Transcript, Episode 55: Insurance Crisis, Grammys Highlights, and Emily Coates

[Jump to Emily Coates interview]



Margaret Fuhrer:
Hi, dance friends, and welcome to The Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Courtney Escoyne:
I’m Courtney Escoyne.

Lydia Murray:
And I’m Lydia Murray.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media. And before we begin today’s episode, we want to acknowledge that we’re recording one day after eight people, six of whom were Asian, were killed in a series of shootings at Atlanta area massage parlors. It’s a horrifying tragedy, and it comes at this time when hate incidents targeting Asian-Americans have risen dramatically.

On the surface, this isn’t a dance story. But anti-Asian bias and discrimination and misrepresentation is very much a dance world problem. And the shootings in Atlanta underscore the urgency of issues like eliminating orientalist stereotypes in ballet, for example, because that kind of dehumanization, when you reduce cultures to caricatures, that’s a pathway to hate. So if you have the means to give, please consider including dance-specific Asian advocacy causes, like Final Bow for Yellowface, when you’re giving. We’ll include a link to the Final Bow page in the episode notes.

So, back to today’s episode. We’re going to be talking about the health insurance crisis that many dancers, and especially freelance performers, are facing right now. We’ll discuss how the pandemic’s devastation of the arts has disproportionately affected women, and particularly women of color. We’ll get into the dance highlights of Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. And then we’ll air our interview with Emily Coates, who is the director of the dance studies concentration at Yale. Emily talked about how the pandemic has shown the whole world the value of embodied connection, which is something that dancers are so expert in. And then she also weighed in on how dance academia has handled this COVID year.

Emily is actually the second in our series of interviews with dance world leaders, reflecting on the COVID-versary, which we just passed. And we’ll have two more of those interviews airing in our next two episodes. So stay tuned there. Of course, if you follow us on social media— @dance_edit on Twitter and @the.danceedit on Instagram—you’ll get some reminders before those episodes drop.

Okay. Now it’s time for our weekly dance headline rundown, and Courtney, you’re up first.

Courtney Escoyne:
All right. So Works & Process has announced that live in-person performances at the Guggenheim will resume this Friday, March 19th. So over the next month they’ll be producing surprise daytime performances as part of the New York PopsUp initiative, but that’s not all. Additionally, the spring season of Works & Process kicks off this Saturday, March 20th, with Caleb Teicher and Conrad Tao, the first of a dozen one-night-only performances from the artists who developed new commissions during bubble residencies. They will take place in the Guggenheim’s rotunda for reduced-capacity audiences. And I have to say, I actually got the release on this like two hours before we started recording. Like, this is literally breaking news.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s starting tomorrow, the day that you’re hearing this. It’s starting tomorrow. Almost unbelievable. Happy unbelievable, but unbelievable.

Courtney Escoyne:
Like, in-person performances, in New York City, inside, from a major presenter?

Margaret Fuhrer:
Is this real life?

Lydia Murray:
And the annual festival at Jacob’s Pillow will return this summer after being canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s cancellation marked the first in its history, and later in November of 2020, the Pillow’s beloved Doris Duke Theatre burned down. But this summer they’re coming back with an outdoor festival from June 30th to August 29th, and the lineup will be announced in April. According to director Pamela Tatge, the summer programming will be a combination of commissioned works and existing works by companies that people know well and have histories with the Pillow, in addition to a significant number of Jacob’s Pillow debuts. And plans to rebuild the Duke will be announced in the fall. So, some pretty exciting performance news with these top two items.

Courtney Escoyne:
I mean, I’m going to be carrying that on with this next one, because I think you all recall that last year Bates and ADF and Jacob’s Pillow all canceled on the same day, if I’m remembering correctly. And we just heard that Bates Dance Festival has announced reopening plans for the summer after receiving an NEA grant to help support teaching and presenting artists. Bates plans to hold a three week in-person professional training program intensive for 40 students, supplemented by a week long online intensive. And they also plan to present concurrent outdoor performances, details of which are expected to be announced in May.

