Displaying items by tag: Kate Mattingly

By Kate Mattingly 

As a researcher who teaches courses in dance histories, dance studies, and dance criticism, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we communicate through our bodies and our words. My dissertation, which I completed in 2017, analyzes how dance criticism not only responds to a performance but also shapes and influences our value systems and priorities. Historically, dance critics have wielded a lot of power: John Martin named the genre “modern dance” and heavily influenced the success of certain choreographers, like Martha Graham, in the 20th century. 

But digital platforms change the status and authority of critics’ words because there are more immediate opportunities to challenge a viewpoint and to use social media platforms to offer different perspectives. A great example of this happened in 2010 when a New York Times critic wrote that Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy with New York City Ballet, looked “as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many.” The outpouring of support for Ringer led to her appearance on The Today Show and Oprah. These interviews are still available online, making the critic's words less definitive. jennifer ringer

In my scholarship I analyze how the digital sphere opens spaces for a co-existence of different perspectives, and how this brings attention to artists and ideas that have been misrepresented or completely ignored. Much of my current research focuses on how criticism in the 21st century can challenge the sexisms, racisms, and classisms that have circulated through print critics’ writing.  On April 14, I gave a lecture for students and faculty at UCLA on digital dance criticism, and how traces of a project by Amara Tabor-Smith called “House/Full of Black Women,” circulated through photographs Amara posted on Facebook, thereby extending the reach of her processions that happened in Oakland, California. This is an important example of how artists bypass a critic who speaks “for” a project and instead gives the artist access to self-representation and self-definition. 

In my dance studies course this semester, when we shifted to an online format, students shared final projects through PowerPoint presentations and then we opened online discussions about the topics. The students’ work was stellar and the online discussions deepened and extended the conversations we had begun earlier in the semester when we were meeting together. One particularly timely project, by Todd Lani ’20, examined social media users who can promote social justice or their own fame. Todd used Matt Bernstein as an example of a social media “activist” who thinks of others and dismantles hate and violence against LGBTQ+ communities. Todd wrote, “Growing up in a smaller rural area, the media (more specifically social media) was the only outlet and opportunity that I had to see any representation of someone like myself.” 

During this pandemic, as we find ourselves relying on the digital sphere, we might also be noticing the differences between attending a live performance and watching dancing through a screen. There are undoubtedly things that seem to be missing, like the communal experience of watching a performance with a hundred-plus people, or the feeling of liveness and immediacy as an artist creates the movement in your presence. But there are also advantages: many companies are offering performances to view free of charge, and events that happened in far away places are now visible in our homes. 

A student-run group at the University of Utah, the Dance Studies Working Group, took a trip to San Francisco in 2018, supported by funding from a FAF Grant, to see a festival called Unbound and attend a Symposium of guest speakers who included Dwight Rhoden, Virginia Johnson, and Marc Brew. When the company’s current performance season had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, SF Ballet released performances from Unbound online. This Friday students and alumni of the Ballet Program are hosting a zoom conversation, organized by Victoria Holmes Johnson ’19, to discuss the possibilities of online transmission, and also what’s missing in this virtual realm. 

We think these conversations are important during this time of uncertainty because we hope that the future of dance, like the future of dance criticism, will be more inclusive and equitable. Artists are known for their imaginations, able to problem-solve and think creatively, and their expertise is invaluable at this moment. 

Finally, when people use words like “unprecedented” to describe this pandemic, they are making invisible a lot of people who have not had access to services or movement for years, if not decades. People who are confined and dependent on others due to disabilities could be our teachers. I hope that this moment of "uncertainty" is an opportunity for us to look at our interconnectedness: how do we support and nurture one another? how do we honor  our different needs and capacities? I hope we do not return to a world that is about individualism, convenience, and control, but rather one that embraces the interdependencies and indeterminacy of life. 

Author Kate Mattingly is an assistant professor in the University of Utah School of Dance. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

By School of Dance Assistant Professor Kate Mattingly

“Everything in a room is designed for the actors’ bodies and for the choreography,” said Mark Hofeling, a production designer who has designed over 50 films and television shows, including the High School Musical series and Teen Beach Movie. Hofeling came to the U to talk to the ballet history students early in the morning on November 13th, and his lecture spanned from battling loneliness as a child to working closely with director Kenny Ortegafor a decade.

After his talk, the ballet students had a chance to ask Hofeling about his career and also to view and analyze recent film projects by Justin Peck (The Times Are Racing) and William Forsythe (Alignigung). Hofeling’s insights into the filming techniques (and costs!) were eye-opening. Students’ questions spanned from “does it help to have a camera-man who understands dance?” to “did you get a lucky break?” The answer to both questions was “Yes!”.

Hofeling grew up in Salt Lake City and attended the U briefly before embarking on his film career at age 19. One of his first jobs was building a Mickey Mouse out of snow for a Disney Ice Palace. Soon (about a decade later) his duties expanded to designing over 20 Disney Channel Original Movies, including the three most watched cable movies of all time: High School Musical 2 (2007)Wizard's of Waverly Place, the Movie (2009), and Teen Beach Movie(2013).

As Hofeling explained during his lecture, one of the advantages of filming dance scenes in musicals is that the shots include groups of 10 to 20 people so audiences can see his entire design for a room (floor to ceiling). In films that aren’t musicals, shots typically include close-ups of 2 or 3 people, making much of the rooms they inhabit invisible.

When we watched examples of recent films made by choreographers, even Forsythe’s Alignigung which appears to have “no set,” Hofeling showed how each project has to be carefully designed using lights and camera angles. In the case of Alignigung, there’s special attention to how to obliterate shadows and create the feeling of two dancers suspended in an endless void.  Students noticed the ways that filming techniques can increase intimacy and provide a more detailed experience for a viewer. Film projects also hold the potential of making dancing available to people who may never go to a ballet performance. Hofeling revealed that after High School Musical opened, enrollment in dance classes across the country skyrocketed.

For Hofeling, film has been both an outlet––a way to engage his intense intelligence and imagination––and a respite––a way to escape a brutal childhood and a family who did not accept him. Hofeling told the class about seeing the Millennium Falcon inStar Wars in 1977 and discovering an alternate universe where anything seemed possible. Asked if he thinks movies hold the same potential today, especially in a world where destruction and violence are rampant, Hofeling answered “Yes” unequivocally. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for movies,” he explained. Those two hours in a theater were his way of escaping the abuses of his family and envisioning a better world. As audiences of his films today, we are the lucky ones who get to immerse ourselves in his brilliant and captivating designs.

(This story was originally posted on the School of Dance website)

Published in Finer Points Blog