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Professor Betsy Miller on the Faculty and Guest Artist Dance Concert

Interview with the Center for Research and Creative Activities

This Thursday, the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at Salem State returns to presenting live performances and other events on campus with a faculty and guest artist dance concert in the Sophia Gordon Center Theater. The Center for Research and Creative Activities (CRCA) interviewed Professor Betsy Miller to discuss the event:


CRCA: Can you tell us a little about the concert, and how the idea of this event come about? 

Miller: The dance program produces several performance events each semester. Typically, we kick off the fall semester with either a faculty showcase or a performance by a guest artist or company in the Sophia Gordon Center. Last year, due to COVID, we held our first ever dance film festival, which was presented online via the Center for Creative and Performing Arts (CCPA) Vimeo page.

We had over 270 submissions from 47 countries and got to share some pretty incredible dance films with our students and the public. Because of the success of the event, we hope to make it a regular happening every other fall, interspersed with a faculty and guest concert. This year after doing online and site-specific shows with campus-only audiences, we are so thrilled to welcome the public back to the beautiful Sophia Gordon theater. After a year that felt isolating in so many ways, we really want to reach out and connect. This concert was an opportunity for dance faculty to work together with other faculty and staff in the creative disciplines and also some of our amazing dance program alumni.

CRCA: This event features works by dance faculty and alumni in collaboration with Professors in the music, English, and art + design departments at Salem State. What has it been like putting together and participating in a cross-discipline collaboration? 

Miller: Dance, by nature, is a pretty collaborative art form. Beyond the collaboration that always happens in the studio between choreographer and dancer, if you have the luxury of original music, there's some collaboration there as well. In this event, we are able to lean a bit further into a collaborative model, including poetry and visual art as well. Collaborations can be tricky, and you really have to enter into them in a spirit of shared purpose and generosity. Fortunately, our colleagues who have joined us in this endeavor have been wonderful partners and we've been able to create some pretty special works. In some pieces, one of the art forms is created in response to another. In others, the forms are responding to one another in the moment throughout the process and even into the performance. 

This concert features premieres of new work as well as some pieces that have been performed previously. We will be sharing two pieces originally created as part of the 2021 Mass Poetry Festival, which featured a number of filmed dances by SSU faculty and alumni created in response to poems that were featured in the festival. One piece is a dance made for the camera by Jake Crawford ('17), which was inspired by a poem by SSU Librarian Cathy Fahey. Fahey will be joining us in the concert to read her poem live, followed by a screening of the filmed dance, which was shot in Old Town Hall back in May. Another solo, choreographed and performed by Lindsey McGovern ('15), is set to a poem by English faculty Elisabeth Weiss. 

My colleague, Professor of Dance Meghan McLyman, has worked in collaboration with CCPA Director Karen Gahagan and art + design professor Ken Reker, along with dance alumni Angelina Benitez ('18) Jackie Bowden ('15), Lindsey McGovern ('15), and Jasmine Senn ('19) to create a piece titled What Matters Most? In this work, audience members are also collaborators and will be invited to contribute their own perspectives before the start of the concert. 

Crosscurrents, the other ensemble piece being premiered in the concert, is a two-part piece. I choreographed the first movement in collaboration with the cast: Samantha Aucello ('18), Angelina Benitez ('18) Jackie Bowden ('15), Marissa Doyle ('17), Lindsey McGovern ('15), and Olivia Owen ('20). This piece is inspired by and set to an earlier recording by Philip Swanson (Professor of music). The second section is a collaboration between Phil, myself, and poet J.D. Scrimgeour (English). This section was created via structures inspired by two games: 

  1. Telephone game: The first player comes up with a message and whispers it to the ear of the second person. The second player repeats the message to the third player, and so on.
  2. Exquisite corpse: A method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule or by being allowed to see only the end of what the previous person contributed. 

The piece finishes with a free-form improvisation between J.D., Phil, and I. 

The concert also features solos by adjunct dance faculty Michelle Deane and Laila Franklin. 

CRCA: Is there an overall theme of the concert?

Miller: Collaboration! 

CRCA: What has the preparation process for the event been like?

Miller: Hopefully I've spoken to this, but each process has been a bit different. For my own piece, I began discussions with JD and Phil in July and started with the dancers in the studio in August. It's actually been a pretty quick process and has felt pretty organic in its coming together. 

CRCA: This first in-person SSU Dance event to be performed on campus since COVID, how does it feel returning to the stage? 

Miller: I touch on this in my answer to your first question, but I think most if not all of us have performed during COVID, mostly in small outdoor events (many of the dancers performed on the outdoor tiny stage in the Salem Arts Festival this summer, for instance), or in dance films or events produced for a remote audience. It will be INCREDIBLE to be on a stage, in a theater, sharing our work with a live audience. There's nothing quite like that. 

CRCA: Is there anything else about the event you'd like audience members to know before attending? 

Miller: We know that for many of the audience members, this will also be the first time back in a theater in a while. We've instituted some new procedures for everyone's safety. For instance, masks will be required (for performers and audience members alike), we are limiting our audience capacity to allow for physical distancing, and we'll ask folks who want to gather before or after the show to do so outside, keeping things moving in the lobby. We're also keeping the show under an hour. We want audience members to feel comfortable joining us for this wonderful event as we kick off a new academic year! 

Admissions to the event is free! The concert will take place Thursday, September 9, 2021 at 7:30 pm in the Sophia Gordon Center on campus. Learn more information and to reserve your tickets.


*Dance photo credit: Jonathan Hsu

Learn more about the Center for Research and Creative Activities. All Salem State University students, faculty, and staff are invited to email their research to be featured by the CRCA:

Karen A. Gahagan
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