Lydia Murray:
We love to see it. But unfortunately, a little bit less cheerful news: After four seasons, the hit NBC show “World of Dance” has been canceled. The dance competition show, which was executive produced by Jennifer Lopez, had three successful seasons but saw inconsistent numbers in its fourth season. The show gave dancers of all styles the chance to compete for a $1 million grand prize.

Courtney Escoyne:
London’s Royal Opera House has announced its intention to reopen to live audiences beginning May 17th, the earliest date at which they are allowed to do so by the British government under current guidelines. The Royal Ballet’s first program is planned to include Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour and two new-to-the-company works by Crystal Pite. Digital programming will also continue in some capacity and further details are to be announced in mid April.

Lydia Murray:
Congratulations are in order: The Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU and National Sawdust recently announced the Toulmin Creators. The artists are a group of 40 composers and choreographers slated to collaborate on new virtual work and participate in digital performances and programs that’ll be free and open to the public. The list of dance artists is packed with talent, and includes past Dance Magazine cover stars and former Dance Edit Podcast guests.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, some friends of the pod on there.

Courtney Escoyne:
And the 15th annual Dance Parade, which will be taking place online on May 22nd, has announced its grand marshals: pop star Lisa Lisa, Dance Theatre of Harlem artistic director Virginia Johnson, and Chen Dance Center founders H.T. Chen and Dian Dong. You can find out more info about that at danceparade.org.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So, after all that mostly-happy news, in our first segment, we’re going to unfortunately head in a less happy direction. We’re going to talk about some news that has not made a whole lot of headlines, despite its increasing seriousness—it’s kind of a quiet pandemic emergency. This past week the New York Times ran a story about the performers who have lost not only their jobs, but also their health insurance during the pandemic. Many performers who usually get insurance through their unions in particular have lost coverage. There’s an awful chain of events happening here: The pandemic stopped live performance, so employer contributions to health funds slowed or stopped. To make up for the difference, a lot of unions had to change their insurance plans, either requiring more weeks of work to meet the qualifying threshold for coverage, or requiring higher employee contributions. Performers couldn’t get jobs because everything was shut down so they couldn’t meet the higher thresholds or afford the higher rates, and they were left out in the cold.

I mean, the performers at the end of this chain, especially those who dance, are people who rely on healthy bodies to do what they do. Not to mention that we’re in the middle of a massive public health crisis, which raises the stakes here considerably. This is just a mess.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. I think a mess is a bit of an understatement. So something to clarify for those listening, because I know a lot of people aren’t aware of how this works. Union-based benefits like health insurance is not the same deal as job-based health insurance, when you’re signing on to, say, a full-time gig. So in order to maintain union membership, say with Actors’ Equity or SAG-AFTRA, and earn credits towards things like health insurance, members have to hit a minimum income and/or weeks of work per year.

However, even in normal times, this can be tricky if you’re a dancer working in a lot of different lanes. So shooting a commercial or a television spot might count towards your SAG-AFTRA membership, for example, but a concert dance performance wouldn’t. So it’s already quite tricky for dancers, in particular, to earn the necessary credits just in normal times. And now, we are adding the massive complication that is, there is almost no work because we’re in a pandemic.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah. It’s just absolutely horrible. One kind of small, but chilling part of the story in the Times was simply Robbie Fairchild’s quote, “You never think it’s going to be you.” But this problem really speaks to the greater issue that is the flawed employer-based healthcare system in the US, which could fill a podcast episode in its own right.

Courtney Escoyne:
It could be an entire season of a podcast.

Lydia Murray:
It really would. And just briefly looking beyond the dance world, a survey by the Commonwealth Fund last year found that 41% of people who lost a job, or whose spouse lost a job, due to the pandemic, relied on that employment for health insurance. And 20% of those people have not found alternative coverage. And even though that’s not surprising, even those numbers are too high and the effects of that are dire. And it’s unnecessary.

