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Stroll through the new “Dancing the Dream” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and you’ll notice among the performance legends featured is Columbian College’s very own Dana Tai Soon Burgess. And, as the gallery’s first artists-in-residence, the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company is playing a prominent role in the exhibit’s innovative public rehearsals and performances of Homage.
“Homage reflects the continuum of dance in the U.S. and honors American dance pioneers such as Shirley Temple, Martha Graham, John Travolta, and Liza Minelli,” said Burgess, associate professor and chair of GW’s Department of Theatre and Dance. “Built from images and stories associated with the exhibit itself, the piece demonstrates how historic images can inspire a contemporary creative process and generate new work.”
Among the performers in the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company are students, faculty, and alumni from GW’s dance program. They include Presidential Scholar in the Arts and theatre and dance major Ben Sanders, dance graduate student Filipe Oyarzun Moltedo; and recent MFA alumni Kelly Moss Southhall and Yeonin Cho. As participants in the virtual exhibit, the dancers engage museum visitors in-person through an open rehearsal process, multiple free onsite performances of two new choreographic works, in-gallery live video streaming, and an integrated social media strategy.
“This process is important because it demystifies the research process that goes into making a dance and shares the creative with the public,” explained Burgess. “Usually dances are choreographed in studios behind closed doors and the public only experiences the end product of a very intensive, long process.”
Burgess’s collaboration with the Smithsonian is the focus of his work as GW’s 2013-’14 Incubator Studio Fellow. The fellowship was created to provide select faculty a platform for creative research and collaborative scholarship. It is a key component of the university-wide Arts Initiative launched last year to embrace and celebrate the arts at GW.
The Smithsonian estimates “Dancing the Dream” will reach 600,000 live audience members and engage 200,000 online visitors over a nine-month period. Burgess hopes the project’s broad scope and interactive experience cultivates a clearer understanding of the rich history of dance in America.
“The exhibit, the choreography, and the open rehearsals shed new light on the history of American dance and its parallel relationship to American diversity and ingenuity,” he said.
Homage will premiere in the museum’s Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard on November 16. A second piece will be performed in April. The Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company will also perform Homage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in February. For more information, visit dtsbdc.org.