Legacy is vital in dance. Passing from one generation of dancer to the next through the sweat and dedication of practice, dance thrives, evolves and sustains in the light of legacy. Shirlee Dodge founded the dance program at The University of Texas at Austin in 1943 and built a legacy formed from two continents, the womb of modern expressionist dance and a lifetime devoted to true creativity.
From an early age Dodge danced her way through life (tap and acrobatics) with her sister in Vaudevillian acts until she discovered a new way to move and express in the performances of Mary Wigman. An acolyte of Rudolf Laban, Wigman is considered by many to be the founder of modern dance in Europe. At the age of 21, Dodge traveled to Europe with her University of Wisconsin Dance classmates. She convinced her parents that she needed to remain in Europe to study with Wigman in Dresden, Germany. She graduated from the Mary Wigman Central Institute in 1939 with three degrees: Professional Theatre Dancer, Pedagogy for Laymen Dancers, and Pedagogy for Professional Dancers. Later, armed with international experience, an artistic pedigree from the leading edge of modern dance and a professional teaching and performing career spanning parts of Europe, New York and the midwest; Dodge was invited by Anna Hiss (Head of The University of Texas at Austin Department for Physical Training for Women) to found a creative dance program for the university in 1943.
Within two years, Dodge was able to bring the dance program to the College of Fine Arts under Dean E. William Doty. Dodge not only taught dance, but choreographed and performed as well. This began the dance education of university students, as well as the Austin community. In a 1946 program letter, she wrote:
"Creative Dance, like any art, is a matter of personal experience. This experience can be the act of the dancer or the act of the spectator. In a dance concert, a true aesthetic fulfillment is that performance throughout which a free and flowing communication is established between the dancer and his audience.
[….] It is impossible to describe dance with words. Dance is a language which must be met in terms of its nature. As sound is to music, as words are to literature…so is movement to dance.” (Shirlee Dodge, Dance Sketches, 1946)
Dodge achieved full professorship at the university in 1965. She and her colleagues B. Iden Payne, Loren Winship, E.P. Conkle, Jim Moll and Fran Hodge, were forces that shaped the department and the standards of excellence that the faculty and students relentlessly pursue to this day.
Taking a snapshot of the dance program today, it is inspiring to see the thread of legacy continue to be spun. The department’s dance faculty share with Dodge the philosophical perspectives of individual creativity, the professional experiences of working internationally, and making the teaching aspect of this art form a central part of the experience. The bachelor of fine arts in dance, which started in 1998, focuses on three fundamental elements of study to support students living life on a dancer’s journey: performance, creativity and pedagogy. All of these were fundamental to the creative life of Shirlee Dodge.
There are many ways to measure success. One is to look at the success of the pupils. While an educator cannot take credit for students’ innate talents, mentors like Dodge do play an undeniable role in nurturing talents to realize their fullest potentials. Possibly one of the greatest successes has been that of alumnus Tommy Tune, winner of nine Tony Awards and the National Medal of Arts, to whom Dodge was an important “haven of sanity.” (Tune, 1998) Tune is a hard act to follow, yet theatre and dance alumni continue to impact the field with great success from New York to Los Angeles; from Maine to Mexico; onstage, behind the scenes and in the studio.
Today’s university dance program is a true partner in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and is considered a model for other programs. The department has evolved greatly since the days of creative dance in P.E. programs. The dance program is developing scholarships, taking students to Europe to perform and study, presenting choreography at the Kennedy Center, and seeking ways to constantly improve the student experience through repertoire, facility improvements, and guest artist interactions. The momentum is compelling. Dance at the university stands to continue as a driving force in the department, the college and the nation.
Contributed by David Justin, Associate Professor of Dance
Photography courtesy of Pam and Edmund McIlhenny
The Shirlee Dodge Theatre and Dance Endowment was recently established by Shirlee’s daughter, Pam McIlhenny and her husband Edmund. This endowment will honor Professor Dodge’s legacy by supporting The University of Texas at Austin dance program and awarding scholarships to the most talented dance students.
