For the very first time, California State University, Long Beach Department of Dance will be presenting its MFA Thesis Concert virtually. We Made This For Us was pre-recorded and will live-stream on April 23, 2021 at 6pm PDT featuring choreographic thesis works by Tashara Gavin-Moorehead, Issa Hourani, and Sarah Elizabeth Stanley. The virtual concert will be followed by a conversation with the choreographers. Prior to the MFA thesis concert, the department encourages viewers to watch and participate in MFA candidate Stanley’s interactive dance on April 19th at 6pm PDT.

Closed captioning will be made available throughout the entirety of these events, during the live stream and choreographer artist talk, and there will also feature ASL interpreters. Access will be centralized on the CSULB Department of Dance website.  Tickets are donation-based and will go towards funding student scholarships within the department.

Photo credits: Insage Production, Kevin Chung, and Michaela Ivey

Photo credits: Insage Production, Kevin Chung, and Michaela Ivey

The CSULB Department of Dance was launched in 1970 with Dr. Joan Schlaich as the Chairperson, a position she held for the majority of her tenure with the department. She oversaw the creation of the first Dance BFA in the CSU system as well as the MA and MFA in Dance.  Dr. Schlaich retired after 31 years at CSULB but before leaving was able to realize her dream of an entire building dedicated to dance. The CSULB Dance Center is located on lower campus adjacent to the Music Department and the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center.

We Made This For Us includes Issa Hourani’s work Dandy/Lions “a glimpse into how intimacy, gender, and sexuality are embodied in male homosocial relationships” Hourani’s film is a collaboration with videographer Seagge Loy Abella.  A Return to Spirit “documents Tashara Gavin-Moorehead’s journey through the Nguzo Saba from the African American celebration of Kwanzaa.” Her film features original music and performances by The Rinc Ensemble: Ahmad Dubose-Dawson, Chris Wilson and Michael Saucier. Videography by Kevin Chung. And third, Sarah Elizabeth Stanley’s Dry Bones Howling “ is an interactive dance experience that explores spectatorship and responsibility, shifting the relationship of audience and performer to that of pawn and player”. Videography by Co-Director Michaela Ivey.  Stanley’s work premieres April 19th at 6pm PDT.

CSULB Department of Dance - We Made This For Us - BFA Student David Bemal in "Dandy/Lions" by Issa Hourani - Photo by Insage Production

CSULB Department of Dance – We Made This For Us – BFA Student David Bemal in “Dandy/Lions” by Issa Hourani – Photo by Insage Production

I contacted the concert Director, Rebecca Lemme, with two questions for each MFA Candidate. Here are their responses.

LADC: What was the genesis of your dance for film?

Issa Hourani (Dandy/Lions):  I wanted to create a dance film that challenges heteronormative notions of how men should act in homosocial relationships and normalize the strength in being vulnerable and intimate. Instead of secretively struggling, we should shift our perspective to acknowledging emotions, diving deep, and being diligent to learn how to navigate our emotions. Unlike the Great Oz hiding behind a curtain and projecting hegemonic performativity, we should not have to shove our humanity and emotions behind the curtain.

Tashara Gavin-Moorehead:  A Return to Spirit documents my process as I create a new choreographic method for structuring improvisation that uses the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa. I wanted to create an improvisational practice that centered Afrocentric cultural values and embody the Nguzo Saba to liberate myself mentally, physically, and spiritually from Eurocentric ideology. This process is designed to break free from white supremacy and white dominance in my art making process and performances.

Sarah Elizabeth Stanley: This piece was in direct response to the pandemic. I was pretty certain that we’d be presenting fully online, and because I wanted to explore performer/audience interaction, I knew that a traditional dance film wouldn’t work. I drew a lot of inspiration from choose-your-own adventure novels and video games when crafting the dance and the structure of the performance in order to explore virtual interaction.

LADC: How was this experience and do you think that you’ll continue to work in dance for film?

Issa Hourani (Dandy/Lions):  Absolutely. Although the shift from preparing live performances to dance films was jarring, dance film opened up new territory of choreography. I can manipulate space and time and place the viewer within the performance space. There is also the opportunity to explore micro-choreographies, using extreme close-ups on the body, that de-territorialize the cinematic image by transforming body parts and decentralizing its movements to extend beyond its diegetic functions.

Tashara Gavin-Moorehead:  This experience has been extremely challenging due to covid restrictions. Kwanzaa is a communitarian holiday so trying to cultivate community and relay that via film was tricky. I was very happy to overcome the obstacles by having a great team of support from my musicians and production team at Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center. I experienced a strong learning curve with putting together a 40 min length film for the first time ever! I can see myself continuing to do smaller films, with an experienced team, but the stage is my home and bread and butter!

Sarah Elizabeth Stanley: Working with film is something that I’ve thought about, but has never been a priority. I probably wouldn’t have worked with film in grad school if not for moving to online presentations of our thesis works. I have loved the challenge and intend to keep working with film, perhaps combining film and live work in the future.

CSULB Department of Dance - We Made This For Us - "A Return to Spirit" choreography by Tashara Gavin-Moorehead - Photo by Michaela Ivey

CSULB Department of Dance – We Made This For Us – “A Return to Spirit” choreography by Tashara Gavin-Moorehead – Photo by Michaela Ivey

The production crew for the MFA thesis concert includes: Director Rebecca Lemme; Technical Coordinator Stephanie Losleban; Costume Designer Kelsey Vidic; Costume Technician Erika Hansen; Film & Technology Consultant Gregory R.R. Crosby; Music Director Don Nichols; MFA Advisor Colleen Dunagan; and Thesis Advisors Betsy Cooper, Keith Johnson, and Rebecca Lemme all offer valuable contributions in their collaborations and consultations with each MFA Candidate.

In full-disclosure, I was on the dance faculty at CSULB for 21 years. Our policy at LADC is not to review student works but I felt it important to support this inaugural virtual voyage.


WHAT:  CSULB Dance MFA Thesis Concert: We Made This for Us

WHEN:  April 23, 2021

WHERE:  For streaming and information, please click HERE.

HOW MUCH:  Tickets are donation-based and will go towards funding student scholarships within the department.  To donate, click HERE.

For further information please contact the CSULB Department of Dance.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Dry Bones Howling, choreography by Sarah Elizabeth Stanley – Photo by Kevin Chung