In today’s dance world, collaboration is vital. Creative partnerships between artists have generated some of the most aesthetically intriguing and thought-provoking dance works in recent years. This unified approach has certainly found a place in an art form that values innovation and exploration. While the fruits of collaboration can be seen on stages worldwide, the seeds are sown in far less public spaces. At the legendary studios of Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York Live Arts and DANY Studios in the heart of Manhattan, advanced contemporary dancers convene for three weeks each summer to embark on a new kind of collaboration—one that yields both internal and external discoveries.
Since 2009, as part of NJDTE’s advanced contemporary programming in New York City, the Movement Invention Project® (MIP®) has paired groups of dancers seeking unparalleled training and preparation for professional careers with world-renowned master artist Collaborators. At MIP®, the participants are explorers, first and foremost, and the Collaborators are their partners along the journey. While MIP® is an intense training program in which students are exposed to an array of contemporary and improvisational dance techniques, it is also a period in which the creative process is constantly in motion. Put simply, the dancers learn to take risk with abandon.
As the demand for dance artists who are well-versed in sharing and expressing ideas with choreographers and peers has grown, so has the desire of dancers to hone these skills early on in their training. While the original MIP® program brings together 64 advanced dancers ages 18-23, its core principles are just as effective in broadening the training of younger artists. It is from this belief that MIP2® was born in 2010. It has since provided a space in which dancers as young as 15 can take part in an equally exhilarating, two-week adventure where creative energy flows freely.
The collaborative process at MIP® is not about the creation of virtuosic, never-before-seen movement. It is founded upon the idea that the work environment is directly connected to the progress and explorations being made. For this reason, MIP® and MIP2® stand out among a collection of programs in which a rigid focus on technical strength and physical development can sometimes overshadow the importance of feeling emotionally engaged and free in the studio.
Working together with NJDTE Artistic Director Nancy Turano, Alexandra Wells, MIP® Concept and Artistic Director, has cultivated the atmosphere of the studio as a second home for dancers. In doing so, she has created a space in which dancers not only feel encouraged to push their limits, but are also reminded to find the joy in their movement—the very feeling that brought them to the arts in the first place. Her Image Tech classes reconfigure the way the participants think about their daily ballet classes by introducing principles of energetic and directional imagery to facilitate movement.
"It was the most intense and gratifying dance experience I've ever had, and one of the only spaces I've been in where movement, thought, belief, and action melded together so fluidly."
“Alexandra redefined the way I think about ballet. She has such a great way of making ballet class feel like a really comfortable and explorative environment”
Dance is a reflection of everyday truths. Performers draw on firsthand experiences to inform their movements and convey a compelling story to their audience. During MIP® and MIP2®, dancers are exposed to the limitless potential of their personal experiences in guiding their explorations.
This summer, Shamel Pitts—a dancer with Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s world-renowned contemporary dance troupe—led participants in a discovery of the Gaga technique. As part of their work, they were tasked with creating movement inspired by texture, form, and curves, while their partner aimed to interrupt their movements with a sense of receptiveness. It was a physical manifestation of the opposing forces that the technique thrives on, as well as reminder to remain open and compassionate with one another.
With NJDTE AiR® resident choreographer Shannon Gillen, dancers expressed their emotions through sound to highlight the theatricality of dance. Such work can often be intimidating, but in an environment where mistakes are welcome and taking risks is very much necessary for improvement, it was an enlightening experience for the MIP® participants.
“[Shannon] provoked so much raw emotion and movement out of me…I’m still trying to process everything she shared with us. I also really appreciated how much thought she put into the information she was giving us. She was fully invested in each one of the 64 artists in the room at all times and that is something I value a lot in teachers”
-MIP® 2016 Participant
Both programs culminated with a day of sharing of skils, exercises and movement explorations. Contrary to most program showings, these sharings were a continuation of the processes started on Day One—a reminder that while the program may be coming to an end, the creative journey is never-ending.
The MIP2® sharing began by asking the question, What does it mean to be contemporary? For these dancers, it means being of the
present moment. For 60 minutes, both dancer and spectator experienced an improvisational journey, fed solely by the energy in the room and the willingness of everyone present to trust the process.
In a section entitled “Face Off” at the MIP® sharing, the 64 dancers took turns passing extremely physical facial expressions to one another around a large circle: the participants first internalized, then reacted and gave a new perspective to, each expression. In another exercise, called “Explosions,” they experimented with an impulse that started from within and gradually exploded outward with specificity and clear direction. Brain informed body, body informed brain. The practice was a clear representation of what contemporary work has come to be.
"[MIP2®] is so different than any other experience I've had. This isn't training-focused, it's here to make you go further and create an individuality. It makes me want to learn more about myself."
- Emma Thesing, MIP2® participant