To be a part of this meaningful tribute to Shirlee Dodge, you may make a gift online or by check made payable to ‘The University of Texas at Austin’ and mail to:
Michele Baylor, Director of Development
The University of Texas at Austin
Department of Theatre and Dance
1 University Station, D3900
Austin, TX 78712
For additional information, please contact Michele Baylor at 512-475-6291.
Date: April 23, 2012
Event: The University of Texas at Austin Department of Theatre and Dance presents PORTFOLIO 2012, an exhibition celebrating the work of emerging artists in costume design, lighting design, scenery, media and technology. The annual showcase offers behind-the-scenes access as attendees see imagination manifest itself in works for the stage and film.
In conjunction with PORTFOLIO 2012, the department will host a public lecture by scenic designer Thomas A. Walsh on April 29. Walsh has been recognized with an array of awards including an Emmy for his designs for CBS’s critically acclaimed series, Buddy Faro, and his origination of the hit ABC series, Desperate Housewives, a show for which he designed the pilot and its first 84 episodes.
Opening Reception and Exhibition: April 29, 4-6 p.m.
Exhibition: April 30-May 3, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; and May 5, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Lecture: “Narrative Design Training for the Digital Sandbox” by Thomas A. Walsh, April 29, 6 p.m.
PORTFOLIO 2012 and Thomas A. Walsh’s lecture will be held in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre, located in the F. Loren Winship Drama Building (WIN) at the intersection of 23rd Street and San Jacinto Boulevard.
Tickets: Admission is free and open to the public.
PORTFOLIO 2012 highlights the work of 35 artists from The University of Texas at Austin Department of Theatre and Dance. Showcasing initial ideas born in drawings to fully realized works, the annual exhibit includes costumes, millinery, armor and lighting and scenic designs for the stage and film.
A nationally recognized program, the Department of Theatre and Dance has numerous successful alumni, including Tony Award-winning designer Kevin Adams (Spring Awakening, American Idiot). PORTFOLIO 2012 offers attendees the exclusive opportunity to view innovative works and meet the artists, who are preparing to launch their careers.
Guest artist Thomas A. Walsh is a narrative designer whose body of work encompasses feature films, IMAX, television, documentaries, theatrical dramas and musicals. On Broadway he designed the world premieres of Zoot Suit and Children of a Lesser God, the latter of which received the Tony Award for Best Play (1980). Walsh is the president of the Art Directors Guild and co-chairman of its Film Society.
Walsh’s lecture “Narrative Design Training for the Digital Sandbox” explores the expansion of digital media and the collaborative nature of creation for film, television and the stage.
Contact: Cassie Gholston, gholston [at] austin.utexas.edu, (512) 232.5301
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Tanya Schurr’s job isn’t your typical “9 to 5”. As the production coordinator for Flow Nonfiction, the 2008 bachelor of arts alumna juggles office management, accounting, and produces on and off-set film shoots. Every day has a new set of challenges to tackle. And Schurr wouldn’t change a minute of it.
A self-proclaimed “theatre nerd” in her youth, Schurr discovered a love for stage management in high school and elected to pursue her degree at The University of Texas at Austin Department of Theatre and Dance. She explains, “After looking at competitive and high dollar schools like NYU, Carnegie Mellon, and conservatories like Webster, I felt that I might want to take a few non-theatre courses and earn a more well-rounded education. I looked back at my hometown and UT was my answer. I remember meeting with faculty member Denise Martel. I was in awe of the possibilities offered.”
Martel quickly became one of Schurr’s mentors. Schurr shares, “Denise’s stage management classes were so much about what to expect as a real world stage manager. We created production binders, shadowed other stage managers, and had a chance to step behind the scenes of many main stage shows at Bass Concert Hall to meet Broadway crews who offered priceless advice and connections to the business. Denise was the one that saw potential in me and gave me the opportunities to stage manage shows from the start.”
During her junior year, Schurr volunteered to stage manage Wireless-less, a new play produced in conjunction with the University Co-op Presents the Cohen New Works Festival. The fortuitous meeting of Schurr and Wireless-less playwright David Modigliani (MFA 2007) led to their ongoing collaboration. Schurr went on to serve as assistant producer for Modigliani’s acclaimed documentary Crawford, and then joined Modigliani at Flow Nonfiction, an Austin-based production company that makes documentary content for socially conscious companies.
