Every year, Wesleyan’s Dance Department faculty teach hundreds of students how to master ballet, West African, Indonesian, South Asian, Afro-Brazillian, and even hip-hop dance moves. But these scholar-teachers also work beyond the classroom, sharing their art with the general population.
Last month, the work of three Wesleyan dance faculty caught the attention of the world-renowned Jacob’s Pillow dance center. Jacob’s Pillow is home to America’s longest-running international dance festival and hosts performances, lectures, tours, films, artist talks, and exhibits, and boasts one of the most meticulously maintained dance archives in the country.
“The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival is one of the most prestigious dance festivals in the country and around the world,” said Hari Krishnan, chair and professor of dance. “Having three faculty represented is an honor. The national and international acclaim our faculty continue to receive further confirms the global experience they bring into our classrooms every day—our students continue to benefit from these rich experiences, impacting their understanding of dance and the uniqueness of a Wesleyan dance education.”
Award-winning dancer, storyteller, performer, drummer, and Assistant Professor of Dance Iddrisu “Iddi” Saaka was invited to Jacob’s Pillow on Feb. 20 to lead a West African Dance community workshop, focusing on exploring Ghanaian culture through movement and storytelling. Saaka, who joined Wesleyan’s faculty in 2008, taught participants the fundamental principles and aesthetics of West African dance and general West African movement vocabulary.
He focused specifically on Ghanaian dance, where the orientation of the body is downwards, towards the earth.
“Dance is a gateway to the cultures and ways of life of the people of West Africa,” Saaka said. “It is the medium on which the very existence of the people is reinforced and celebrated.”
Saaka has taught and performed in community settings and K-12 schools since 2009 as an artist on the roster of Arts for Learning Connecticut. With this organization, he works with populations outside of Wesleyan “to expand their worldviews; gain respect and appreciation for cultural diversity; express themselves through their bodies; respect; and appreciate their bodies; and respect others,” he said.
“It is not rare for me to teach outside of the classroom at Wesleyan,” Saaka said. “Teaching in other venues and communities is a strong trajectory of my research.”
While this was Saaka’s first appearance at Jacob’s Pillow, Krishnan, who specializes in the classical Indian dance Bharatanatyam, is no stranger to the Pillow stages.
In 2012, he performed with an international cohort of male dancers celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Pillow. In 2013, he presented two choreographies there, and in 2016, he returned to perform in a duet titled “Tiger by the Tail.” In 2018, as a Pillow Scholar-in-Residence, Krishnan premiered a new solo work, Black Box 3. And in February, he completed his second commissioned article for the Jacob’s Pillow’s Dance Interactive archives on the trajectory of Bharatanatyam at the Pillow. His essays are online here.
In addition, Visiting Associate Professor Douglas Elkins’ magnum opus work, Fräulein Maria, is highlighted as part of a Pillow Voices podcast celebrating his visionary choreographic world. In the Feb. 26 episode of Pillow Voices, performer Lisa Niedermeyer revisits Elkins’ joyful dance based on The Sound of Music, and plays recordings of Elkins speaking during two previous Pillow engagements.
Elkins also has performed at Jacob’s Pillow in the past.
“Our esteemed faculty continue to blur the artist/scholar model in beautiful, urgent, and compelling ways,” Krishnan said. “They’re challenging binaries, pursuing interdisciplinary work where dance is an effective collaborative partner, and engaging with dance as a generative and transformational research method.”
Read more about Hari Krishnan in this 2020 Wesleyan University Magazine article.
Read more about Iddi Saaka in this Wesleyan Connection article. Watch his choreography in action in this video below:
Read more about Doug Elkins online here. Watch his choreography at Jacob’s Pillow in this video: