United by their association to the HWS Dance Department, William Smith alumnae Jeanne Schickler Compisi ’96 and Kaitley Wozer ’15 recently shared the stage at the popular First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival alongside professional dance colleagues in pieces choreographed by Professor of Dance and Coordinator of the Social Justice Studies Program Donna Davenport and Assistant Professor of Dance Kelly Johnson.
Davenport, who holds the John Milton Potter Endowed Professorship at HWS, and Johnson were commissioned by BIODANCE, a Rochester-based contemporary dance company, to choreograph socially conscious dance and perform as part of the BIO/DANCE & Social Justice project, which presented four performances at Geva Theatre Center. A company member of BIODANCE, Schickler Compisi performed in Davenport’s newly unveiled, “Lined Up for Injustice.” Schickler Compisi and Wozer both danced in Johnson’s “In the Palm of Our Hands,” a re-set of her ensemble that originally premiered at the spring 2015 Faculty Dance Concert.
“It was an emotional, poignant experience for me as their former mentor, to watch Jeanne and Kaitley dancing next to each other in Kelly Johnson’s piece,” Davenport says. “The impact of alumnae and faculty involvement extended to current students in the audience at Geva Theatre, witnessing the professional activity of HWS dancers and choreographers. The connection between theory and practice is palpable in these moments … liberal arts in action on the stage!”
A photograph of Schickler Compisi performing in Davenport’s “Lined Up for Injustice” was featured in a recent Sunday edition of the Democrat and Chronicle as well as in a photo gallery, showcasing the breadth and depth of HWS Dance and its graduates regionally and beyond.
“Performing with William Smith students and one alumna in Kelly Johnson’s piece ‘In the Palm of Our Hands’ felt like coming full circle,” Schickler Compisi says. “The roots of my awareness and responses to social justice issues began in my years as a student at HWS. Reflecting upon those roots and sharing the stage with these William Smith women created an unspoken bond that added even more strength to Kelly Johnson’s powerful choreography.”
During initial rehearsals, Schickler Compisi says the gap between graduation years was at first in focus, but the overwhelming link between HWS Dance and William Smith alumnae bolstered a connection evident in later practices and the performances. “If anything, our differences in age and perspective only added more dynamic layers to this very important theme,” Schickler Compisi says. “More than ever, I am proud to be a William Smith alumna.”
As a capstone project during her senior year at the Colleges, Schickler Compisi produced a solo choreographed concert. Following graduation, she earned her MFA in dance from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Joining BIODANCE in 2008, Schickler Compisi’s work also has been presented at Danspace Project, Joyce Soho, the Williamsburg Arts Nexus in New York City, HWS, Cornell University, University of Rochester and the Nextstage at Geva. From 1999 to 2005 in New York City, she worked with Gina Gibney Dance, Ivy Baldwin Dance and Tap Fusion.
Reflecting on her involvement in the recent BIODANCE performances, Wozer says: “The whole experience was very exciting for a variety of reasons: Getting to work with a group composed mainly of seasoned dance professionals who all have other full-time professional careers offered me a range of insights on how someone like me – torn between two different disciplines, biology and dance – might be able to manage to continue to fulfill both careers. It was also thrilling to dance beside Jeanne in Kelly’s piece. It gave me a sense of my place in time at HWS while bridging a gap of almost 20 years. Between rehearsals and performances, Jeanne and I shared quick snippets of our experiences with the changing dance spaces around campus, performances and professors.”
As a recent graduate, Wozer says getting to perform with Davenport and Johnson as well as former classmates Elizabeth Strano ’16, Becky/Sean Geisinger ’17 and Ashley De Los Santos ’17, allowed for a comfortable transition out of her college dance environment and into the community at large. During Fringe, Wozer also performed in a new work by University of Rochester alum Lev Earle called “(drowning),” which focuses on the prevalence of homelessness among LGBTQ people across the nation.
Currently, Wozer is pursuing a job in biomedical research, as well as staying connected to the dance world by teaching and working on her choreography. This past summer, Wozer presented three of her works created during her time at HWS at two different venues in Rochester and in Buffalo. At HWS, Wozer conducted a joint Honors project in dance and biology, titled “Viral Bodies.” The project was a visual representation of the human immunodeficiency virus’ (HIV) progress in a host T-cell, as well as an educational tool and a tribute to dancers who were infected during the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
Wozer isn’t the only recent William Smith graduate to perform with a professional dance company at the Fringe Festival. Katherine Marino ’13, who was a double major in dance and environmental studies, is now with Rochester-based PUSH Physical Theatre. At HWS, Marino was a recipient of a 2013-2014 Fulbright U.S. Student Award.
During Fringe 2015, in addition to choreographing “Lined Up for Injustice,” Davenport performed her salsa-inspired solo, “Devolvement to Liberty,” and Johnson performed her powerful solo, “Daily Reflection,” to a sound score by motivational speaker Eric Thomas.
This collection of socially conscious dance works from BIODANCE Artistic Director and Choreographer Missy Pfohl Smith along with regional and national artists, responds to the injustice that persists in our world. Through premieres of new choreography, performance, music and spoken word in four distinct programs, the concert invited reflection on diverse perspectives of inequality in society today. Smith previously served as a visiting assistant professor of dance at the Colleges.
In addition to Davenport and Johnson, artists include: Smith, Earle, Equal Footing Dance, Kelly Ferris Lester, Marcia Vanderlee and Umoja Drummers and sculptor Allen C. Topolski.
The project is made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a re-grant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by Livingston Arts, a member supported organization.
At Fringe, Associate Professor of Dance and Chair of the Dance Department Michelle Iklé took part in a performance at The Little Theatre, and Associate Professor of Dance Cadence Whittier joined BioDance in their performance with Grounded Aerial, a modern dance troupe focused on aerial choreography.
Professor of Dance Donna Davenport holds the John Milton Potter Professorship which recognizes her scholarship in choreography, performance and dance education. She is a prolific choreographer and frequent performer, focusing her work in recent years in the Rochester area, including collaboration with BIODANCE company for their year-long community dance and social justice series. Her recent commissioned work, “Lined Up for Injustice,” opened the concert at Geva Theatre for the 2015 Rochester Fringe Festival. Davenport coordinates the HWS Social Justice Studies Program and was named the 2014 Civically Engaged Faculty of the Year. Davenport holds both an Ed.D. and an M.Ed. in dance education from Temple University, and a B.F.A. in dance and a B.A. in psychology from University of Massachusetts.
Joining the HWS faculty in 2010, Johnson holds an MFA in choreography and performance from The College at Brockport SUNY. Recent ensemble work “In the Palm of Our Hands” encourages pause, personal reflection and civil responsibility as it references a variety of concerns facing members of our global community. Solo work, “Daily Reflection,” advocates for tenacious self-love and demonstrates the value of committing one’s self to the actualization and sharing of one’s gifts as a means of inspiring and validating the gifts of others.