Dance student Monica Kerr interviews Sarah Butler, a founding member of Ate9, who returned to Cornish to set an excerpt of Danielle Agami’s work "Vickie" for Cornish Dance Theater.
Dance Department Chair Victoria Watts regularly schedules opportunities that both enhance current artistic development while simultaneously strengthening future professional exchanges. Dance students have benefited from this effort with visits by guest artists offering master classes and residencies. For the Spring Cornish Dance Theater concert, alumna Sarah Butler ‘12, a founding member of Ate9, returned to Cornish to set an excerpt of Danielle Agami’s work Vickie on a cast of ten.
Butler brought her six years of professional experience to the entirety of the department through Q + A sessions with students, Gaga classes, Gaga-inspired ballet classes, repertory from Vickie, and a lecture/demonstration including an open rehearsal. Developed by Ohad Naharin, Gaga is a movement language involving an intentional focus and fascination with sensation and body-awareness. Inspired by her research of Gaga, Butler’s innovative ballet instruction maintains a classically structured class but adjusts the content to allow exploration of that vocabulary through application and experimentation with Gaga principles. The combination of Gaga values and ballet vocabulary involves an emphasis on the sensations of spiraling, reaching, and floating. Butler’s curiosity in finding the root of the movement, instead of forcing it externally, encourages students to use their agency in researching their own movement practices. Similarly, her Gaga class challenges participants to remain actively engaged through their personal investigation with the varying sensations of the movement language.
In an interview Butler said, “the class, the language and the ability to research is a really great transition into rehearsal because we can apply the sensations and the research we were doing in class (which don’t necessarily have a form or a shape) and then put them into a form and a shape.” Every day for three weeks, the Vickie cast has intently workshopped Danielle Agami’s choreography under Butler’s direction. Butler sets professional expectation for the cast in terms of the maturity and commitment required in each rehearsal. Over the span of the residency, all ten dancers have been empowered to learn all parts of the piece and given the opportunity to mold the choreography onto their bodies. Butler strives to eliminate a validation system in rehearsals. “We all have a lot of information and things to offer,”she said. Her direct and articulate feedback inspires the movers to approach the rehearsal process with the “genuine fascination” that she hopes to ignite. On April 14 and 15, the cast had the chance to work closely with choreographer Danielle Agami for two rehearsals. They will perform Vickie at the Cornish Playhouse as part of Cornish Dance Theater, April 20 at 8:00 p.m. and April 21 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The time that Sarah Butler has dedicated to the residency leaves the students with an enriching experience and an invitation to approach our movement research “from [our] beginning versus someone else’s end.” // Edits by Lodi McClellan and Victoria Watts