And in addition to simply the health risks of being unable to afford health care during a pandemic, that can also further shorten careers that have already been hindered by avoiding medical visits for treatment or detection of other health conditions or injuries. And it can also add an incentive to leave the field altogether for a potentially unrelated career, which could affect the richness of the dance landscape long-term—kind of going back to problems that we’ve already talked about on the podcast. Losing talent and creative minds due to something as essential as healthcare is just shameful.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. This whole situation is completely infuriating. There is a little bit of hopeful news here, courtesy the COVID relief bill that just passed, which does make it a little cheaper for people to use COBRA to keep buying health coverage that they’ve lost. And it also lowers the cost of buying insurance through government exchanges. I also want to say kudos to The Actor’s Fund, because they have done a lot of work to help performing artists figure out what their insurance options are right now. They’ve actually been doing that work for a long time. But getting coverage is still going to be such a struggle for many performers.

Courtney Escoyne:
This article really focused a lot on unions and the way that losing access to those union benefits was affecting those dancers and performers. That isn’t saying anything about the freelance artists who don’t qualify for union membership to begin with. Like in a lot of ways, this was almost them being dropped into a similar situation to what freelancers already deal with—except exacerbated by the pandemic, like so many other things.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Well, I am sad to say that our next segment is not going to make us any less angry. It concerns another under-covered aspect of the pandemic’s effects on the arts world. Liza Yntema and Hannah McCarthy from the Dance Data Project, more friends of the pod, they recently wrote an article about why the “shecession”—which is a maybe too cutesy, but we’ll go with it, term for the way COVID-related job losses have pushed more women than men from the workforce—that’s hit the arts community especially hard. And there’s been a lot of talk bigger-picture about the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on women. There’s been a lot of talk about how the arts and culture sector has been devastated by the pandemic. But we have to start talking about how those two problems are connected. Because women are overrepresented in our field. And if the arts are going to make a real comeback, post pandemic, securing and ensuring better support for women in the arts and particularly for women of color is going to be a really important part of the puzzle.

Lydia Murray:
The blog post pointed out that women are overrepresented in the working class of the arts world, and gave the example that 65% of lower and mid-tier employees in the arts and culture sector in New York are women. And men tend to be in leadership positions, and they tend to have better pay and better job security. And the burdens of home, elder and childcare tend to disproportionately fall to women. Without support, women’s careers are going to lag, especially given the effects of the pandemic. And this has been reported for some time now, but of the net 140,000 jobs that were lost in December of 2020, all were held by women. And the jobs in the arts that were most vulnerable to furlough or layoff were primarily held by women of color, typically making minimum wage with no benefits or jobs security. This is kind of a stats-heavy intro, but the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that two in four mothers, and three in four black mothers, are breadwinners for their families, which really underscores the importance of paid family leave.

Courtney Escoyne:
I think also, especially looking at the statistics in terms of men largely being in more leadership positions than women, it’s not just that that doesn’t make sense for the representation of our field—the fact that there is no comprehensive childcare leave, like paid childcare leave, that actually largely is going to be what is preventing women from being able to go into those positions. Not because they can’t do both, but because the people who are making the decisions about who to hire are likely to have these implicit biases that, Oh, someone who is male and doesn’t have a child that they’re responsible for caring for, is going to be able to devote more to the organization. Whereas women might go off and have babies. It’s like we’re 50 years ago in how this is being thought about.

And the solution is so obviously there needs to be comprehensive childcare made available just across the board to everyone, not just women, but men as well. Men need to be incentivized to stay home if they have a kid at home. There’s just so many things here that even though this doesn’t on the surface seem like an arts world story, this is affecting the way that our leadership is going forward, and continues to affect it.

