what is so hard for me as an artist: the act of being decisive and making dance a stimulating, powerful experience. 

It feels awkward to look at a lot of my old work, especially the crappy stuff, and think it's probably the same for many artists.  But after spending the time to play and explore, and to be open, my work has become much more nuanced and I feel like I can get to new places by creating a dialogue with myself through my work.

Looking back, I realize I was thinking very much about how I should impress my surroundings instead of myself. I didn't really control my own will because I was ensnared in the opinions of others, even if I and they didn't know it. I guess what I'm trying to say is that for me, right now, I am at peace with a more self-focused perspective in my dance making.

This doesn't mean that I am ignoring the fact that an audience will look at my choreography and have an experience.  It means that I don't mind taking myself and the audience somewhere we might not have expected to go.

Hopefully it's worth it.

Involuntary Movements

By Darion Smith

My new choreography, Involuntary Movements was inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between The World And Me, my own experiences as an African American (biracial), and African American History. 

I was able to create a landscape (set) with props, text, soundscape, and music that incorporated and carried the inspired content of the work and allowed me to live inside of the work as I was performing it.

For me, the experience was transformative in the generative rehearsal phase of the process and then later, that experience was magnified even further when I shared Involuntary Movements in front of an audience. I had dug deep into my own feelings about race, being biracial, African American and half British (white) brought me into a lot of self conflict, if you have read Ta Nehisi Coates' book, you will understand my position even more.

Once again I found myself in the heavy presence of identity, only this time it was less ambiguous and tread the tense line of the social constructs of race in the United States in 2017.  

Involuntary Movements explores the physical and emotional reactions to racism and injustice towards the African American population through my own experiences. 

The new dance premiered at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.  

All photos of Involuntary Movements are by Megan Morse of the University of Oregon Journalism School.

Rosetta

Rosetta is a dance work by Darion Smith based on the concept that the human experience can be distilled from our complex, technologically enhanced and modern social structures into some basic structures that were defining factors in the early stages of the human experience.

The work is built on human structures in our modern society including hierarchy, wonder, conflict, companionship, communication, teamwork, and ritual.

With this piece, Smith's idea was to create a character that could be multiplied and could carry meaning and function for the group. The characters were similar in appearance to each other, again to make their actions read more than their appearances but within a large group.

Composer Dan Daly on Collaboration, Creativity and Working with Choreographer Darion Smith

We spoke with Daniel Daly about his recent collaboration with choreographer Darion Smith on 1 Up 2 Down.  Daniel Daly is a Master of Music candidate and Graduate Teaching Fellow at the University of Oregon (UO).  

Dan spoke with us about his process, what it was like working with Darion Smith, and how collaborations between composers and choreographers help to enrich the performing arts from a creative development point of view and from an audience point of view.

Composer and musician Daniel Daly

Composer and musician Daniel Daly

How would you describe your creative process when you are composing a new piece of music?
I try to access an emotional archetype -- fear, exhilaration, longing, etc. -- and then, through a process of inward listening and improvisation at the keyboard, I compose a seed idea that corresponds to that archetype. To develop and complete the piece, I spin out the seed material according to my understanding of its musical properties. The music I spin out may in turn suggest some new and unforeseen dimension of my emotional archetype. Such revelations are exciting, and they keep the energy flowing: music informs archetype, archetype inspires music. Hopefully, at the end of the piece, the music has revealed a drama of emotions.

How does your process change when you are working collaboratively, specifically when you are working with a choreographer like Darion Smith?
The process is the same, but better, faster, and more fun. When collaborating, I still access an emotional archetype, but the immediacy of improvisation and interaction helps me bypass my inward searches -- which can be murky, repetitious, and draining -- and shoot from the hip. I see Darion make a move, and I'm instantly prompted to respond to the emotional and dramatic character it suggests to me. And as I develop the music, his ongoing activity is not merely another factor that I must balance in my attempt to create a coherent piece of art, but it is also a profound source of energy and inspiration. 

What is the relationship between dance and music?
I don't have much insight on this question. I understand that music and dance are both time-based arts, and thus are, in my opinion, a more natural pairing than music and sculpture, for example.

Why are artistic collaborations like your recent collaboration with Darion important for artists like yourselves (do they challenge you creatively in new ways, to they help to bring new work to life more quickly, do you benefit from introducing each other to your audiences, etc.)?
As a composer, I'm desperate for that magic source of inspiration that will help me create meaningfully, quickly, and enjoyably. I often work with text or with theater because I relate to storytelling better than I relate to the demonstration of an abstract musical idea. And I often collaborate with dancers because their art form seems better able to communicate meaning than mine. Whenever I witness a dancer's gesture, I'm struck by a mysterious depth and intimacy. Dance seems to go the heart of the matter, always. Music is sometimes disembodied and inhuman (and therefore, in my perspective, bordering on meaningless). The composition of much of the 20th century's art music revealed astonishing mental expertise and an even more astonishing inability to connect to listeners. Why? I suspect that it was because some of that music wasn't firing on all cylinders. It was brilliant mentally, but deficient, perhaps, in the arenas of body and spirit. I hang around dancers to be a more embodied composer. That way I have a better chance of communicating meaning to my audience.

Do you believe that artistic collaborations are important for audiences, particularly young audiences?  If so, why and how?
I also don't have much insight into this question, alas. 

More about Composer Daniel Daly
He is a composer, but his primary interest is storytelling. To that end, he frequently includes other media – such as theatre and dance – in his compositions. At UO, he created music for Scorched, a play produced at Hope Theatre in winter 2016, and founded sonos domum, a new music ensemble dedicated to multidisciplinary collaboration, in 2014.

His specialty, however, is creating text for music. He recently completed the libretto of a new opera entitled The Banshee, whose music he is currently composing in preparation for a May, 2017 performance. His dramatic vocal compositions have been performed by acclaimed soprano Estelí Gomez in Portland, Oregon, and at the 2016 Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium in Eugene. Prior to his studies at UO, he published his own fantasy novel, When Waters Whisper, and served in a music position at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he transcribed the score of the new musical, The Unfortunates, and created sound for a side-stage production of Caryl Churchill’s apocalyptic drama, Far Away. In 2012, he graduated summa cum laude from Willamette University, where he studied composition, creative writing, digital music production, and piano.