Updates from Summer Intensive at CDT

As the Columbus Dance Theatre Summer Intensive comes to a close, Darion Smith looks at some of the challenges and accomplishments that marked the experience for the students, and for him.

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“It was a fun challenge teaching a piece that I created for six dancers to twenty one dancers,” says Smith. He explains how working with a prop that the dancers helped to create contributed to making the experience even more engaging for them.

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For Smith, he got to have a fresh look at a work he created almost exactly one year ago.

“I could see new possibilities to explore in the future,” he says. Of the dancers who attended the Summer Intensive, Smith says, “they were very dedicated, passionate, hardworking.”

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Students will perform Ript Dash on Friday, June 14 at the CDT theater in a culminating performance of the 2019 Summer Intensive Program.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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. 


Premiere at Horowitz Performing Arts Center

Darion Smith’s new work, Let it Go, premieres November 16 and 17 at the Horowitz Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College in Maryland.

Let It Go, the first work that Smith has choreographed and premiered at Howard Community College, is part of a larger show, the HCC Dance Showcase. This fall’s Showcase features dance works created by faculty, alongside student works in the same program. 

Let It Go is a work for two dancers. Sarah Gomez and Darion Smith will present Let it Go at the premiere. Gomez and Smith will explore an obstacle course built from physical props and set pieces, examine aspects of the human condition, and tangle and untangle personal stories.     

Stay tuned for more about the choreography process and how the idea of Let it Go took shape. Behind the scenes rehearsal photos and video previews coming soon!

Game Change: When Practical Challenges Influence Art Making

On the blog today, we’re spotlighting Artistic Director Darion Smith’s recent new choreography, Game Change. In so doing, we are also looking at how practical challenges, like choreographing for students as opposed to professional company dancers, influences how a choreographer makes art, and how that art takes shape.

Game Change, choreographed by Darion Smith, was selected to represent the University of Oregon at the ACDA North West Regional Conference 2018 in Boulder, CO, in March.

University of Oregon dance students in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

University of Oregon dance students in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

As Smith explains it, Game Change is “a representation of nuance in my creative process.” That creative process was specifically influenced by his time as both a graduate student and an instructor in the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. Now teaching in the Howard Community College Department of Dance, Smith reflects on his time at University of Oregon, and the impact that academic exploration and teaching dance students has had on the creative process and the work it produced.

He says, “from the moment I arrived at the University of Oregon, I realized that I had a new space to be creative in and a new set of constraints. In some regards there were no constraints to what I wanted to make,” at the same time, because he was working with students, as opposed to members of the professional Janusphere Dance Company, there were other factors to consider, from learning outcomes, to range, to readiness.

University of Oregon dance student in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

University of Oregon dance student in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

Talking about Game Change, Smith walks us through some of his process, starting with the early stages of turning “an idea that floats in the mind” into movement. If, as he explains, that idea “merits enough interest,” he tries to work it out in some physical form, often starting in his own kitchen or living room, exploring the idea ans seeing where it takes him.

From the Living Room to the Classroom

When it is time to take the next steps toward creating the work, by bringing the choreography to dancers, a choreographer needs to transfer those movement ideas in specific ways. “A lot of how I worked in the past was by showing movement phrases to dancers and them picking it up,” says Smith. Once the phrase was learned, he would move onto other aspects of putting the choreography together.

Smith says that, while he was able to use this mode of making dances to some degree with students, he did recognize that, “working with professional dancers, I was able to choose the dancers for specific qualities, making this mode of translating choreography very effective.” In the classroom studio setting, he saw that “working with a diversity of levels and experience at university taught me that this mode does not translate as clearly as it did in a professional setting.” Choreographing for students required more. That lead to an enriched creative process and it pushed Smith, as a choreographer and an educator, to “see and explore other qualities in the dancers I was working with" and to explore new methods of generating a dance that has structure and unique qualities.”

Improvisational Techniques and Adding Voice

Part of this exploration included incorporating improvisational tasks and the use of the voice. “I was happy to use my work to get to know the dancers as artists and individuals, by inviting them to incorporate more of themselves into the work.”

University of Oregon dance student in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

University of Oregon dance student in Darion Smith’s Game Change at ACDA Conference. Photo by Pam Cressall

As a result, he created three distinct worlds in Game Change, the through line of which was the dancers.

The ACDA Conference was the perfect environment to present Game Change, because its choreography and execution are unique to the dance education experience, and the role that dance education plays in the creative process for both choreographers and students of dance.

Dispatches from Bellingham Repertory Dance

I am returning now from Bellingham Repertory Dance, in Bellingham, Washington, where I taught a five day master class in preparation for the company's upcoming fall show. 

It's been exciting and more than a little challenging to create work in such a short period of time, and to do it to the music of Richard Wagner's Der Walkürenritt ("The Ride of the Valkyries") from his acclaimed Nineteenth Century opera Die Walküre (The Valkyrie).

The dancers have been great about throwing themselves into the work. This kind of openness and commitment from artists makes it so much easier to explore the dimensions of a complex work. Not knowing the dancers, with the exception of Hannah Andersen my former graduate colleague at University of Oregon, made coming into the process at Bellingham Repertory Dance difficult  to predict, and required a flexible approach.

Circumstances like this force me, as a choreographer and dance educator, to rely more on my intuition during the day in the studio, followed by intense meditation and analysis each night as part of the post-rehearsal process. It means bringing that energy back into the studio the next day, fostering collaboration, relying on and learning from each other, and maintaining a level of commitment and focus that creates great performances.

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The dancers will continue to rehearse weekly leading up to the work before it debuts in their fall season where, no doubt, their hard work and dedication will be a reward to them and to their audience. 

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In addition to using the work of Wagner during my time with Bellingham Repertory Dance, I was fortunate to collaborate with musician/composer Christian Cherry for other sections of the work. Cherry's music adds more dimension and emotional context to the work, and it was a pleasure to explore.

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I look forward to discovering how this work matures leading up to the premiere. 

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."

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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." 

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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!