The University of California, San Diego recently announced a new graduate program in dance theater designed to offer hands-on creative opportunities to the next generation of voices in choreography.
Two students will be selected to participate in the launch of the new program next fall. The three-year curriculum will enable choreographers to collaborate with other dance and theater students, and study under the tutelage of the university’s well-trained faculty members, as well as providing time and space to explore their own work.
“The idea of a graduate program in dance has been around the department for a long time,” said Charlie Oates, chair of the UCSD theatre and dance department. “What we’re really trying to do is integrate the strengths of all our departments.”
Ranked third in the nation for the past 10 years, UCSD already offers graduate programs in acting, design, directing, playwriting and stage management. Dance theater will round out the department.
“It was the missing link,” said professor Allyson Green, co-director of the program with dance professor Yolande Snaith.
Faculty members began developing the concept in 2002.
“It’s been about five years in the making,” Green said. “It was exciting because we felt like we had a white canvas to paint on, to dream what our ideal program would be.”
Because many faculty members worked in the industry, they had firsthand knowledge of the challenges many young choreographers face: renting studio space, finding time to develop creative ideas and lack of opportunities to showcase their dance interpretations. Unlike Europe, residencies for choreographers are scarce in the U.S.
“I think coming from that, it made us know that what choreographers most want is space and room to do their work,” Green said.
After brainstorming, daydreaming and researching ideas, a course description and proposal had to be developed. Then began the approval process, working the idea through university administration.
“One of the things that enables us to do this is the strength of our undergraduate dance programs,” Oates said.
Other key advantages that make UCSD’s graduate dance theater program unique are the university’s many production spaces and its relationship with the La Jolla Playhouse."We are a production-driven program,” Oates said. “Not many facilities can offer the wide array of experimentation and options for real world productions.”
Green concurred: “I think it’s going to be fairly unique in that it’s going to be quite exclusive. Only two choreographers a year are going to be accepted, and it’s really providing an opportunity for choreographers to produce their work in finished programs.”
Once the curriculum was finalized, the university began recruiting candidates. Calls have come in from across the U.S. and even outside the country.
“I’m actually expecting a good number of applicants for this first round,” Green said. “We will be most interested in choreographers who have already had some time to establish their ideas and their voices, and they want to come now and go deeply into their work.”
Applicants must submit a statement of their artistic philosophy and a video with three samples of their work by Dec. 15. From that pool, a small number of candidates will be selected for one-on-one interviews.
Only two students will be accepted, the goal being to maximize resources to create an intensive learning experience.
“I think that it’s our job here at this department to be innovators, and, in a sense, think of this department as a laboratory,” Oates said. “Dance is a limitless form and lends itself to experimentation of all different kinds. It’s all part of getting students to think in a new way.”
The curriculum covers a spectrum of subjects from seminars on history and methodology to new media and technology, including video, lighting, costume, sound and scenic design. Dance classes offer contemporary practices, ballet, yoga, Pilates and dance forms from South America, Africa and Asia.
“There are a number of things happening today that choreographers need to be aware of,” Green said. “To be a really fine artist these days, you have an interest and an awareness of what’s happening in the arts, period. It’s not just the two-minute dance number break in the middle of the play.”
The dance theater graduate program will allow choreographers to work collaboratively with other graduate students, faculty members and professional artists in master’s classes. It is an opportunity to both learn and build professional relationships while producing dance theater performances.
“Already San Diego has loved the relationship of having the fine UCSD theatre program and the relationship it has with the La Jolla Playhouse,” Green said. “It has made a center for strong theater. I’m excited that this will be bringing in more choreographers and adding their voices to the community.”