Graham (from Time 100)
Center for the Arts
Department of Theatre
Josè Limòn Dance Foundation
Alvin Ailey American Dance
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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.