On an autumn afternoon in Halsey Hall, north of the Pentacrest, ballet students practice before the barre, looks of intense concentration on their faces as they gracefully perform a complex series of movements. Across the Iowa River in the Voxman Music Building, meanwhile, a solitary student practices his clarinet for an upcoming recital, repeating a difficult passage over and over to get just the right phrasing. And downriver at the Theatre Building, a group of drama students heatedly discuss differing interpretations of an upcoming play.
On a tour through the buildings that house the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Division of Performing Arts, one cant help but feel the passion that permeates the study of music, dance, and theatre at Iowa. Thanks to the establishment of the new Division of Performing Arts, college faculty and administrators hope to further strengthen these nationally respected programs of study.
Launched in August 2000, the new division builds on the spirit of collaboration that has long existed among the three departments. While the academic programs continue to be run independently, their performance schedules and administrative functions now are jointly operated.
Our goal is to further cross-fertilization between departments, so that actors can more easily be involved in music, musicians can participate in dance performances, and so on, says David Nelson, former director of the School of Music and current chair of the division.
Even though the Division of Performing Arts is in its infancy, students already are experiencing its positive effects.
Todd Rosendahl, a first-year student from Cresco, Iowa, has chosen to major in music with an emphasis in percussion. His interest in the music program here has much to do with its involvement with other performing arts departments.
Im not just stuck in a room with all the other music students. Its neat to write music and then see something happen to it, when dancers and actors use it in performance, says Rosendahl, who hopes to become a high school band teacher someday. And I can take some of the classes in other areas of performing arts that Ill be able to incorporate into my teaching.
Founded in 1906, the School of Music was a pioneer in granting graduate degrees for creative work in the arts and today is ranked among the top five state university music schools in the nation. The quality of both faculty and students is showcased in nearly 500 performances each year, with an equal number of student and faculty performances and recitals. Among the schools top performing groups are the University Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia, and Symphony Band. Resident ensembles include the Maia Quartet, the Iowa Brass Quintet, and the Iowa Woodwind Quintet.
The Center for New Music is gaining special recognition both on campus and beyond. Founded in 1966, it was the first academic center of its kind west of the Mississippi and has grown to become one of the worlds great sanctuaries for contemporary composition and performance. Two years ago, its Russian Contemporary Music Festival featured 10 guest composers from the Moscow Conservatory of Music and garnered rave reviews from The New York Times.
Although one of the nations oldest theatre programs, Iowas theatre arts department is especially known for its emphasis on the creation and performance of new works.
Our mission to support original plays is in many ways a natural complement to the Universitys long-standing brilliance in creative writing, says Alan MacVey, chair of theatre arts. Our graduate playwriting program is probably the best in the country, and our New Play Festival features five to six original works performed in a single week each May. We also run a summer repertory season focused on the work of a single writer. Respect for writers defines our program.
This outstanding program is what first attracted Emily Happe, a junior from Sioux City, Iowa, to the University. Once she arrived and discovered the strong dance department and its close ties to theatre, she decided to enhance her major with a minor in dance.
Ive noticed people make a real effort here to incorporate the different departments in specific classes. In Advanced Choreographic Design, theatre students and dance students worked together on pieces that included both spoken text and dance, she says. And last year a group of students organized an informal evening of performance in response to Sept. 11 events that involved all three areas.
Happe has been most impressed by the UI performing arts communitys emphasis on the production of new works. She played the lead, Suji, in last semesters world-premier performance of Klub Ka, which incorporated dance, music, and theatre and was written, musically directed, and performed by UI artists.
Its so exciting to be involved in the creation of a work from the beginning, Happe says. Theres an amazing, collaborative feeling with all these people coming together to bring a new work to its feet.
Youngest of the three performing arts departments, dance is rapidly rising in prominence.
Our undergrad enrollments have doubled within the past 10 years, says David Berkey, chair of the dance department. We now have about 100 undergraduate majors, along with another 500 students who take courses in our department. Thats very large for a university dance program. The average number of undergraduate dance majors for departments nationally is 50 students.
A greater emphasis on global dance has broadened the departments offerings in recent years, a reflection of the important role dance plays in cultures around the world. And in an example of the cross-fertilizations that the new division hopes to encourage, last year Brazilian-born faculty member Armando Duarte collaborated with School of Music flutist Tadeu Coelho, also a Brazilian, to create a faculty concert called ¡Rompe! The Dance and Music of the Americas Project.
Its always valuableand funto work with artists and professors from other departments, Duarte says. I think students gain a lot of benefit from these collaborations as well.
Like music and theatre, the dance department also emphasizes the production of new works. The departments premier event for showcasing them is Dance Gala, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last fall. Held each November on the Hancher stage, the gala features the choreographic talent of the dance faculty in an eclectic mix of works performed by more than 50 dancers.
Because of all the care and energy thats put into the event, the dancers always come through, Berkey says. Ive never seen a lackluster performance at a Dance Gala.
Though diverse in many ways, faculty members from the Division of Performing Arts share a common commitment to teaching.
We are looking for world-class artists who are sensitive to the teaching and learning process, Nelson says. It doesnt do any good to bring in people who cant teach. Its absolutely essential for performance faculty to be performers themselves. I dont think its possible to give students a complete view of what it means to be a performer unless youre doing it yourself.
Living La Vida Loca
The opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration exists outside the classroom as well. Percussion student Rosendahl has taken advantage of another opportunity for artistic students; he lives in the Performing Arts Learning Community in Currier Residence Hall. The co-ed floor, which houses 47 mostly first-year students, is open to students with an interest in the performing arts.
Floor leaders organize talent contests, gather residents together to attend each others productions or professional shows that come to town, and invite guest speakers to visit.
Ive met some of the most amazing people. Were like a big family, says Kelly Snyder, a first-year student from Flossmoor, Ill., and co-president for her floor activities board. She is a theatre arts and cinema double major. A lot of people come to college feeling a little overwhelmed. This is a great way to meet people who have the same interests as you.
Happe believes that the Division of Performing Arts nurtures that close-knit feeling of family among its students, which in turn helps the students be more successful at the University and, in the long run, in their careers.
Once you get out in the real world, working in the arts is always a collaborative process. Its important to bring your skills to the table, but you also need to have an understanding of others skills and talents, Happe says. Its nice to band together and get support from one another. The way were collaborating at Iowa makes us even stronger as artists.
by Lori Erickson and Amy Schoon