Residencies with Gesel Mason in the Capital Region

Gesel Mason in BENT choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar - photo by Paul Emerson
Gesel Mason in BENT choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar – photo by Paul Emerson

Year: 2012-2013
DanceForce Member: Kim Engel
Artist: Gesel Mason
Community Partners: Emma Willard School; UAlbany Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program; UAlbany Performing Arts Center; UAlbany University Counseling Center
Audience: 859
County: Albany

DF member Kim Engel worked collaboratively to bring Gesel Mason to the Capital Region for February 2013 residencies at the University at Albany and the Emma Willard School in Troy. The project was made possible by collaborative planning, scheduling and resource/finance sharing between the UAlbany Performing Arts Center staff and Sue Lauther, head of the Dance Program at the Emma Willard School. The two entities had collaborated less formally and on smaller scale projects in the past.

The project served several objectives:
1) Provided a desired individual for Emma Willard’s annual guest artist slot
2) Provided a residency and performances in support of a University-wide UAlbany initiative
3) Provided the artist with eleven days of artistic work
4) Provided the artist and her company with the opportunity to revisit and develop a fairly new work

Gesel Mason visited the region in November 2012 as part of a residency at EMPAC with Ralph Lemon and the bulk of the planning for the February residencies took place at that time. Multiple phone meetings and email communications before and after the November planning meetings helped fine tune all of the arrangements.

From February 12-15 and then again from Feb. 22-24, Gesel was a guest artist at the Emma Willard School in Troy. She taught classes and performed her solo work “No Less Black” for the Emma Willard community as part of an assembly program celebrating African-American History month sponsored by the school’s Black and Hispanic Awareness Club. Since the Emma Willard School is celebrating its 200th anniversary, Gesel also conducted research on their namesake and the school’s beginnings which she then used to choreograph a new work for the students. Her schedule of activity at the school was as follows:
February 12 – master class and rehearsal
February 13 – master class, assembly program and rehearsal
February 14 & 15 – master classes and rehearsals
February 22 to 24 – rehearsals

Sandwiched between her time in Troy, Gesel Mason and her company were in residence at UAlbany from February 18-21. The residency was planned to coordinate with the University’s Sexuality Month, an initiative of the Counseling Center and Middle Earth Peer Assistance Group. The program is a panoply of guest lecturers, workshops, films, exhibits, information sessions and other events related to gender issues, HIV/AIDS, relationships, identity and reproductive health with the hope to meet the needs of the students as well as to provide a retrospective and prospective look at the issues. The UAlbany Performing Arts Center had collaborated once previously with the Counseling Center in relation to Sexuality Month and the two entities had desired to work together again. Gesel’s company and performance piece offered the perfect opportunity and so two performances (7:30 & 10pm) of Gesel Mason Performance Projects in “Women, Sex and Desire” on Thursday, February 21 were featured events of Sexuality Month.

The work is part dance, part theatre, part talk show. It is a multi-media investigation on how women navigate sex, desire, choice and perception. Movement, personal stories and video imagery combine to tackle powerful personal and political issues under discussion nationwide. The show was created through focus groups, interviews, identity workshops and web logs which helped provide narrative material for the choreography. The piece was originally commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and is a National Performance Network Creation Fund recipient.

The performances were promoted through the Performing Arts Centers traditional means (season brochure, web site, targeted mailings, email blasts, etc.) as well as the efforts of the Counseling Center on behalf of Sexuality Month (brochure, student body email blasts, media coverage, social media, Campus Center tabling, etc.).

Besides the performances that took place in the Performing Arts Center, six workshops were offered by the company during their residency at UAlbany.

Monday, February 18 at 7pm – workshop with various LGBT groups and clubs as arranged through the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center
Tuesday, February 19 at 10:15am – workshop with Feminist Social and Political Thought class as arranged with the Women’s Studies Department
Tuesday, February 19 at 11:45am & 1:15pm – workshops with two Acting I classes as arranged through the Theatre Department
Tuesday, February 19 at 7:15pm – workshop with the Middle Earth Peer Assistance Training class as arranged through the Counseling Center
Wednesday, February 20 at 4:15pm – workshop with a Human Sexuality Class as arranged through the Counseling Center (this class is the training class for Project Shape, a peer education program that offers sexuality education and sexual health promotion)

These workshops gave the UAlbany Performing Arts Center a wonderful opportunity to interact with two new on-campus partners, the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center and the Women’s Studies Department, which will potentially open doors for possible future interaction.