Residency in Upstate New York

I feel really fortunate to have done what I did last week. I had the pleasure of going on tour to upstate New York with Gesel Mason Performance Projects, performing and teaching at SUNY-Potsdam and SUNY-Albany. It has been fascinating to see how these engagements are put together and how they work, a joy to teach new students, and excellent to get to perform Rennie Harris’ work again.

When we pulled into Potsdam last Saturday, I was doubtful; the town is tiny. That said, my opinions changed quickly as we met the students and faculty and saw the campus. I of course let me curiosity lead me as much as time would allow, exploring the tiny downtown and it’s gems. They’ve got a neat little co-op (and it looks like a lot of people with hippy ideals to go with it), an Elks lodge, an ACE Hardware and lots of local restaurants. I have not seen a single fast food place. There is a Walmart, but apparently it is out on the edge of town.

The faculty were very gracious, welcoming us into their homes and making sure we get to and from where we need to be, even though most of those distances are walkable. I enjoyed the walk to campus, and could envision how this could work for people. I suppose it is easy to say that when you’ve only been somewhere half a week. The airport IS four hours away THROUGH a forested mountain park (Adirondack State Park). Regardless, it is a neat community.

My host, the chair of the Theater and Dance Department at Potsdam, was telling me that the area has a history of holding a teacher’s college, which is part of what attracted so many educational institutions to the area. There are now three colleges in the 17,000 person town. I was not expecting campus to be very diverse, but it absolutely is. Apparently Potsdam has a pretty effective recruitment system in NYC.

In our time there, I got to teach a modern class that combined their sections 1 and 2, so it was a very energized class of 49 people and 4 accompanists (one from each class plus the two classes’ regular instructors)! We had an excellent time working through how basic modern dance concepts like swing, fall and recovery, locomotion through space and level changes can be motivated by or connected to rhythm.

I also had the pleasure of teaching a Jazz Fusion class with Mecca Madyun, an amazing dance artist with a speciality in West African dance. We decided to use our hour and forty-five minutes to create pathways for students to explore the connections between African and jazz dance. She warmed the students up for a half-hour, I taught center and across the floor work for a half-hour, then we took about 10 minutes each to teach a quick combination. That left 25 minutes for the students to group up and create their own fusions of material, linking it together based on what they thought felt physically related. When each group showed at the end, they had created some really amazing material that allowed them to physically meditate on how African and jazz are connected. I’d love to teach that class with her again!

As for the Potsdam campus itself, the old, institutional buildings were the norm, though they are currently in the process of finishing up a brand new Performing Arts Center. Apparently, the building project has been a sight of some tension on campus, with a lot of folks wondering why the newest building is going to the arts. My guess is that careful research and development campaigns backed the choice 🙂

‘SUNY-Canada’s Tim Hortons
My New England guest abode
The Co-Op
The Elks’s Lodge
The SUNY-Potsdam Campus

These pictures are just of Potsdam; when we got back down to Albany through a snow storm in the Adirondack National Mountain Forest for the second half of the week, things felt busier and with less room to take pictures. Our days included teaching at Emma Willard girls boarding school (Mecca), lecturing in dance history and teaching improvisation at Skidmore College, and lecturing in dance history again at Russell Sage College. It was really neat to get to see several dance programs on this trip. Finally, our second Saturday night away brought our second performance. Though the performing was minimal for me in No Boundaries (which is, in it’s current version, basically a solo show for Gesel, + friends!), it has been really inspiring to watch how Gesel physically and mentally embodies these extremely varied pieces. Want to know more about the show? Read the review 🙂

As I’ve already said a handful of time because I’m excited, it was an amazing trip. I look forward to more professional adventures like this, and am motivated to make sure that one day, I’ve organized them myself!