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Animated Edition - Autumn 2004
Community/Performance
What are the relationships between activism and action, between performance and the performative, between the artistic and art? What are the present and future roles of the arts in our social projects? How effective are arts interventions in building communities? These and other important questions around the subjects of community, performance and art were presented at the first Community/Performance conference at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island on 4 - 6 June 2004. Christina Tsoules reports
Over one hundred international community artists, educators, scholars and practitioners gathered for this special event led by Bryant University Professor of Performance Studies, Petra Kuppers. Throughout our weekend, the active voices (and bodies) of international dance artists and dance administrators shared their community-driven projects and made the presence of community dance work a strong one.

Anna Daly from Ludus Dance Company, a leading UK company for educational and community dance, led a participatory workshop at the conference and shared examples of Ludus' educational and community dance methodology. One of Daly's improvisation structures involved working with a partner and creating a greeting dance together; an exercise that Ludus uses in its ongoing movement outreach intervention with teens to tackle problems such as drugs, sex and conflict resolution.

Anita Clark, the Artistic Director of City Moves Dance Space in Aberdeen, Scotland presented a lecture/demonstration at the conference about her organisation's 2002 project: Generations, a multi-generational, site-specific participatory dance project involving over 60 performers between the ages of 5 and 70. In addition, Clark spoke of her school's involvement with Aberdeen's interdisciplinary arts community, offering a recent collaborative concert that featured performers from Aberdeen's music school, as well as visual artwork created by young people working with the city's Arts Development Team.

Catherine Long, another UK performer, featured a new work at the conference that investigated "the internal and external experience of being within an unconventional physicality." Her breathtaking and intensely focused solo performance redefined our predisposed sensibilities of the personal and collective body's use of weight and repetition in movement. Her solo also served to challenge notions of tension and flow.

Carlos Cortes, a Spanish London-based visual and performance artist, led a community-wide movement jam to break up the (occasional) monotony of ongoing conference panels. Physically engaging all participants, Carlos led several movement exercises on a concrete pavement with a Bryant University building and its swinging door as our backdrop. Gathering found objects in the building's lobby (a trash can, a rolling chair, old receipts from a participant's wallet) he managed to not only rename the everyday identity of these items but also honour them as revered props in a vivid (and impromptu) movement piece. In another exercise, Carlos gathered volunteers to recreate a condensed, highly physicalised version of his favorite Spanish opera!

From the United States, three community dance artists and activists shared their work at the conference. Ama Codjoe, a MFA candidate in Dance at Ohio State University presented a video documenting her dance and activism work inspired by poet and activist Audre Lourde's text: 'Need: A Chorale for Black Women Voices'. Her video honored the memory of thousands of women killed by violent crimes by naming these voiceless women, exposing the brutalities of their senseless deaths and creating a dance piece in their honour. Codjoe also created a successful model for audience discussion and participation in this difficult subject, positioning her as an authentic choreographer fighting for social change.

Shawn Womack, a choreographer and teacher of dance at Grinnell College in Iowa, performed a dance-theatre solo entitled: 'I'm No Beauty'. A historiography, the work combined interesting choreography, video, and personal and spoken narratives that were inspired by the community of 'place': Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside, California, her childhood playground.

Lastly, Terri Thrower, a PhD in Disability Studies candidate at the University of Illinois, Chicago, presented a paper detailing her experiences of organizing Crip Slam!, a disability-centered performance series in July, 2003. Thrower shared video excerpts from this diverse performance event, highlighting the audience and artist's collaborative efforts to create an empowering experience for both disabled and non-disabled participants alike.

The second Community/Performance conference is scheduled to take place in 2007, also at Bryant University. If you are interested in presenting or attending, please contact Petra Kuppers at pkuppers@bryant.edu

Christina Tsoules is a choreographer, performer and teacher of dance at several colleges and universities in New England. She currently resides in Providence with her husband and is working on a new performance piece with Rhode Island sculpture artists.

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Animated: Autumn 2004