Claire Vogel- SHE

Claire Vogel is a third year acting major from Athens, Georgia in the school of music, theatre, and dance, she is also minoring in playwriting and dance. She recently created a very moving work entitled SHE. This work was created in support by the Basement Arts here at Michigan. This organization is a student theater organization that is an outlet here at the University to allow students to create, develop, and produce theatre works. This organization is available to all students here at Michigan. They are producing multiple shows throughout this semester, you should definitely go check them out! 

I have the amazing opportunity to work with Claire in class this semester, and have heard about her creation process for SHE a small bit, however, after watching the hour long incredible work I wanted to the opportunity to sit down and ask her questions about the production, concept, and editing processes as well.

What inspired you to create SHE, and what is the story behind it? “In quarantine, I began writing lots of poetry about the contradictions I was feeling in my own femininity. Those poems were the germ of an idea that grew into SHE. Going in to the process for SHE, I knew I wanted the piece to simply be a presentation on ideas of what a woman experiences, rather than any linear storyline.”
What was the creation process like during a time of COVID? How did you navigate rehearsals? “All our rehearsals were via Zoom. We spent a large amount of the rehearsal time on focused free writes, for example, “you have 20 minutes to write about how you experience anger/relationships with food/relationships with other women, etc…” and then the conversations that came out of sharing what everyone had written. I actually think Zoom may have been helpful to our process, because we were so often referencing many documents at once. I also think myself and the cast all felt very close very quickly, and were willing to open up and be vulnerable. I think this may have been aided by the fact that everyone was in the comfort of their own homes, and felt distanced in a way that made sharing difficult or personal experiences easier.”
What was the filming process like? “When I processed SHE to Basement Arts I knew that a short film was the medium that would be best for what I imagined. Because so many ideas were covered in just over an hour, I think a film gave us the opportunity to very quickly set scenes and moods, in a way that may have been difficult in a live performance medium. Many of the sequences were self taped by actors in their homes. For the in-person filming, we split filming between University spaces and peoples own homes, depending on people’s comfort level. All the actors and the crew were tested within 48 hours of filming, and remained masked unless they were actively performing. I couldn’t have accomplished the final product I did without the help of three fabulous film students, Kaley Mooney and Lara Graney who did a good amount of our filming, and Rachel Ienna who helped me complete the final editing of the piece.”
Did you have a clear idea, or as you began to collect footage did the story begin to come together? “I’m a very visual person in terms of creating. All my writing comes from very clear things I see in my head, so many images were set in stone from the very beginning of the process. For example, the image of a woman running towards the beautiful lit up Michigan Theater on State Street, only to be engulfed in a celebration with a group of women dancing in the street was an image I knew I wanted before the first rehearsal, but many of the sequences in the piece were ideas that everyone collaborated on throughout the rehearsal process!”
What was your favorite part of this process? “Oh god, working with these incredible women!! I told the nine of them in our first rehearsal that if all that comes of this project is a couple hours a day for a group of young women to discuss whatever the hell they want, I will be satisfied, and we really did that. It’s incredibly comforting to know that the things that you’re struggling with or wishing you had more of or wondering about are things that people around you are thinking about as well, you just need the space to share them!”
What does the title mean to you and why is your work entitled SHE?  “For the title, I wanted something simple that centered the subject matter I hoped to focus on without making it seem romantic or flower-y. Because the piece is about the female experience, SHE seemed to be perfect.”
What was an unexpected obstacle you had to overcome when creating this work? “Because we couldn’t film more than one person unmasked at a time, due to Covid procedures, we had to be creative with creating group sequences that could be filmed individually and be edited to look as if they were together. I think it challenged us to think differently about what together-ness can look like.”
What can we expect to see next from you? “I will be performing in Basement Arts’ production of Slut premiering March 19! I also choreographed a short film titled Emotional Creature, featuring the women of the Senior acting class that will be premiering March 19th!”
Here is the link to watch this work. I recommend you take the time to sit down and really watch it!

Black History Month Student Spotlight

I wanted to highlight a student in the dance department for the last post highlighting Black History Month. Brooke Alexandria Taylor is a second year dance major that has organized #DanceforFlyod, created a screen dance entitled A Repetitious Narrative, and hosted an anti-racist staff and student assembly this past week. She has worked tirelessly to address issues behind racism in and out of the department. I asked her about her experience organizing and creating such important works.

Can you tell us about #DanceforFloyd ? How did it start? 