Yeah. And when we’re talking about government arts funding, a lot of activists tend to point to European models, in which there’s significant state investment in the arts. But most of those same governments also have great paid parental leave programs and subsidized childcare programs. And both of those things are critical to retaining women in the arts workforce. They work together. We can’t think about them independently anymore. We never should’ve been thinking about them independently.

Courtney Escoyne:
There’s a really fantastic quote in here: “In summary: we can imagine no better way to ensure the artistic and economic stagnation of the arts, post-pandemic, than the continuing systemic denial of creative and leadership opportunities to women, ongoing erasure of their past contributions to the field, a continuing gender pay gap, and overall refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming impact of unequal elder and childcare burdens.” Basically in a short, we need to fix this, y’all. This needed to be fixed way back when. We’re losing like 30 years of progress here.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So, this blog post ends with the list of action items. And a lot of them are sort of bigger picture things that institutions or governments will need to address. But one of them is something that you can do right now, which is to formally attach your name, or your organization’s name, to the FAMILY Act, which is legislation to create a permanent national paid family and medical leave program. So we will include a link to that in the episode description—you can go do that right now. One small step of the many steps that need to be taken.

Okay. So in our last segment, we’re going to escape for a moment from the grim realities with the performing arts world and visit instead a magical TV kingdom ruled by Queen Megan Thee Stallion and King Harry Styles. By which I mean, we’re going to talk about the dancing that happened at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night. And I think by this point, it’s kind of old news to say that Megan Thee Stallion won the whole night, because she did. But we still need to talk about her incredible performance medley and then her performance with Cardi B. I’m sure Lydia is also itching to talk about BTS, whose performance was a big deal for a few different reasons. There was a lot of great dancing happening at the Grammys.

Lydia Murray:
There definitely was. Megan Thee Stallion’s performance was incredible. I loved the tap dance tribute to the Nicholas Brothers, with the splits on the stairs. Incredible.

Margaret Fuhrer:
When was the last time we saw tap at the Grammys, too?

Lydia Murray:
Yes. More tap, for one thing, please. I am tempted to just skip ahead to BTS.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We can circle back to Megan later!

Lydia Murray:
This year’s ceremony also marked BTS’ first time performing alone at the Grammy’s. They performed alongside Lil Nas X in last year’s award show. And they received their first nomination this year for best pop duo/group performance, but they lost to Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga for “Rain On Me.” But they performed their smash hit “Dynamite” on top of a skyscraper in Seoul. They made excellent use of seemingly less-dance-friendly areas like stairwells, in my opinion. The choreography for “Dynamite” is familiar to many of us by now and they delivered it with supreme panache. That’s my BTS fan girling for this episode.

Courtney Escoyne:
Lydia’s still slowly dragging me towards BTS fandom.

Lydia Murray:
I’m still telling you, fall down the rabbit hole. Join us.

Margaret Fuhrer:
All right. Well, before we go totally down that rabbit hole, let’s go back to Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B. So Megan Thee Stallion started out with this sort of Roaring Twenties-style fantasy, complete with that tap break, choreographed by JaQuel Knight. I think it’s fascinating that the Nicholas Brothers, specifically that “Stormy Weather” performance, it’s been inspiring all kinds of different artists this year. That’s the same performance that also was behind Harry Styles’ “Treat People With Kindness” video. It’s having this moment of renaissance. But to see it reenacted by two women, I thought was fascinating in this context.

And then when Cardi B arrived, and we went from the Twenties into this like futuristic digital fantasia, that section was choreographed by Sean Bankhead. Meghan came back to join her for WAP. They broke both the internet and possibly the giant bed that they were dancing on. It was just this like fabulous exuberant celebration of female sexuality, in a way that the Grammys does not usually make any room for. This felt so liberated.

Courtney Escoyne:
And honestly, I couldn’t help but think watching that, if this had happened in a normal Grammys year with a massive crowd and audience, they would have shorted out the audio. We would have lost audio because the audience would have been screaming so hard at what was happening on that stage. It was just phenomenal.