Schurr’s favorite project to date is Flow Nonfiction’s short film Espwa, which means “Hope” in Haitian Creole. Partnering with Procter & Gamble’s Tide Loads of Hope program, Flow Nonfiction filmed the company’s volunteers delivering donated washers and dryers to a local hospital and orphanage in Port Au Prince following the Haiti earthquake. Schurr says, “The post-earthquake conditions were devastating, but the positive Haitians we interviewed and the beautiful, smiling children we spent time with at the orphanage gave me a sense of hope. It was a truly eye opening experience and has made me a stronger person.” Flow Nonfiction is currently working on a film about meningitis awareness for the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas.
It has been four years since Schurr’s graduation, and her work and talents are making a national impact. Reflecting on her time at the university, Schurr offers her insight for students. “Take advantage of the incredible opportunities both in and around the Department of Theatre and Dance. Take the Business Foundation courses and you’ll be glad you did no matter where you end up. Join a campus organization, like Rotaract,” she advises. “Most importantly, build strong relationships with people, which as a theatre kid, shouldn’t be too tough! It’s all about enjoying the time you have and appreciating the community that you’re a part of.”
Photography courtesy of Flow Nonfiction
With an exciting weekend of dance behind us, here’s another look at what folks are saying about Catalyst.
To kick off the buzz, a feature story on The University of Texas at Austin homepage published on March 19.
The Daily Texan chimed in too!
Our friends at CultureMap Austin shared some more opening night fun with KUT. Thanks to Matt Largey and Michael Graupmann for including us in the weekend’s goings-on!
The energy from opening night is still alive! Here’s a great review from The Austin Chronicle.
Robert Schenkkan’s (BFA 1975) adaptation of the Newbery-Award Winning novel, A Single Shard, premiered February 24 at Seattle Children’s Theatre. Starring UT MFA in Acting candidates Geoffrey Barnes, Jason Ko and Alexis Scott and featuring the lighting design work of associate professor Michelle Habeck with assistance from MFA in Design candidate Cheng-Wei Teng, A Single Shard continues through March 18.
A Single Shard in the news:
Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan talks about world premiere ‘A Single Shard’ at Seattle Children’s Theatre, culturemob.com
'A Single Shard' at Seattle Children's Theatre, Broadway World
'A Single Shard' Comes to Seattle Children’s Theatre, CBS Seattle
Robert Schenkkan is the author of The Kentucky Cycle, Tony and Emmy Award nominee and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In addition to his artistic achievements, Schenkkan has been recognized as a UT Distinguished Young Alumnus, and is a member of the Friar Society.
Schenkkan is currently at work on a feature film for Robert Downey, Jr. and Warner Brothers, a mini-series for Harpo/HBO about the American Civil Rights movement, and another feature, The Co, with Academy Award-winning director Aaron Schneider.
Read Robert Schenkkan’s full biography.
Contributed by: Felicia Fitzpatrick, Sophomore, B.A. in Theatre and Dance and B.A. in African and African Diaspora Studies
In Wicked’s frivolous and favored song “Popular”, Galinda states, “It’s all about popular!”, as she prances around the stage in pink, giving advice to Elphaba about how to succeed. David Nathan Perlow, who portrays Fiyero in Wicked, provides different advice on how to succeed, especially when auditioning for Broadway shows.
David came to visit my “Musical Theatre Workshop” class, a course where B.A. in Theatre and Dance students learn Broadway repertoire and perform pieces at an end-of-the-semester showcase. Preparing us to enter into the professional world, this class offers many opportunities to gain knowledge and experience, and chances to interact with professional Broadway performers like David. This isn’t even the first time I’ve gotten to interact with professional performers since attending UT! You would think after taking a master class with West Side Story’s and South Pacific’s dance captains, meeting Beauty and the Beast cast members, and being greeted by Jarret Mallon, Corny Collins in the National Tour of Hairspray, as I walked into my vocal rep class, meeting another professional performer wouldn’t cause me to freak out like a ten-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Well, this was not the case. I was so excited, and I knew I couldn’t wait to brag on twitter about how lucky I am to be in the Department of Theatre and Dance at UT.