“This past summer I planned a protest entitled Drive In For Justice, which was a safe protest for the Black Lives Matter Movement that encouraged attendees to remain in their car. Through organizing this protest I discovered that I truly find joy in protest organization and giving people a platform to express their emotions. To create more awareness surrounding racial injustice. However, when the summer time ended and it was time to return to The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, I did not want to let my efforts for the Black Lives Matter movement to end. I had the idea to plan another protest focusing on artistic expression.”

What was the process like? How did you find dancers to participate and a space to share this?

“The dancers in the protest had a variety of academic backgrounds and belong to several schools within The University of Michigan. The artists were all African American, but there were also so many other supporters that showed their allyship with their presence and protest signage. We danced in the intersection of South State Street and North University and it was a huge open space that was beautifully covered in art by students at The University of Michigan.”

Why did you decide to dance rather than march?
“The artistic protest was an 8 minute and 46 second improvisational experience, this duration represents the amount of time George Floyd  suffocated with a knee in his neck by Derek Chauvin. The protest was designed mainly for dancers to express themselves and to experience the concept of time in relation to movement.”
I was also watching your A Repetitious Narrative, it’s beautiful. What inspired you to create a screendance and what was that process like? 
“A Repetitious Narrative was truly a composition assignment from one of my classes in the Dance Department. The assignment was to create a piece focusing on perspective and I wanted the audience to watch in the perspective of a man being followed because of the color of his skin. The entire process included a choreographic walk, along with dance improvisation and videography by Mariah Stevens.”
This past week Brooke also organized an anti-racist assembly for students and staff within the dance department. At this assembly we heard from students past and present talking about their experiences within the department regarding race. It was a tough assembly to sit through and hear about experiences that my peers have lived through and have dealt with, not necessarily experiences of direct racism but micro-aggressions and ignorance by staff and students alike. I was in shock at how many of their experiences are a daily occurrence and often overlooked, I could not believe by some of the ignorant conversations they shared, but then again, I know I am not perfect myself and have definitely made unaware, uneducated comments. This assembly allowed me to stop and think about many of my actions and moving forward I was act and speak with more awareness to the best of my ability.
Here is Brookes screendance A Repetitive Narrative

Black History Month Company Spotlight

Urban Bush Women was founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. It is based in Brooklyn, New York, a non-profit dance company and the only professional African-American women’s dance company in existence. This company strives to bring forth untold stories of living as a black woman in America to light through dance. Through dance they address issues of social justice, affirming diversity, fostering community engagement and developing new audiences.

Urban Bush Women started has hair parties, a place where black women can come and do their hair together. Growing up I never had to learn how to do my hair differently than any of my friends, I honestly didn’t even know that caring for black hair was different than caring for my type of hair. These hair parties allowed women to share stories and come together as a community.

The company recognizes that everyone comes from different backgrounds and uses that as a force to drive the works they create. Trust is key to building the relationships necessary in order for each participant to get the most out of their experience at a hair party or dance class. The demand for leadership allow the group members to feel comfortable enough in a vulnerable group setting is vital- this helps foster creativity within the group. Having taken class with the dancers of the company I know how important it is for the leader to create a safe space.

Two years ago the company came to set a piece on the dance students for the departments annual Power Center show. The process of the audition and rehearsals were not only extremely physical, but emotionally liberating. The way Urban Bush Women carry out their classes is similar to the Batsheva Dance Company. All mirrors are covered, everyone is dancing facing in towards the center of the room, everyone in the room must be participating in the class. This allows the judgement of oneself to be left at the door. In class we would often find ourselves exhausting our bodies with physical moment, and with the instruction of the leader we would yell out something- whether that be a happy or sad thought. We are often left to let our movement subside and embrace the emotions that we are left with.

Here is the Urban Bush Women website:

Here is Urban Bush Women “Hair and Other Stories”:


Black History Month Artist Spotlight

It has officially been two weeks into black history month and as a white student I remember my predominantly white school honoring black history month with one announcement on February 1st- growing up I realize that this is a privilege and throughout this past year I have begun to research, support, and advocate for the social injustices that I have heard so much about growing up. I would like to carry the work and awareness I have built for myself into 2021. I plan to spotlight various black artists throughout this month, I am not trying to be a white savior. I would only like to use this platform as an opportunity to recognize artists that I feel have shaped dance for generations to come.

Katherine Dunham was a dancer and choreographer, she is known for her technique- The Dunham technique.  She has been called the “matriarch and queen mother of black dance.”A Chicago native (just like me), she was the first African American women to attend the University of Chicago and earn a bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees all in anthropology. After graduation she founded the Negro Dance Group, they performed at countless Chicago Theatres and danced with the Chicago Opera Company. Two years after founding her company she was invited to partake in a fellowship in the Caribbean, studying all aspects of dance and the motivations behind the artform.