Also, Harry Styles’ feather boa was magnificent.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Oh gosh, that feather boa. Few performers seem as utterly relaxed on a stage, and just with the way their own bodies move, as Harry Styles.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. He’s not really a trained dancer, but I just love watching him move. He’s just like so in his own body and I love that about him.

Margaret Fuhrer:
All right. Let’s end daydreaming about Harry Styles’ feather boa. We’re going to take a break. When we come back, we’ll have our interview with Emily Coates. Stay tuned.

[pause]

INTERVIEW WITH EMILY COATES

Margaret Fuhrer:
Welcome back, dance friends. I’m here now with Emily Coates, associate professor and director of dance in the theater and performance studies program at Yale. Hi, Emily!

Emily Coates:
Hi, great to be here.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thank you so much for joining us. And we have a lot to talk about today, but before we get to the list of questions, would you mind telling our listeners a little about yourself and your relationship with dance?

Emily Coates:
Yeah, absolutely. So I’m a dancer, a choreographer and a writer, and started my career at New York City Ballet where I danced for six years. Then I veered off into what I called, at the time, modern dance, and joined Baryshnikov’s company, White Oak Dance Project. Worked with him, toured with him, danced with him for four years, and then worked with Twyla Tharp for two, and did an odd maneuver where at 29 I came to Yale as a transfer student into their undergraduate program.

And at the end of that time, I finished my undergraduate degree here. I was hired by a professor named Joseph Roach to begin developing the dance curriculum at Yale. And I’m really happy to say I was hired in 2006 and these many years later, we have a really robust curriculum with a phenomenal lineup of faculty and offerings that I’m always constantly excited about.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So let’s get right into it and discuss one of those offerings, the project that’s the reason that we’re talking at this particular moment. That’s the new original series that you’ve created, called Transpositions: Dance Poems for an Online World. In broad outline, it is 16 digital dance works by 16 choreographers, but can you talk in more specific terms about what Transpositions is and how it came to be?

Emily Coates:
Yeah, absolutely. So it evolved in my mind last spring when everything shut down in March and April, and we looked ahead and we could pretty much predict that it was likely the fall, at least, would be an all-online teaching semester. And simultaneously we could look at the performing arts economy, which already last spring was severely affected by the closing of theaters, studios, rehearsal spaces, classes, et cetera.

And I looked at both those situations and wanted, first of all, to marshal as many of the resources at Yale that I could towards supporting the dance community and the dance world that I so love, towards supporting the artists I love most and care about, and offer them a chance to keep working, to keep creating, to be paid for that work. I also looked at the situation for our students, and thinking about their isolation and the strangeness of this time, in what ways could this developing project help bring them together? Help make them feel cared for and creative, and inspired in this remote world. And then the sort of middle ground was, in many conversations—and I know you’ve had them too—about, what is dance in this online existence? Just wanting to ask and think about the question of embodied transmission across the digital ether—what gets through? What doesn’t? We know there’s a lot that doesn’t get through, but we also know that there’s a lot that energetically, physically, kinesthetically does.

And so the project Transpositions as a whole, that in a way is the central inquiry: embodied transmission in this digital world, and this beautiful passage that it captures from the craft and knowledge of seasoned, established choreographers and dance artists to emerging artists, students who are dancers just encountering these new ideas in this particularly unusual and really challenging year.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I love the phrase “dance poem” because it has such a ruminative quality to it that I think reflects the time that we’re in. How did you arrive at that name?

Emily Coates:
The name, well, I will be very honest and say it first arose because I thought it sounded cool. But then the more I thought about it and the more that we all, my creative producing team—my partners at the Yale Schwarzman Center, which is a new center for student life in the arts at Yale, and the choreographers that we were engaging and the dancers—the more we were all in it and starting to do the work and think about it, it took on a double resonance. On the one hand, it’s exploring the poetics of Zoom. We isolated the creative process to Zoom and wanting to really think about how to elevate this space for ourselves and our community. And then secondly, to think about dance poems, to think about the essence of dance and the extraction of that essence into these works of video art that we are creating.

