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Gallaudet Dance Company expands artistic vistas with off-campus collaboration

Image: Veronika Farkas (right), founder of VF Dance Theater, leads Gallaudet dancers in a routine that will be performed this spring in a collaboration between VF and the Gallaudet Dance Company. (Photo by Megan Clancy)

Veronika Farkas (right), founder of VF Dance Theater, leads Gallaudet dancers in a routine that will be performed this spring in a collaboration between VF and the Gallaudet Dance Company. (Photo by Megan Clancy)

Image: Gallaudet Dance Company Director Sue Gill-Doleac (back row, second from right) believes Gallaudet dancers will benefit from the expertise of guest choreographers like Farkas (front row, center). (Photo by Megan Clancy)

Gallaudet Dance Company Director Sue Gill-Doleac (back row, second from right) believes Gallaudet dancers will benefit from the expertise of guest choreographers like Farkas (front row, center). (Photo by Megan Clancy)

The Gallaudet Dance Company (GDC) is collaborating with VF Dance and Fitness, a Maryland-based modern dance troupe, for the 2013-2014 academic year. Together, they will create a new dance piece for their respective spring concerts, with communication as the major theme.

Veronika Farkas, founder and artistic director of VF Dance and Fitness, contacted GDC Director Sue Gill-Doleac about forming the partnership. Farkas, who is from Budapest, Hungary, learned about Gallaudet through her sound designer, Mehdi Raoufi, who works occasionally with Gallaudet Theatre Arts as a music composer. Farkas was inspired to partner with Gallaudet based on her past experiences working with deaf dancers.

Modern dance, unlike ballet or jazz, allows for a great deal of interpretation, and is an ideal medium to present a story since gives dancers ample freedom, Farkas explained. "Deaf dancers are already very expressive, and facial and body expressions are a must in modern dance; therefore, I thought it would be a great collaboration between sign language and dance," she said.  Farkas, who knows some ASL, will be assisted by GDC stage manager/interpreter Taylor Denney, a hearing undergraduate student from Ft. Worth, Tex. majoring in early childhood education.  

"I am excited to do an exchange program with VF Dance," said GDC Director Sue Gill-Doleac, who has been involved with the company since the age of 18-first as a dancer when she was a Gallaudet student, and later as assistant director for 27 years. "This is a great opportunity for a local choreographer to share her creative works with GDC, and for the Gallaudet dancers to learn modern dance technique."      
Farkas will teach Gallaudet dancers two dance routines-one with both VF and Gallaudet dancers, and the other solely for Gallaudet dancers. In keeping with the GDC's theme for this year, "Broadway and Beyond," one of Farkas' dance routines tells a story about a girl who gets a role on the stage in New York City's fabled theater district.

The GDC Spring Concert will be enhanced by performances from additional dance troupes as well, including MarDelDance, a non-profit dance company based in New Jersey. MarDelDance dancer Jen Gill, whose parents are deaf, said, "Growing up around deaf culture, this is my first time at Gallaudet and surrounded by deaf dancers.  The dancers--and this experience--are amazing!" Local choreographer Debra Floyd, founder of Floyd Dance Company, a long-time collaborator with the GDC, is also creating a new dance piece for the spring concert.

Kriston Pumphrey, a new dance assistant for the GDC, comes from a family of entertainers.  He moved to Washington, D.C. from Rochester, N.Y. after graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology to immerse himself in the deaf performing arts community. He teaches dance to GDC members, leads a hip-hop class for undergraduate students, and helps with ASL translations for dance shows. Pumphrey said he is excited about having Farkas as GDC's guest choreographer. "Having a new choreographer helps us improve our technicality and expand our horizons. The experience of having Farkas has been great, since this year's group is very positive, creative, and very motivated," he said.  

"I hope the Gallaudet dancers are learning from me as much as I am learning from them," said Farkas. "Since the entire project is all about using no words or technology, like we do in everyday life to tell a story, and simply relying on body language, the number one human communication skill, I am so thrilled to be teaching this way as well."

The GDC, which is under the auspices of the Department of Art, Communication, and Theatre, has 15 talented dancers this year. "What we look for in new talent is technique, motivation, and the ability to focus and learn," Pumphrey said. The vision for the dance company is to improve dance technique and utilize more ASL in its choreography to appeal to all audiences.   

The annual GDC Spring Dance Concert will take place April 4 and 5 on campus, and the VF Dance Theater show will be on May 4 and 5 at the American Dance Institute in Rockville, Md.

--By Megan Clancy

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