Master classes bring performers, students together to rehearse

by Haley Gordon | 3/31/15 6:41pm

Kyle Abraham, whose choreography can be seen performed at the Hopkins Center this week in “When the Wolves Came In” — a performance combining classical and modern dance styles to explore the civil rights struggles in South Africa and the United States — is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow with an international reputation. Today, though, he will trade working with professional dancers for a postmodern movement class in Straus Dance Studio, open to both students and the community.

“How often do you get to take a class with the choreographer that’s famous for the work?” Laura Vang ’15, a dancer who plans to attend the class, said. “Having seen the show, I’m really hoping we get to see what he says to dancers to inspire the movement.”

Abraham’s class, which will take place at 4:30 p.m., is not an anomaly in Hanover. Like many performing arts centers around the country, the Hop has a history of working with visiting artists to offer community outreach programs, of which classes like Abraham’s are a key element. Known as “master classes,” these workshops are often open to both students and members of the community, but some may also be organized for students with specific skill sets — like strength in a particular instrument — Hopkins Center publicity coordinator Rebecca Bailey said.

Hopkins Center outreach and arts education manager Stephanie Pacheco said that master classes can run in two distinct formats. In one case, Pacheco said, classes may operate in a workshop style with participants working to fine tune their craft. In the other, the master class can run in a meet-and-greet style, with artists providing insight into their personal style and background while providing context for their performance.

Contrary to popular perception, Pacheco said, visiting artists at the College spend most of their time working with courses offered in various departments and engaging with students in master classes rather than simply performing and showcasing their talents. Class visits can include those with obvious connections — like musicians visiting music classes — but also include cross-disciplinary exposure, she said. This spring, for example, The Nile River Project — a collection of musicians from 11 Nile countries working to spark curiosity about the region and inspire students to tackle the complex challenges facing the Nile River — will visit classes in the sciences in addition to music courses.

“We really try to look for musicians throughout the year that have a background in education and teaching,” Pacheco said. “Philosophically, the Hopkins Center really builds those engagement activities into our whole process of bringing artists to campus. We are an educational institution.”

Carina Conti ’16, who has been dancing since she was three years old, said that master classes are further interdisciplinary in that they challenge dancers to work in styles distinct from the ones they usually practice.

“Even if a master class isn’t in your field of expertise, it’s good to challenge yourself in different ways,” she said. “Making your body move to different music and different styles is extremely helpful in making you a better dancer.”

In order to schedule class visits and master classes, the Hop maintains open communication with academic departments, Bailey said. This communication keeps the connection between artists and the College’s curriculum on the forefront of the staff’s mind, she said.

“Things like this have grown over time,” Bailey said. “It’s been at this current configuration as long as I’ve been here...and I know it goes much farther than that.”

In addition to Abraham’s masterclass, Hanover will welcome Ravi Coltrane to campus this spring. Coltrane, a jazz saxophonist and bandleader, will lead a master class with Dartmouth student jazz musicians on April 24. In addition, Stephen Drury, a world-renowned performer and conductor and Callithumpian Consort artistic director, will lead a master class in piano.

While some master classes are restricted to a specific group — like the quintet Imani Winds’ visit to the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble last year — many are open to interested community members. Some groups in the past have worked with high school and middle school orchestras, sitting down alongside them and practicing as one large group. In other cases, like Shantala Shivalingappa’s dance master class during the winter, events are opened to community members who are at least intermediate in the field.

To participate in master classes, students should stay aware of notices about open events that are sent via email, Pacheco said. Students and community members can register online or through the Hop Box Office. Certain classes are only offered to specific students, but many are open to observers even when their participants are restricted.

“If you see something coming that you’re interested in you can always reach out to Hop Outreach,” Pacheco said. “Sometimes there’s official programs in the works, and sometimes we can arrange…a one-on-one.”