And I will say there’s so many collaborators in this project. By design, it’s to knit together communities, but a real linchpin is our video artist, Kyla Arsadjaja, who graduated last spring from New York School of Art. And really with all these different choreographers, with all these different dancers, with all these different visions and ideas and questions and inquiries happening in each of the poems, it’s Kyla’s vision that’s really actually making them into digital dance poems.

Margaret Fuhrer:
This idea of collective authorship, this emphasis on the collaborative aspects of dance creation, feels really poignant at this moment when we can’t physically gather. What do you think the pandemic has taught us about the way that artists in and around the dance field collaborate, and the importance of the collective in dance?

Emily Coates:
Another point of inspiration last spring when I was conceptualizing this project was an article that The New Yorker put out, and it was 24 hours in the city under COVID. And they had a lineup of stellar writers, each writing a dispatch from a different moment in the day. And when you read through it, you only learned who those writers were at the very end. So the effect was this beautiful documentation of the life of the city in this extraordinary crisis. And then at the end you realized, oh, aha, the best writers in their lineup contributed, that’s why it was so good. But that idea of a collectively designed mosaic or anthology, a portrait or documentation of this time, was really inspiring to me.

And I also felt last spring with the killing of George Floyd, with the rise of ever greater social protest, the imperatives of Black Lives Matter, this sense of collective action being crucial. And how could the arts, how could dance, how could we in our project designed at Yale participate in thinking at the very deep, formal compositional levels about collective action? And thus here we are with a project that involves 16 choreographers, 16 poems, 66 dancers, nine sound designers, four producers, and a video artist weighing in.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Can you talk a little about how you assembled this group of collaborators? Because it’s such a remarkable list.

Emily Coates:
Well, it was fun. It was really fun. I started with the dance faculty at Yale, who under normal conditions have really robust professional lives outside of the teaching that they do for us here, and under the abnormal conditions of last spring had lost that work. And so they were one of my first points of concern and first points of celebration, and wanting to really elevate them. And that includes Renee Robinson, Iréne Hultman, Lacina Coulibaly, Bronwen MacArthur, and then our more left-field dance critic, Brian Seibert, created a poem.

And then I expanded out into affiliates at Yale, where you find across the university, different people doing really interesting work in dance. And so that brought in Aimee Meredith Cox, who’s an anthropologist superstar who did danced with Ailey II, and that brought in Aki Sasamoto, who is in the sculpture faculty at the Yale School of Art, and Cécile Bushidi, who is a phenomenal dance historian who used to dance with Wayne McGregor, was here in a post-doc, and Christopher-Rasheem McMillan, visiting faculty at the Institute of Sacred Music. So there was the desire to kind of knit together those.

And then it moved outward into the New Haven community and happily Hanan Hameen, who’s a choreographer affiliated with a local school called the Neighborhood Music School, participated, a terrific local company based in New Haven called the Home City Dance Collective with Lindsey Bauer and Kellie Lynch, and then worked even further outward from there to artists like Jenna Riegel and Shayla-Vie Jenkins from the Bill T. Jones Company. And then even further outward from there. And these two artists were brought in by the Yale Schwarzman Center because they have relationships with them: Dormeshia, the brilliant tap dancer, and then reaching quite far away, the farthest flung, to Johannesburg and Gregory Maqoma. So the desire was to knit together communities both locally and nationally and internationally.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And then how did you put dancers and choreographers together?

Emily Coates:
That’s a great question. I started—the other more local and internal inclusivity is that I reached out to every single student-led dance group on campus at Yale and invited their participation, and students from 12 of the groups participated. And I began initially with a kind of more obvious connections—with Gregory Maqoma, for instance, I connected him to the contemporary African dance group on campus, and that was an obvious beautiful fit and an extension of the work that the group on campus does.

