Five College Dance Spotlight

Featuring Alumnx, Faculty, Students, and Repertory Artists.

Puzzle Pieces by Amherst College visiting professor Jungeun Kim. Photo by Peter Raper.

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Aston McCullough, UMass Amherst

Faculty Spotlight

Convergence, an innovative performance and, simultaneously, a film project, was conceived and directed by UMass Amherst professor Aston McCullough as a blended world of dance performance and scientific research communication. Presented by the Dance Program’s Laboratory for the Scientific Study of Dance (LAB:SYNC), the Department of Music and Dance, and Five College Dance, Convergence received the first-ever National Endowment for the Arts funding for an arts research lab. LAB:SYNC’s research focuses on the relationship between dance and health in adults. Here, UMass Professor Aston McCullough rehearses Convergence with dancer Jillian Murray '23. Photo by Crystal Maldonado.

Mariana Valencia, Hampshire College '06

Alumnx Spotlight

Originally from Chicago, Mariana Valencia ’06 graduated from Hampshire College, where she studied dance and ethnography. Her studies affected her early dance works, which were influenced by postmodern, Afro-diasporic, and Pan-Latin forms. Over time she began making self-narrative performances that blend choreography and imagery, ethnography and memoir, as well as observations of her cross-cultural identifiers. Mariana’s notable achievements include receiving the 2018 Bessie Award for Outstanding “Breakout” Choreographer and being chosen to be an artist in the 2019 Whitney Biennial.

Most recently, Mariana was awarded the prestigious Creative Capital Award which offers direct funding to individual artists. Besides receiving professional development as part of the award, Mariana is creating Arrival, in which the liveness of rehearsal and experience-making questions the rigidity of performance frameworks. Mariana, pictured here in Arrival, says, “The practice is arrival, a constant showing up, and a promise to embody practice.” Photo by Paula Court.

Tatiana Desardouin, Passion Fruit Dance

Repertory Artist

Every year Five College Dance invites a professional choreographer to set a work on students from all five colleges. This year’s artist was Bessie Award winning Tatiana Desardouin of Passion Fruit Dance Company, a street dance theater and educational company. Desardouin’s premier for Five College Dance, Connection (2022), emphasized the importance of creating connections first within, then with the world. She was inspired by the dancers who shared what the word “connection” meant to them. The resulting work highlights the singularities of the dancers in their search for connection, but also the idea of being one with everyone and everything that exists.

Dancers (left to right): Mina Stern-Wenk ’23 (Hampshire) and Summer Pratt ’26 (Mount Holyoke) perform Connection at Smith College Fall Faculty Concert, Fall 2022. Photo by Derek Fowles.

Jenny Huang, Smith College

Student Spotlight

I started my research on Eleanor Yung and the Asian American Dance Theatre (AADT) - a dance company founded by Yung in 1974 and active until the early 1990s - for my dance history paper. As someone part of the Chinese diaspora, pursuing Asian American studies, and interested in dance with grassroots organizing, finding a dance figure and company that reflected my interests was very special to me. However, I had trouble finding sources. By relying on written source materials, I completed my paper, but the research felt incomplete. Thus, I did a year-long special study. I traveled to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library to watch the AADT dance videos and also a recent oral history with Eleanor Yung. My final paper analyzed the archival organization of materials related to Yung and AADT, noting the marginalized status of a community-centered Asian American dance company may play a part in the incomplete archives. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Eleanor Yung over Zoom! Being able to share my work with her has been the highlight of the entire process. It reminds me of a big reason why I wanted to pursue this special studies: to learn from Asian diasporic/Asian American figures who have come before me and to help preserve their history.

Jenny Huang in Rodger Blum's Grown Ocean (2022).
Photo by Derek Fowles.

Yang Sun, Amherst College

Student Spotlight

The piece I brought to ACDA is called "Poet," about desire and courage. It is inspired by Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua, a countrywoman with cerebral palsy living amid prejudice, sexism, and an unhappy marriage. Her poems hold a strong and vigorous desire for escape and love. They are like wheat crops, rooted deeply into the earth and dancing upwards. The day I came across her poems, I couldn’t fall asleep, losing myself in thoughts. The sparks she ignited in me pushed the creation of "Poet." I had an amazing time presenting the work at the American College Dance Association Northeast Regional Conference last spring. Putting a solo on stage is daunting at first, but the support from other fellow dancers / choreographers made my heart full. I also grew a lot from feedback given by adjudicators and fellow dancers. Now I am working on a dance / theater piece "Drift" with six amazing dancers. This piece explores misplacement both as an inner feeling and a spatial re-imagination.
– Yang Sun, Amherst College '24

Yang Sun in rehearsal for "Poet" at Amherst College.
Photo by Sydney Ireland AC '23.

Mav Leslie, Mount Holyoke College '23

Student Spotlight

My work in dance accompaniment and composition began at the end of fall semester of my junior year at Mount Holyoke College. I had been working toward a music degree but did not know how I wanted to put my studies to use. I was taking advanced modern technique accompanied by Peter Jones. After spending the semester moving to live music and watching dance performances with live accompaniment, I knew that I wanted to bridge the gap between my music and dance practices. Peter kindly supported my efforts in applying my music knowledge and mentored me through two semesters of live accompaniment in modern classes. Between junior and senior year, I had the opportunity to study dance accompaniment further through Mount Holyoke’s Lynk funding program. I studied with David Dorfman and his company at Connecticut College, as well as Bates Dance Festival under the mentorship of Terrence Karn. I have learned so much about myself as both a musician and a dancer in the past three semesters of study. Thank you to Peter Jones and Mt. Holyoke dance.
– Mav Leslie, Mount Holyoke College ‘23

August Grace ‘23 and Mav Leslie ‘23 (front) in Sammie Murray’s ‘23 “Bounce with Me."
Photo by Ali Meizels ‘23.

Abby Fluet, Smith College '25

Student Spotlight

This past March 2023, I had the opportunity to show my work GUSH at the American College Dance Association (ACDA) regional conference at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ. The piece began as a solo for Smith College’s Bare Bones Dance Concert in December 2022, and later, with the help of my classmates, became a colorful trio with cupcake eating, frosting face-painting, hand holding, and trash cans full of pom-pom explosions. In February, I created a new version of GUSH to take to ACDA, enriching its themes of queer joy, relationship, youth, resistance, resilience, and intensity. Showing GUSH, taking classes, and watching other works at ACDA by student artists from all over the Northeast left me feeling refreshed and excited to continue making dances. –Abbey Fluet, Smith College ’25

Smith College dancer Abbey Fluet ’25 rehearses GUSH, Fall 2022, Scott Dance Studio, Smith College. Photo by Samantha Miller Grossman ’23

Previous Newsletters

Annual Newsletter 2020-2021

Keep up with the work of Five College Dance students, faculty members, and alumni in this epublication of our annual newsletter.

Annual Newsletter 2019-2020

Check out the work of Five College Dance students, faculty, and alums.