Katherine Dunham revolutionized American dance in the 1930’s. She went to the roots of black dance and rituals. transforming them into artistic choreography. She was a pioneer by using folk and ethnic dance in choreography performed on mainstream stages. Dunham showed the world that African American heritage is beautiful and deserves to be given a platform. Katherine has been credited for bringing these Caribbean and African influences to a western-dominated dance world.

She returned to the United States with new information on new methods of movement and expression. She then created the Dunham Technique that transformed the world of dance. I am currently enrolled in Dunham technique. As a dancer I pride myself in the ability to transform into any setting I am placed in, however, on my first day of Dunham Technique I realized how out of my league I was. It took my body a few weeks to understand how the technique feels on my body, and I am still getting used to it. I have attached a short class clip of what the Dunham technique looks like, as well as, Dunham dancing in the infamous Ballet Creole.


Arts In Color Choreographer Spotlight

Arts In Color is a campus arts organization that celebrates diversity through dance! It was started by Johanna Kepler, a dance major and recent graduate of the Dance Department here at Michigan. This year with the inability to share dance and performances live the organization created “Range of Reactions” a 5 short film production all choreographed and filmed by Dance Department Students. They began rehearsals and auditions for this project early in the school year and finally, after all of their hard work the film was released on Friday! Katie Besser is a sophomore from Los Angeles and was a choreographer for this project. I have had the pleasure of working with Katie previously and was interested to see what inspired her to create a piece for this project, what she found to be challenges, and how she enjoyed working with film.


Introduce Yourself- name, pronouns, major/minors, and hometown

“Hi, my name is Katey Besser and my pronouns are she/her/hers.  I am a dual degree student with Dance in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and Movement Science in the School of Kinesiology.  My hometown is Los Angeles, California.”

Why did you want to be a choreographer for the Arts In Color Showcase? 

“I wanted to be a choreographer for the Arts In Color Showcase because I really like choreographing and was inspired by the AIC showcase last year so I knew that I wanted to choreograph a piece this year.  After attending the informational meeting I was inspired by the concept of the showcase “Range of Reaction” and had many ideas that I was excited to start developing.  So much has happened in the past year that I was excited for the opportunity to work closely with other dancers and create a meaningful piece. After not dancing with other people for months of quarantine, I was excited to go back to creating art and collaborating with others for the AIC Showcase and am very grateful for the opportunity to do that safely.”

For those who don’t know what Arts In Color is can you explain the organization and what it means to you?

“Yes, Arts In Color is an organization that uses dance and the arts to advocate for social justice through events that celebrate diversity, equity, and inclusion.  We use our voices and gift of dance to influence change on issues from topics including race, sexuality, gender, identity, and more.  Arts In Color encourages conversations to promote an inclusive and meaningful learning environment within the Department of Dance and for the UM community.  I have really enjoyed attending meetings and learning from my peers and their experiences.  It is a really safe space to learn, share, and make a change.  As a woman in today’s society there are many challenges I have faced so AIC has helped me be able to open up about my stories. Through the process of working on my piece for the showcase, my dancers really inspired me by hearing their stories which helped me incorporate their individuality into the piece.”

When creating this work was there an initial idea that sparked your creative process?

“Yeah! The prompt of the Showcase “Range of Reaction” was ‘how a person’s environment and genetics influence the person they are and the life that they live’.  This statement really resonated with me because I think everyone has had an experience where they felt silenced to speak up for their beliefs by their peers or what was in the media.  I wanted to research the response people receive within a structured group when they are trying to break away and disturb the system.  So in this piece I focused on the individual versus the groupthink.  The piece looks at how external influences have altered our innate intuition and knowledge, specifically with social justice issues such as racial inequality, income inequality, and discrimination. I pictured the image of a wolf pack when wanting to portray the individual versus groupthink.  Wolves rely on one another for food, safety, warmth, and acquaintance.  When one wolf breaks away from the pack the dynamic of the group is disturbed and the pack tries to bring them back to their group.  This relates to us as people because today there is pressure to put aside our personal beliefs to adopt the opinion of the people around us.  Ultimately, we need strength to form our own opinions and break from the group so our voices can be heard.”

When casting your work what were you looking for in dancers?

