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Booker T. Washington Brings Back the Collaborative Process

by Danielle Georgiou 10 Oct 2012 9:00 AM

Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou talks with members of the school’s dance department about its overdue collaboration with the music department.


Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the artistic director and choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. And she’s a member of Muscle Nation. This interview was also published in Art+Culture Magazine.

The Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts is embarking on a new journey: a collaborative project between the dance and music departments. While collaborations were what the school was founded on, it’s been nearly three decades since these two programs have combined forces.

I spoke with four members of the dance faculty, Linda James, Kate Walker, Jennifer Mabus and Lily Weiss—Dance Coordinator at BTWHSPVA—about the return to the collaborative process and about their upcoming show.

Danielle Georgiou: How did this project come about?

Lily Weiss: In the history of the school, founded by Paul Baker, collaborations were the norm.  It has been 30 years since dance and music have done an entire show together. We are currently working on ACCPAS (national arts accreditation) and after completing the self-study, the dance faculty decided that we would work more on collaborations.

D.G.: Was it always the intention to include dance and live music?

Kate Walker: Absolutely! It’s something we encourage from our students, so we wanted to model it for them. And music and dance are such a no-brainer!

D.G.: How has that process been?

Linda James: When Lily told the dance faculty about the opportunity, I knew immediately that I wanted to create a piece that would highlight our dancers and music senior Rachel Dupard. It’s been interesting working with her and seeing how the dancers respond, and how other faculty members respond.

Jennifer Mabus: I am working with some opera students, and their teacher will also be performing with them. It’s so wonderful for the students to view their teachers as working artists and have perspective on their future in the arts.

K.W.: I knew which music ensembles I wanted to work with from the beginning, so I have been in contact with the music faculty directors since the summer. I have been into the rehearsals for both ensembles, Meistersingers and Rock Ensemble, to hear the progress on the music and let them in on my ideas of what they are doing.

D.G.: As the choreographers, how as the process been?

K.W.: I have really enjoyed it. I am not using an original composition, so there is no composer for me to work directly with. But coordinating two different music ensembles provides a lot of logistics to iron out.

J.M.: It’s been very exciting. I have enjoyed the purely creative challenge in my teaching work, and I think the students appreciate taking risks in the creative process.

D.G.: Let’s talk about your individual pieces.

L.W.: “Thrown for a Loop” has truly been a movement collaboration involving all nine dancers and myself. We began improvisationally playing with the entire title and then parts of the title.  The score was used only after half of the movement material had been created.

K.W.: My piece, “Arise from Arms,” is a look at the state of our society today and the need for people to come together in order to rise out of the mess we have created for ourselves. I hope that the piece is an optimistic view and leaves the audience with a sense of excitement, but without aggression.

L.J.: I knew that I wanted the piece to include several solos. So, I began the choreographic process in a way that was different than anything I had done before. Initially, I met each of the five dancers separately. I asked each of them to improvise to a verse or bridge in the song. Then I reshaped their movement to create phrases highlighting their individual strengths. The piece grew out of those juxtapositions.

J.M.: I am working with one of my favorite opera arias, “Casta Diva.” The music is strongly feminine and spiritual and is sung by a tormented pagan priestess who is praying for peace for her people.  In the past few months, a couple of my friends have lost their mothers, and all of these women were strong, interesting, passionate and powerful. They are my inspiration.

D.G.: How do you think the dancers are getting along with performing with live music?

L.W.: It’s a challenge, but so worth it educationally. We are a school for performing and visual arts and should be a natural conduit for this type of project! We hope the students will begin collaborating on their own.

D.G.: Are their plans for future collaborations?

K.W.: This is really something that we all believe in and want to see become a regular occurrence again. It’s such a great experience for the students and teaches them valuable information about how to collaborate. Hopefully, this is the first of many in our return to collaborative shows.

The Dance/Music Collaborative Show Performance will take place Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the school’s auditorium.