And then I started to think in different ways as I went along with the pairings. For instance, the Yale Undergraduate Ballet Company, it seemed to me, wouldn’t it be quite exciting to work with former Bill T. Jones dancers? And what kind of stretch and new realms could they uncover in conversation with Jenna and Shayla?

So sometimes it’s a really direct fit between the aesthetics of the group and the choreographer’s aesthetics, but more often than not, I actually was thinking, pedagogically but also really artistically, about, how can something be sparked, in the pairings where it’s not maybe so comfortable, for the better?

Margaret Fuhrer:
In the description of this project, the mission is described as “bridging pandemic-created gaps.” And you’ve touched already on some of the gaps that it’s bridging—this need for community, this need for collective collaborative creation. What other gaps is it filling?

Emily Coates:
Some, again, have a lot to do with our community locally. Inside of Yale, the School of Drama is its own world, the undergraduate program in Yale College is its own world and never the twain shall meet, it feels. I am also appointed at the School of Drama and there are those of us on faculty who go between and there are certainly passages of different kinds among the students, but that connection and collaboration felt important. So the sound design department, Matthew Suttor, a professor in sound design, happily embraced the project, and there are nine sound designers from the School of Drama who are participating. So that’s a really happy connection.

The gap between the Yale and New Haven communities, we are constantly trying to address that it not feel like this yawning gap. And I’m happy to say both with the choreographers who are based in New Haven being involved, and dancers from a dance company at the Neighborhood Music School, also participated. They’re in the poem by Renee Robinson.

And then of course to really take advantage of what the internet world enables, which is piping in Dormeshia from New York. Piping in our faculty member, Lacina Coulibaly, who, when it was being made, was home in Burkina Faso, in Ouagadougou. And of course, then Gregory Maqoma in South Africa. So kind of thinking about how those time zones and geographies can be collapsed as well and layered into this project.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, this idea that in this time, when we are physically more distant than ever before, there’s a greater sense of community in these digital projects—that’s so fascinating. I want to zoom out now and talk a little more generally about how the academic dance world has weathered the pandemic, because we’re approaching the strange one-year anniversary of COVID shutdowns. Where have you seen your field rise to meet the pandemic’s challenges, and where have you seen it fall short?

Emily Coates:
That’s such a great question. And in my mind, in no ways has it fallen short. We’re dancers, we don’t feel sorry for ourselves for long before we’re resourcefully reinventing our art form. And the world of academia and dance as it lives in academia is affected in precisely the same ways that New York City Ballet is affected or any dance company or any venue for dance, which is again, the idea of transpositions. We have all forcibly transposed ourselves into this existence, and whatever dabbling there was with dance and digital life and film that was occurring is full-on, full-force research happening worldwide in this digital ether.

So again, the challenges of dance in this moment in time, there are things we can’t have, unless you’re in a happy bubble residency somewhere or professional dance company who’s conceptualized how to return in a staggered rehearsal and class structure safely. Right now for us, we’re still all remote. The majority of teaching is being done remotely, certainly all of the dance courses are being done remotely this semester and invention is occurring. Daniel Ulbricht is teaching a course called Ballet Now, and he is both drilling down deep into the plié, because it’s stationary, they don’t need a lot of space. We can’t teach space in terms of eating up space so well, but we certainly can teach how to hold space, and we can teach things that happen in one space really well.

And to me, there’s then this forced pressure, because there are some things we can’t have, like the energetic exchange that occurs in a studio live, so we then work really hard at cultivating energetic connection over screens. And in some of the Transpositions poems, there are just these beautiful connections that you can tell were accomplished live in the rehearsal development experimentation process, where it feels like we’ve grown a new limb. We’re kind of growing, like, new antennae in this forced medium we’re operating in, and when we moved back into being able to dance together in real time in big spaces, we will have, I hope, this ever-heightened, even more tuned sensibility of connection with others, because we’re fighting for it through the screen.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, I know. It’s going to be just wonderful to see dancers on stage again, period, when this is all over, but also wonderful to see how dance artists have changed over the course of the pandemic out of their active pursuit of that kind of energetic connection, out of their drilling down into the less expansive aspects of dance—we’re so often encouraged to focus on the expansive.

