DANCE PROFESSOR WINS GRANT TO RECONSTRUCT HISTORIC WORK
Talley Beatty in Southern Landscape at Jacob's Pillow, 1948. Photo by Eric M. Sanford, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Archives
The ephemeral nature of dance performance presents unusual challenges to the preservation of dance heritage, says Bryn Mawr Director of Dance Linda Caruso Haviland. A $51,000 grant from Dance Advance will help Caruso Haviland address some of those issues in collaboration with Temple University Libraries and Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco). Dancers, scholars and archivists from the three institutions will reconstruct, restage and document Southern Landscape, an early work by the influential African-American choreographer Talley Beatty. A public lecture, an archival exhibition and master classes will accompany a performance of the piece.
"The idea is to bring the work of an important American choreographer to new audiences," Caruso Haviland says, "and to bridge the gap between city and suburb by presenting events in several locations. We also hope the performance of the piece at Bryn Mawr by Philadanco will bring the company to the attention of audiences on the Main Line, to make them realize that an internationally acclaimed modern dance company is just a short train ride away."
The performance will be part of the College's popular multidisciplinary Performing Arts Series.
Southern Landscape, inspired by Howard Fast's book Freedom Road, deals with "the brief empowerment of freed slaves during Reconstruction followed by brutal repercussions inflicted by the newly formed Ku Klux Klan," Caruso Haviland says. "The dance is composed of five sections; one, titled 'Mourner's Bench,' has taken on a life of its own as a solo piece. It will be interesting to see whether the other sections, when reconstructed, will have a similar impact on contemporary audiences."
Joan Myers Brown, the founder and artistic director of Philadanco, is one of Caruso Haviland's partners in the project. Beatty, who died in 1999, worked often with Philadanco. "There was a longstanding relationship between Beatty and the company," Caruso Haviland says. "Dancers in the company have performed various parts of Southern Landscape, but have never staged a production of the whole work. Those dancers in the company who worked with Beatty will be an invaluable resource in reconstructing the dance, and they are the ones who will restage it on the company."
"There are a couple of standard systems of notation for recording choreography," Caruso Haviland explains, "and there are some fragmentary video and film records. But we are especially lucky to have the records that are preserved in the bodies of these dancers."
Another partner in the project is Mary E. Edsall, curator of the Philadelphia Dance Collection at Temple. Edsall will collect existing materials relating to the history of the piece and coordinate a further effort to document the reconstruction process itself, using rehearsal recordings and oral history interviews with the artistic directors, the reconstructors and the dancers. An experienced professional videographer will aid in this process, and the resulting materials will be housed at the Philadelphia Dance Collection, with copies in the Bryn Mawr Libraries' Special Collections Department.
The project will culminate with a week of events in September:
• On Monday, Sept. 26, Philadanco will give a lecture-demonstration about Beatty and Southern Landscape at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.
• On Tuesday, Sept. 27, renowned cultural historian Brenda Dixon Gottschild will deliver a public lecture at Bryn Mawr on the legacy and context of Beatty's work.
• On Wednesday, Sept. 28, a performance of "Mourner's Bench" will open an exhibit of the archival materials at Temple's Paley Library.
• On Thursday, Sept. 29, Philadanco members will conduct a master class at Bryn Mawr.
• On Friday, Sept. 30, Philadanco will perform Southern Landscape as part of Bryn Mawr's Performing Arts Series.
This production is made possible with support from Dance Advance, a program funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by the University of the Arts. This project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
to Bryn Mawr Now 6/30/2005