The Gonzaga University dance program took a leap into the future with a public lecture and demonstration in Magnuson Theatre by guest scholar Jessica Lindberg Coxe on Saturday.
A professional dancer and dance historian, Lindberg Coxe specializes in reconstructing the iconic silk-and-blacklight dances of Loïe Fuller, the woman who inspired modernist dance and revolutionized theater, music composition and visual and performing arts.
In an unprecedented move by GU dance, Lindberg Coxe became the first scholar hired to come to Gonzaga’s campus and re-create a historic dance for students to perform.
“As an educator, I want students’ hands and bodies on their work,” Suzanne Ostersmith, the dance program director, said when describing the event. “Dance is embodied learning.”
On Thursday and Friday, Lindberg Coxe visited classes in the dance, theatre and art departments, teaching about Loïe. Students Laura Miller and Helen Schantz auditioned and were awarded the part of Lily in Loïe’s “Lily of the Nile” dance, which will be performed in the 2017 Spring Dance Concert.
The demonstration on Saturday afternoon began with a lecture by Lindberg Coxe on Loïe and her many accomplishments in the art, history, and science worlds. Both Lily soloists were then wrapped in the costume — 70 yards of weighted white silks suspended by a fiberglass pole attached to each arm — and performed the dance against a black curtain.
“It’s supposed to look like a jewel in a jewel box,” Lindberg Coxe said about the costume.
She wanted the demonstration to give people “an appreciation, joy and curiosity about dance, and maybe about Loïe herself.”
Ostersmith sees Loïe as an embodiment of the GU dance program’s future with the introduction of the new interdisciplinary arts minor, as the famous dancer forged connections among the fields of dance, music composition, theatre, visual arts and even science. Ostersmith hopes that by hiring Lindberg Coxe to visit and teach about Loïe, it will open up an avenue to “talk about the connection between the arts.”
“It’s kind of a perfect thing,” Ostersmith said, referring to incorporating Loïe into the dance program.
She had been interested in Loïe’s work for a long time, and realized a local connection between the dancer and the Maryhill Museum of Art in nearby Goldendale, Washington, which began in part by Loïe and contains artwork of her dances.
Ostersmith researched at Maryhill over the summer and planned a year dedicated to Loïe, which began with the visit and demonstration by Lindberg Coxe. The year will continue with the jazz dance class choreographing a dance to a student composer’s music, a Loïe exhibit in Jundt Art Museum, a visit by scholar Megan Slayter and other, similar collaborations between departments.
“It’s not just us in a little fishbowl,” said Pam Erickson, Gonzaga dance instructor and dance historian. “All these departments can come together.”