Okay. I have another big-picture question. Following the killing of George Floyd and this summer’s social justice protests, there has also been a renewed focus on equity and inclusion in school dance departments. I mean everywhere across the dance world, but in school dance departments too. How has Yale approached that work?

Emily Coates:
I’m really happy to say we have always had a diverse dance faculty. So I was the first one hired full-time in 2006, and second person, Lacina Coulibaly who is a phenomenal West African dancer and contemporary dancer. And he has been teaching for us for 15 years. So whatever aesthetic background I bring between neoclassical ballet and post-modern dance, his aesthetic and Africanist thought has been very much part of the development of the dance program at Yale.

And then we’ve had also a really strong African-American presence within the program. There’s African-American concert dance with Renee Robinson, former principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the artists that we work with have always represented a really wide range of dance forms and aesthetics.

And I will say that Transpositions, the majority of choreographers are artists of color. The white artists are in the minority in the project, and that’s also very much by design, to celebrate in this moment the African-American, Africanist, global Africanist diaspora that is so deeply feeding… American dance is indebted to that aesthetic.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So finally, it’s been a really weird, disorienting, hard year, but as of this moment—and you’ve touched on some of these things already—but what are the things that make you hopeful about the future of dance education specifically, and the future of the dance field more broadly too?

Emily Coates:
I mean, I can’t wait for theaters to reopen. I can’t wait for that. What was it in the New York Times—66% of performing artists are unemployed right now? My hope is that these predictions of an arts boom that will follow this time are true, and that with reopening of theaters, full economy, life, that we certainly will be changed. It’s not going to be what it was, and in many ways that’ll be for the better. But that dance be leading the way in the celebration, the joy, the wisdom, the knowledge.

Certainly it felt like—what felt like an abrupt shift to the remote world that occurred last March, that suddenly everyone had to become aware of the value of liveness and embodied transmission, because they had lost it. My colleagues who teach sit-down seminars suddenly became acutely aware of what was lost from that live interaction and energetic exchange, and that’s what we know, and that’s what we’re good at. And to me, the dance world—upon reopening, may funds flood into dance, and that wisdom that we possess in our world of dance lead the celebration, the joy, the learning that’s to come from the moment we actually can get back together again.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thank you so much for talking about the program, and for sharing your bigger picture insights. Before we say goodbye, can you tell listeners where they can go to find out more about Transpositions?

Emily Coates:
Yes. I don’t have the URL exactly in my head, but the two sites are the Yale Dance Lab website and the Yale Schwarzman Center website. And I will say that the poems are getting rolled out one or two a week until the middle of May, and then we’re going to have a massive streamed communal celebration of the entire anthology, and then again, information will be available both on the Yale Dance Labs website and the Yale Schwarzman Center’s website.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And we’ll include links to the Dance Lab and the Schwarzman Center websites in our episode description to make it easier for people to find too.

Emily Coates:
Great.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thanks so much again, Emily.

Emily Coates:
Thank you, Margaret, it’s so great to talk with you.

[pause]

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thanks again to Emily. At this point now six of the 16 Transpositions dance poems are out, and they all offer wildly different approaches to the given task, it’s fascinating to see. As Emily mentioned, you can find them on the Yale Schwarzman Center and the Yale Dance Lab websites, which we’ve linked in the show notes. You can also see excerpts on the Schwarzman Center social pages. We’ll link to those too.

All right, thanks everyone for joining us. We’ll be back next week for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating and keep dancing.

Courtney Escoyne:
Mind how you go, friends.

Lydia Murray:
Bye everyone.