UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Winter 2000
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Raising the Barre

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Martha Graham (from Time 100)

Center for the Arts

Department of Theatre & Dance

Josè Limòn Dance Foundation

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

artha Graham aptly seized upon the notion of learning as a lifelong process when she said, "Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery." For dancers, the journey of discovery is what inspires their craft, encourages them to build upon experience. Such joy of discovery, however, can extend beyond the practitioners of the art.
    In the spirit of the words spoken by the late Graham-a pioneer of modern dance in the late 1920s-those individuals who teach, promote and support dance within the University at Buffalo community have become part of a larger endeavor. Their mission is to build upon the rich academic tradition of dance already in place at UB and bring the larger community deeper into the performing arts fold with more intense programming that at once teaches and entertains.
    "I think the performing and visual arts are important to every living human being," says Tom Burrows, director of UB's Center for the Arts (CFA). "I think they're humanizing; they change our perceptions."
    Changing the community's perceptions about dance-debunking the myth that dance is highbrow and bringing dance to audiences whose exposure to it may be limited- is one of the primary aims of CFA staff and dance faculty at UB.


Introducing dance into education has been essential to that end.
    On the first Tuesday in April, students at Aurora Middle School in Lancaster, New York, have packed into the school's auditorium to enjoy a sampling of professional dance.
    Members of the internationally renowned Limòn Dance Company are on stage, demonstrating different movements of the company's piece "There Is a Time."
    As part of their three-week residency at UB, the members travel a circuit of Buffalo-area schools to share their art with young adults. The Limòn company's stay-a large portion of which is spent conducting workshops with dance students and faculty at UB-culminated with an April 15 performance on the Mainstage Theater in the CFA.
    On stage, the dancers illustrate the life cycle through planting and reaping; killing and healing; speaking and keeping silent; laughing; embracing; warring and making peace; and loving. The story is told entirely through the language of the body-the language of dance-a language the audience seems to understand well.

hese school visits, part of what Burrows calls the CFA's "dual mandate," are an effort to build up its community outreach-something a member of Burrows's staff sees as an important part of a larger push to include the arts among the "basics" of education.
    "Why would [anyone] be inclined to go see a dance performance if they hadn't been exposed to it?" says assistant to the CFA director Rob Falgiano, who is in charge of organizing dance residencies at UB. Such residencies, he believes, are pivotal in developing future audiences for dance.
    "When [people are] given the proper preparation for a performance - they're much more susceptible to something that might be considered inaccessible," he says.
    Following the performance, Deborah Jasinski, a music teacher at Aurora, shares with the students her take on the importance of arts in education, telling them that if there's one lesson they can take away from watching today's performance, it is that no matter what it is they enjoy doing, if they are passionate about it they can succeed.
    "Bringing [the dancers] to the schools is inspiring for everyone," says Jasinski, herself a former dancer, as the students file out of the auditorium, some stopping to request autographs from the Limòn dancers.


Offering a truly unique performance, the Limòn company-founded by the late Josè Limòn in 1946-is one among three top-notch companies that have graced the UB stage and community this year, the other two being the Alvin Ailey II and Martha Graham companies.
    Other well-known troupes, such as the Gus Giordano and Paul Taylor companies, have also been guests of the university, where their performances have entertained audiences from both within and outside the UB community. More important, their expertise has benefited the dancers studying at UB, who are afforded the opportunity to work with and learn from talented and successful professionals.
    Tom Ralabate, assistant chair of dance at UB and codirector of the dance program, says students are fortunate to have such remarkable companies come to the university. "
    The impact on the students to have professional companies come here for three weeks and have students interact with company members-people who they really want to emulate-that's invaluable," says Ralabate, who also directs UB's resident dance company, Zodiaque. "You cannot get that at a lot of universities. "
    And then, of course, the opportunity to study specific schools of thought-say, when the Taylor company comes in, or the Limòn company - and the students actually [learn] Limòn techniques from this school," he continues. "It creates a really strong impact on the students' education."
    For Jennifer Reeves, a junior in the dance department, being able to work closely with company members is just one of several advantages of being involved in UB's dance program.
    A dancer since the age of three, Reeves enrolled in UB largely because of the program's emphasis on getting students on the stage. Zodiaque, along with its companion performance group StudioWerks Dance Ensemble, directed by William Thomas, offers students the chance-from their first year of college-to become part of a professional dance troupe.
    "(It's) a major draw-there's a wide range of shows and a wide range of talent. And the talent is allowed to perform," Reeves says, noting the importance of learning the appropriate artistry and projection-skills crucial to performing well in a professional audition. "You need to be on stage."
    A member of Zodiaque since her sophomore year, Reeves performs with the troupe once in the fall and again in the spring. She also is involved in UB's Young Choreographers Showcase, directed by Tressa Crehan, through which she is able to choreograph dance performances for her peers. For Reeves, the appeal of performance is heightened by UB's facilities.
    "Six theater spaces in one building, and everything that goes with that-it's amazing that you can have all that in one place," she says.
    Not only has the CFA fulfilled the second part of its mandate, to "address the needs of and support the departments - to create interaction between the disciplines and give them a place for those [interactions] to occur," Burrows says, but it has also opened its doors to national and international events.
    The dance facilities-all housed in the CFA building-have given UB an edge over other universities and venues in the country. The CFA has enticed the likes of the Jazz Dance World Congress, a weeklong event scheduled in August-and for an unprecedented second year-that draws nearly 1,000 people to UB for master dance classes, adjudicated events and evening performances by top companies. The CFA also will host, for its fifth summer, the weeklong National Dance Masters of America Teachers Training School, which after 20 years at Kent State University found a new and more supportive home at UB, Ralabate says.

he CFA building has essentially operated as a rental facility since it opened in 1994, says Burrows, who arrived in the summer of 1996, shortly after SUNY-wide budget constraints saw the CFA's budget of nearly $300,000 wholly rescinded.
    Despite the CFA's ability to draw such events as the Jazz Congress and Dance Masters, as well as national acts, to its Mainstage Theater, the push to promote its dance programming presented a risk to the center, which has struggled financially throughout its existence. All parties involved seem to agree on this point: The risk is one worth taking.
    In 1999-2000, the center did experience a break-even year. "We are just beginning to have enough audience to sustain our dance program without financial loss," says Burrows.
    "You look where the strength is," he says. "The dance program [is] very strong here. When you see a program that is responding and eager for challenge, that's where you put your energy."
    And exert their energies they have. Marketing efforts have seen a boost in advertising and corporate sponsorships from Target stores-whose annual contributions help fund both the Family Adventure Series and the School Time Adventure series-and Key Bank, whose $25,000 donation annually over the past two years has helped fund the center's major dance series.
    "We all must be exposed to the arts," says CFA marketing director Kelli Bocock-Natale, emphasizing the importance of their impact on the younger crowd. "Children who are exposed to the arts are better writers, better mathematicians, better people in the community."
    Burrows does not downplay the uphill battle he's endured in struggling toward consistent and quality programming at the CFA. But again, he says, the results he's seeing have already begun to eclipse the risks.
    "Unless you are willing to stay with something-if you can't be consistent with your offer, with your presentations-you'll never get that solid base [of support]," he says.
    "We support dance because ... it's real, it has an immediate impact, it's positive," he continues. "The community now looks to us for dance."

Jennifer Lewandowski, a freelance writer who is studying English through the master of arts in humanities program at UB, is a frequent contributor to UB Today and other university publications.

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