“When casting my work I was looking for dancers that were eager and excited to dance as well as open to having conversations and exploring different concepts.  I ended up having an amazing cast of two freshmen and one junior in my piece as well as myself who is a sophomore.  It was really neat being able to work closely with a cast of all different years in school because going into it we didn’t know each other that well but everyone brought in such new perspectives and we quickly all bonded.  With Covid and not having many classes in the building together as a department, it was nice for us to connect over this.  The piece came together so nicely because of the dancers and they made the experience so enjoyable, I am so grateful for them!”

What was the process like? How was it choreographing, rehearsing, and performing during a time of COVID? 

“The process definitely had its ups and downs but I am very happy with how it turned out.  I started with my concept and from there found music, found a location, and imagined an overview of how I wanted the piece to look.  I then started choreographing on my own and mapping out the structure.  Choreographing in the time of Covid was more challenging because I have a limited space at home to move which definitely took longer than if I were in the dance studio but it was also fun to dance and choreograph in new places like my driveway.  I then held rehearsals with the cast.  We started each rehearsal discussing a new question that helped us develop the idea for the piece and so that everyone had contribution.  Most rehearsals were outside on the concrete basketball courts so that we were outside and wearing masks around each other. There were a couple times when the weather made it so that we had to rehearse on zoom and it is nice that we have the technology for this but also makes putting together the piece more difficult. Rehearsals do feel different when they aren’t in the dance studio but everyone adapted well.  If I were to choreograph this piece in non covid times I would have used more partner work but I had to be creative with how to portray some of the sections since we cannot touch as well as how to use the space so there was enough room between us. We also had an issue where Washtenaw county ordered a stay at home because of covid for two weeks and we were supposed to film that weekend.  The filming got put on hold until the order was lifted but by that time it was really cold outside which was tough for filming because our muscles were not warm to dance but we pushed through.  I am so grateful for the resilience and strength of my cast they were so easy going and made it all possible.  Covid has changed a lot of things in the world and the best we can do is to adapt to this new way of life and continue pursuing our passions.  I am so happy with how the piece turned out and am very grateful that I had this opportunity to dance and choreograph.”

Having the pleasure of watching the entire short film, I loved watching katies choreography immersed in nature. The music choice was beautifully encompassed in the filming and dancing. The sun piercing through the trees as the dancers moved in neutral colors. They were extremely grounded and it was relaxing to watch, The filming, editing, and dancing were all done extremely professionally since this whole production began and ended with students. If you have not had the opportunity to watch the short film the link to watch this amazing project is below.



The New Way Of Sharing Dance

There is no doubt that the arts community has been greatly affected by this pandemic. Not just the many struggling dance companies or Broadway unfortunately being placed on hold until the summer of 2021, but the young aspiring artists as well. The young artists in training are forced to take classes online in spaces that don’t have barres, marley floors, peers, or frankly space.

This past semester an online improvisation class was offered through the dance department. It was taught by Charli Brissey who is very well known for their creative dance concept videos. Online performing is a strength of theirs. Taking an online class with a professor who is comfortable with sharing dance through a screen adds a sense of ease to the students taking their class as well. For the final project Charli instructed the students to take the information that they had been writing and discussing about in class all semester and create an online submission- whatever they felt best represented what they had learned. The sky is the limit. Olivia Johnson created an online dance concept video that was extremely breathtaking. Olivia Johnson is a third year dance major originally from the suburbs of Los Angeles. I asked Olivia to explain her creative process and journey throughout this final project and I am pleased to share her video!

When beginning this final project what initial idea sparked your process?

“I was thinking a lot about my own identity and the way I express my gender, and I’ve been studying a lot of surrealist visual artists, performance artists, and photographers. During the era of surrealism and abstraction and a new form of composing and curating meaning in the 20th century, a lot of lovely figures were shape shifting and gender bending, using adornments of makeup and costume and lighting and facials and body language to make an entire story, argument.”
Were there any artists that helped guide you throughout this creative process?
“I was inspired by Claude Cahun, Frida Kahlo and Gladys Bentley, among so many other people, and the way they expressed themselves and their illustrious thoughts. This established a convention of flashing images and self-portraiture that I wanted to splice together, in contrast with a quite genderless me in public, wearing grey sweats.”
When editing your clips and movement what stuck out to you? How was the editing process?
“I wanted the experience to be a timeless void into my innate dialogues about how I like to express myself, my identity, because it changes by the day. And art is a lovely way to question and threaten the standardized, categorized way we express our genders, ourselves, so that we can open ourselves to new possibilities, new relationships, new creations, and boundless archetypes of thought and identity. This project was soaked in a lot of legacy and research, and contains a lot of doubt and contemplation about the ways in which we reflect nature and evolve, as it does itself. Disclosing your identity is not a single event, nor will it ever be!”